University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Each year the National Garden Bureau promotes a flower they feel deserves recognition and wider use.  The flower of the year for 2007 is the viola, very similar to pansies only with smaller flowers.  This organization has provided some interesting information about this flower.

Viola is actually the common name as well as the genus name for about 500 species of wildflowers and annual bedding plants, some being tender or short-lived perennials in warmer climates.  What we normally find as annual violas in catalogs are those with flowers up to one and one-half inches across.  Those with flowers two inches or more across are the pansies. 

Most of today’s violas have as an ancestor the true perennial Sweet Violet (Viola odorata).  This is an heirloom plant, popular in the past as now for its sweetly fragrant and deep violet flowers. 

In gardens, there are two main groups of violets.  The Johnny Jump-ups (Viola tricolor) is an annual, but with its self-sowing all around gets its common name.  The purple, white, and yellow small flowers give rise to its species name.  The flowers are nickel-sized, and have interesting dark lines or “whiskers.”

The other, and main, group of garden violas are the tufted pansies or horned violets (Viola cornuta).  Native to Spain and the Pyrenees mountains, these violets grow in temperate regions of the world.  The low mounded plants reach eight to ten inches high, have evergreen
rosettes of leaves at the base, and are often perennial in all but the coldest climates.  The flowers come in all colors, may have contrasting lines of color, and often a light scent.

Classic, older varieties of tufted pansies include ‘Arkwright Ruby’ with dark wine red flowers and golden centers and edging. ‘Chantreyland’ is popular for its large apricot-colored flowers. ‘Yellow Perfection,’ ‘White Perfection’ and ‘Blue Perfection’ are named for the clear color of their blooms.  These are “open-pollinated”, meaning they are left to cross and produce seeds naturally compared to the controlled cross between specific parents for hybrids.

Newer open-pollinated varieties of tufted pansies
are the ‘Princess’ and ‘Velour’ series. These are early blooming with one-inch blooms. ‘Princess’ opens in shades of blue, purple and yellow and bicolors; and ‘Velour’ is available in 20 colors and three mixes.

Among the many excellent hybrid varieties is ‘Sorbet’, which comes in more than thirty colors including beautiful pastel and two-tone colors on compact plants reaching six to eight inches tall. ‘Penny’ violas are available in shades of light blue, deep blue, purple, violet, white, yellow, orange and red. Some hybrids have whiskers and blotches (faces), others are bicolor. They have a mounding garden habit and flower continuously.

In 2006, ‘Skippy XL Red-Gold’ was the first viola to win an All-America Selections award for superior garden performance. The large, one and one-half inch flowers are ruby red with violet-red shading below a golden yellow face with the trademark whiskers or markings. The ‘Skippy’ series has many other colors, including bicolors.

Then there is the large-flowered Patiola series, combining the flower size of pansies with the hardiness of violas.  Trailing hybrid violas make good choices for containers and hanging baskets.  ‘Erlyn’ produces tricolor purple and yellow flowers that cover the plant. The ‘Splendid’ series has one-inch flowers in white, yellow, and blue and yellow.

In the south, violas and pansies are planted in fall for their winter flowering as they don’t grow well in heat.  In the north, they are common as early season flowering bedding plants.  When purchasing violas, select healthy, compact plants with green leaves. Avoid plants that show signs of yellowing which may indicate a problem with the roots or a nutrition problem. Plants that are stressed in the container may take more time to become established in the garden, often develop poorly, and never flower well. Also avoid plants that have a lot of roots growing through the bottom of a plastic container. They will be hard to remove without doing damage to the root system.

To remove plants from the pack, push up on the bottom of the container; don’t pull plants by the stem. Gently loosen the soil around the roots and place in the ground so that the plant is at the same level as in the pack.  Plant in rich, moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Plant mounded violas about six to eight inches apart. Trailing or spreading varieties can be planted 10 to 12 inches apart.

In the north, plants grow and flower best in full sun.  Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time or occasionally fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. Water when the soil is dry to maintain even moisture. Violas have few pests and diseases.

Viola flowers are beautiful in the garden and on the table. Not just for fresh bouquets, violas are very popular edible flowers. Culinary uses include jams and jellies, teas, garnishes and salads. Candied violas are easy to make and look stunning atop cakes, ice cream, cookies, or other desserts.

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