Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Monday, 3 March 2014

100 Flowers : #013 Winter-flowering Violas (and Pansies)

This cheery winter-flowering bedding has been adding some cheery colour outside our kitchen door since last autumn.

#013 : Viola x wittrockiana
and Viola cornuta hybrids and cultivars

Winter-flowering Violas
(and Pansies)

The garden Pansy originated from the wild Viola tricolor; as a result of collecting and cross-breeding every variation that she could find, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet launched her Pansies on the horticultural world in 1812. Others were excited and entranced and followed her enthusiasm, not least Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson who bred what we would recognise as the Garden Pansy. By 1833 there were over 400 named Pansies available to gardeners. Over the past 30 years or so, plant breeders have crossed and re-crossed the Viola tricolor (3 colours - blue/yellow/white), V. lutea (yellow), V. altaica (blue) plus others and produced cultivars that withstand cold weather and flower and flower and flower!

Yes they are a bit cheesy and clichéd but they don't half give the garden a bit of cheer through the winter . . . and you don't need a garden, a pot on the front step with be fine, Violas originate from rocky slopes and will be happy self seeding in a crevice between paving stones.

In Latin 'viola' means 'violet' or 'the colour violet' - did the flower come before the colour or the colour before the flower? Anyone know? Violas and Pansies are closely related to Violets . . . more about those to follow soon.

I went to a local nursery that grows masses of Violas and Pansies for winter bedding and containers. You can pick up a tray and fill it with the colours that take your fancy – it's like being in a flowery pick-n-mix sweet shop!

I selected mostly variations of purples and blues, with a dash of cream, orange and yellow – the colours closest to the original wild Heartsease, V. tricolor.

What I could not select was the weather – Violas and Pansies hate damp, mild damp and rain that wets their petals and encourages mould to grow where their leaves touch the soil.

I've carefully dead-headed and picked off any mouldy leaves so hopefully as the weather improves they will flower cheerfully for many more weeks . . . they share pots with Wallflowers, Heuchera and Tulips.

So, what's the difference between a Viola and a Pansy? The answer is very little, as they are all part of the same botanical genetic Viola-soup; what matters is size - Pansies are large; Violas are petite and in general have many more flowers on neat compact plants more suited for containers.

I couldn't resist buying a few of the beautiful pinky-red shades of Pansy, the ones with ruffled petals that look as if they've been hand painted. I think Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet would have got rather excited about these!

And I'm looking forward to there being enough flowers to pick . . . like these from last year, just after I bought the plants.



  1. I love their happy little faces! :) x

  2. Such cheery little flowers. I love the little violas best - so dainty!

  3. I haven't had any of these in my garden for years, I must remedy that since they are so cheerful. The amount of different colours is amazing.

  4. I have a mixture of them in a big turquoise ceramic pot at the front door and they do give a pleasing welcome to the house.

  5. Celia, after reading this very informative post, I am even more than usual longing for a garden. Up until now, when I heard a reference to 1812, I thought of a war. Or overture. Now...it's going to be violas and pansies, and all the kaleidoscopic mix of colors that those pretty petals provide.

    As I type this I am listening to crazy, even horrifying news about the Ukraine and Crimea, and would so prefer to keep the images of your garden in my head.


  6. Those colours are really quite luminous. Beautiful.

  7. I love pansies, they are my all-time favourite flowers. Partly I think because they remind me of my grandmothers garden. Our "Winter flowering" varieties sadly do not actually flower in the winter here in Ottawa (unless they are indoors in pots!) but they do stand up well to our nippy early springs and are the first things I buy for my doorstep pots in April. I have some in the garden too, self seeds mostly, that doggedly return, but I don't usually spot them until around May.



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