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.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

100 Flowers : #014 Sweet Violet

An English country garden isn't complete without . . .

#014 Viola odorata

Sweet Violet

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

SONNET 99 by William Shakespeare c. 1599

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
   More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
   But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee. 



  1. An interesting post, I'm planning to have some Violets under my new hedge, I never knew about the white ones.

  2. Celia, I loved seeing the video of your walk in that previous post. I had never before even known that there was such a bird as the Yellowhammer. Thank you for adding this beauty to my acquaintance!

    As of today, I am in a chocolate free zone for Lent.

    How I do love violets! In my Virginia childhood the white ones with the delicate colored veining were called "Confederate" violets since they were perceived has having a grey tone similar to uniforms worn by the southern army during the Civil War. (In Virginia, the Civil War is often still a reference point. As you know, I moved north after university.)

    Your information about how violets pollinate is fascinating! Thank you also for the Shakespeare.


  3. I don't know if mine are the same as yours, but they are total thugs, they take up all the available space in the garden and I have to pay people to cme and dig them out!

  4. Rescuing violets in the overgrown garden is ongoing - there are now enough in some (less overgrown) areas to be useful ground cover. And now there are cleistogamous flowers to look out for!
    Thanks for the sonnet, too.

  5. Didn't know about the pollination bit Celia. Did you know that they drink through the flower & need to be plunged upside down overnight to drink? Used to have to do that when I was a florist :)

  6. How come I was not familiar with Shakespeare's Sonnet XIX? Great post, Celia, on one of my favourite flowers. My last post, though MUCH less informative, was also dedicated to violets. I'm really glad to see each passing spring more and more of these little delights sprouting in our garden. They are all over the woody banks of the vineyards too.


  7. Another great post Celia. I love all the details. We don't have violets in the garden but they are in the banks around us, although none evident so far. We must be considerably behind you in terms of flowering times I think.Thank you for the sonnet too. You can't beat a bit of Shakespeare.

  8. I have tons of violets. both purple shades and white ones all over our lawn, especially in the back under the trees where it's shadier. I had no idea about the insect free propagation either. Ours are out much later here in Ottawa than yours of course, they flower quite profusely until we get the real heat in July and August.

  9. A friend gave me a small clump a few years ago and I planted them under a hedge in the front garden. They are now winding their way through the whole flower bed, very pretty but little demons to get under control. Love your post Celia as always lots of good information.


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