Violet (Viola) - In nature it is a very large family, some kinds being among the most ornamental plants that bedeck the alpine turf. Even the common Violet may also be claimed as an alpine plant, for it wanders along hedgerow and hillside, along copses and thin woods, all the way to Sweden. From the Violet our world of wild flowers derives wondrous beauty and delicate fragrance; no family has given us anything more precious than the garden Pansies and the various kinds of large, showy, sweet-scented Violets. Far above the faint blue carpets of the various scentless wild Violets in our woods and heaths, our thickets and bogs-above the miniature Pansies that find their home among our lowland field-weeds; far above the larger Pansy-like Violas (varieties of V. lutea) which flower so richly in the mountain pastures of Northern England and even on the tops of stone walls; and above the large, free-growing Violets of the American heaths and thickets, we have true alpine Violets, such as the yellow two-flowered Violet (V. biflora), and large blue Violets such as V. calcarata and V. cornuta. They grow in a turf of high alpine plants not more than an inch or so in height. The leaves do not show above the densely-matted turf, but the flowers start up, waving everywhere thousands of little banners. Violets are of the easiest culture; even the highest alpine kinds thrive with little care, and V. cornuta and V. calcarata, of the Alps and Pyrenees, thrive even more freely than in their native uplands, the foliage and the stems being stronger. Slow-growing compact kinds, like the American Bird's-foot Violet, enjoy, from their stature and their slowness of growth, a position in the rock garden, or in the choice border, and they are of easy culture in moist sandy soil. Violets of all kinds are easily increased by cuttings from stout short runners.
In the open Sweet Violets thrive on moderately heavy rich soil; should the soil be light and gravelly, some stiff material and plenty of manure must be added to it; poor and hard clay will gain by adding sharp gritty matter and abundance of rotten manure. Violets require shelter, but not that of a wall, and in enclosed gardens they are seldom healthy. Their natural shelter is a hedgerow, allowing such currents of pure air as are essential for keeping down red-spider and for healthy foliage. They grow well on the shady side of a Hornbeam hedge, if somewhat naked at bottom, so as to allow the sun to shine on their leaves early in spring, and afford a partial shade in summer. When the soil is deep and rich, however, Violets will bear sunshine, and it is well to have a few plants in different positions to ensure a long season of bloom. On south borders Violets dwindle, but a few roots on sunny banks will give some early pickings.
The insects that trouble the Violet most are green-fly and red-spider. The first is generally the result of a close unhealthy atmosphere, and is easily got rid of by gentle smokings. Red-spider is induced by strong sun and by dry soil; hand-dusting with sulphur is the best remedy, but it is easy to prevent its occurrence by free sprinkling.
The varieties of the Violet are very numerous. We have the single white and the single rose, the double white, the Czar (a very large and sweet variety), the Queen of Violets, Admiral Avellan, La Grosse Bleue, La France, California, Princess of Wales, Luxonne, Belle de Chatenay, White Czar, Lady Hume Campbell, Marie Louise, Victoria Regina, Wellsiana, and the perpetual blooming Violet-well known in France as La Violette des Quatre Saisons. This differs slightly from the Sweet Violet, but is valuable for its long season; it is the variety used by the cultivators round Paris. The double white, or, as it becomes in the open air, the rosy-white Belle de Chatenay, has a robust habit. Though not so pure as the old double white kind, it blooms more freely, and is neater. The Neapolitan Violet is tender and needs protection.
The fancy Pansies are remarkable for the strange variety of their colors and the unusual size of the blooms. The seed should be sown in July or August, in pans of light, leafy soil, such as sand, leaf-mould, and mould from rotted turf, and placed in a cool, shady place.
As it is rarely convenient to plant the seedlings at once where they are to bloom, they should be placed in pots plunged in a cool place in the open ground, and put out in time to get established before winter. They stand the winter well, and the only danger lies in heavy rain or sleet succeeded by sharp frosts.
Self-colored Pansies, which I call tufted Pansies, are among the most beautiful things one can cultivate in a cool rainy country like ours. In the north, among mountains and hills, they are at their best; in the south, with care, they are lovely, and when other flowers may be beaten to pieces by storm, they are better than ever, only one must take care to change the ground now and then, because certain worms are fond of the plants and get into it. One often loses them also in a hot summer, so that it is always best to renew the stock from some cool northern nursery and increase them as much as possible from autumn cuttings. If we have any young plants we should plant in autumn or in spring when the trade stocks are mostly to be had. Plants of this "tufted" habit are often a mass of delicate rootlets even above the ground, so that they are easily increased; hence when older Pansies die after flowering, those crossed with the alpine species remain, like true perennials, and are easily increased. The term Pansies is a good one in all ways. Without an English name, we shall always have confusion with the Latin name for wild species. To all of these belongs the old Latin name of the genus Viola. It is now agreed by botanists that all cross-bred garden plants-including tufted Pansies-should have popular English and not Latin names.
These are the flowers hitherto generally known as Violas and bedding Pansies, and Dr Stuart, who has raised some of the best of them, says: "Botanically, Violets, Pansies, and Hearts-ease are all the same. Tufted Pansies are crosses from the garden Pansy and Viola cornuta, the latter being the seed-bearer. Pollen from V. cornuta applied to the Pansy produces a common enough form of bedding Pansy-never the tufty root-growth obtained when the cross is the other way. I have proved this by actual hand-crossing. Most strains of tufted Pansies are bred the wrong way, and lack the tufty root which makes the Violetta strain perennial."
