#014 Viola odorata
Viola is the colour of violets . . . a blue-mauve, the most common colour of wild violets. And of course odorata means 'scented' – in the case of Sweet Violets a beautiful but fleeting scent that teases the nose with a chemical, ionine, that deadens the scent receptors, making the scent disappear almost at the moment it is detected.
Of course Sweet Violets aren't always violet in colour, in old cottage gardens and churchyards it isn't unusual to come across patches of white Violets – I wonder if they have been encouraged to grow because they are different from the usual?
I've found that Sweet Violets choose where they prefer to grow, the violet colour ones grow in sunny patches at the base of our garden wall, the white ones have colonised a spot beneath the box hedge and among the Bearded Iris roots. My mother gave me some beautiful bright red-purple Violets that she'd been given by my piano teacher, we call them 'Paul's Violets'. I planted them at the base of the wall where the sun shines on them in the afternoon - they disappeared. But this year look what's appeared in the lawn!
Bright little open flowers with an enticing scent - you'd expect them to be pollinated by insects, but they flower very early in the year and there aren't many insects about – but Sweet Violets have a cunning Plan B . . .
. . . later in the year the plant will produce curious small flowers at the base of the plant just above the roots, these are known as 'cleistogamous' flowers - 'kleistos' = closed, 'gamous' = marriage. These weird little insignificant buds are self-fertile and produce seeds which are clones of the parent. I find that quite amazing and had no idea that this was going on, I'll be crawling round with a magnifying glass later in the year!
Sweet Violet leaves and flowers are edible, not only are they prized for the scent and flavour of the flowers but the leaves have been used in medicines for centuries and cultivation of Sweet Violets has been an important business for over 2000 years - the leaves have been found to contain high levels of Vitamin C, A and salicylic acid.
Stratford-upon-Avon was once famed for its Sweet Violets which grew wild in the woods around the town and were cultivated for medicines and perfume. This may explain William Shakespeare's many mentions of Violets in his plays and sonnets