Although we like the colors simple and pure, there are other pretty ones of a different kind, such as Accushla, Blue Cloud, Columbine, Countess of Kintore, Duchess of Fife, Hector Macdonald, and Skylark. In the south, however, they are uncertain, liable to vary in color, and not so good as the selfs. Some kinds, like Violetta, are white, running off to delicate bluish or lilac hues. These delightful plants are so easily raised and crossed that each garden might raise its own kinds, so as to have as much variety as possible. They love a light and cool soil. In northern districts they are more at home than in the south, where special treatment is necessary to bring them to perfection.
For early spring flowering the cuttings should be rooted in July or August and planted out in October. They commence blooming early in April. In heavy soils liable to crack with drought use abundance of leaf-soil, burnt ashes from the rubbish fires, and the like, to bring them into order. Also select a dry time for digging, working in the above with plenty of short manure from an old Mushroom bed, and scattering an inch or so on the surface for the roots at planting time. Cuttings are better than divisions, particularly if they are made of the young shoots stripped from the old stool with a heel attached. To yield a supply of these cuttings a reserve batch of plants is necessary. About the second week in June cut them back to within 2 inches of the soil. A month afterwards they will be bristling with young shoots. When 3 inches long, scatter some fine soil and leaf-mould among the young growths, and keep well watered for a fortnight, by which time the majority will be making roots freely. A fortnight later they will be ready for planting in nursery-beds in a shady spot and in good soil. As growth is renewed, pinch out the top of each to encourage the quicker formation of shoots at the base. By October there will be some grand plants for putting into their permanent quarters, full of youth and vigour that will produce masses of flowers in due season.
Two-flowered Yellow Viola
Two-flowered Yellow Viola (Viola Biflora) - This bright little Violet is a lovely ornament on the Alps, where it carpets chinks between the moist rocks. It even crawls under great boulders and rocks, and lines shallow caves with its fresh verdure and its little golden stars, and is useful in rock gardens where rude steps of stone give winding pathways. It will run through every chink between the steps. Europe, N. Asia, and America.
Spurred Viola (Viola Calcarata) - A pretty plant of the Alps, usually found in high situations, amidst dwarf flowers, and is so plentiful that its large purple flowers make sheets of color. It is as charming in the rock garden as in its native wilds, but not so free as the Horned Pansy. There are white, pale lilac, and yellow varieties, the last (flava) being the same as V. Zoysi.
Horned Pansy (Viola Cornuta) - A mountain Pansy, with sweet-scented pale blue or mauve flowers of great beauty. For a while superseded by the many charming tufted Pansies, the turn of the Horned Pansy has come again, and of late years named varieties with some finely shaded flowers have been raised, the colors passing through blue and purple to rosy-lilac and white. Pyrenees. Division, cuttings, or seeds.
Viola Gracilis - A remarkably pretty dwarf species, never failing to produce in spring an abundance of deep purple blossoms in dense tufts. It is hardy in light soil. Mount Olympus. A pretty form of this, V. gracilis valderia, comes from the Tyrol; its violet-blue flowers are flecked with darker and with paler spots.
Mountain Viola (Viola Lutea) - The yellow form of this Violet is very neat and compact, 2 to 6 inches high. From April onwards it yields abundant flowers of a rich and handsome yellow, the three lower petals being striped with thin black lines. A large flowered garden form is named Gem.
Viola Munbyana - One of the prettiest of Violets, abundant in flower, robust in growth, and hardy. It begins to bloom about the end of February, attaining its greatest beauty in May. The deep purple-blue flowers resemble those of V. cornuta; and there is also a yellow variety. Spain and Algeria.
Sweet Viola (Viola Odorata) - This well-known plant is widely spread over Europe and Russian Asia, including Britain, while it is grown in almost every garden, and flowers of it in enormous quantities are sold in our cities. Its fragrance distinguishes it from other Violets. It may be grown as carpets for open groves or the fringes of woods, hedges, or banks. Instead of being confined to a bed it should fringe rock gardens or ferneries. In such positions it requires little care. It will grow in almost any soil, but best on free sandy loam. It is well to naturalise the plant on sunny banks, fringes of woods, and the warmer sides of bushy places to encourage early bloom.
New Holland Viola
New Holland Viola (Viola Reniformis) - This mantles the ground with a mass of small leaves and slender, creeping stems, and bears throughout the summer blue and white flowers of exquisite beauty, about 2 inches high. It is pretty for a bed of peat or very light earth, where taller plants are put out in a scattered way for a time; but, being small and delicate, it should not be used with coarse plants. It must be treated like a tender bedding plant-taken up or propagated in autumn, and put out in May or June. Australia. Division. Syn., Erpetion.
Rouen Viola (Viola Rothomagensis) - A handsome plant, dwarf, and with low, creeping stems, which bear in spring numerous purple and white blossoms. It is a free grower, but, being a native of Sicily, is not so hardy as some Violets, and should be grown in a light soil and a warm border.
Hearts-ease (Viola Tricolor) - The Pansy is usually classed under the head of V. tricolor, though it is probably descended from V. altaica-to which many Pansies seem nearly allied. But our Pansies are so numerous, so varied, and, withal, so distinct from any wild Violet, that little can be traced of their origin. Of one thing we may be certain-the parents of this precious race were mountaineers. Only alpine plants could give rise to such rich color and such wealth of bloom. It may be treated as an annual, a biennial, or a perennial, according to climate, position, and soil. One of the commonest of weeds in Scotland, the wild V. lutea may be grown in the south of England if sheltered from the midday sun.
Birds-foot Viola (Viola Pedata) - The most beautiful of the American Violets, with handsome flowers 1 inch across, pale or deep lilac, purple or blue, the two upper petals being sometimes velvety and deep violet like the petals of a Pansy. The variety bicolor is a pretty form, its flowers larger, and the petals arranged like those of a Pansy, the two upper ones rich velvety purple, and the three lower delicate blush.