Violas look lovely in containers, will grace the edges of borders, provide ground cover under shrubs and even decorate your food! Profuse, low-growing cottage perennials, they come in a variety of shades of purple, lilac, pink, blue, red, yellow, white and even black. The trailing varieties will look lovely in a hanging basket while others give extra interest with double flowers or striking, variegated foliage. A bonus is that the flowers are edible – add them to a salad to give extra colour or use them to decorate cakes or biscuits.
Smaller than pansies but more resilient, flowering in cooler weather, violas will give colour throughout the year if the winter is mild. Pinching off the blooms when they wither will encourage new flowers. Although most violas are grown as annuals or short-lived perennials, many will self-seed and delight you year after year.
Few plants can match the length of the flowering season of violas. Many start flowering in March and combine beautifully with spring bulbs. They then continue to flower throughout the summer and into autumn.
The two main types are Viola tricolor/Johnny-jump-up and Viola cornuta. Helen Mount is a popular Johnny-jump-up. A self-seeding perennial, it has small flowers in purple, lavender, and yellow. Others to look out for include Sorbet (24 colours), Penny (25 colours), Velour (23 colours) and Angel (33 colours). The honey-scented flowers have long delicate petals but they are hardy, robust plants and will spread to make large flowering clumps under shrubs or roses.
More vigorous varieties such as Ivory Queen, Roscastle Black and Eastgrove Blue are also good for underplanting shrubs and are also useful for the front of borders, scrambling through and combining well with many traditional cottage garden favourites such as geraniums, potentillas and astrantias.
Other cornutas to look for are Chantreyland (apricot), Cuty (white and purple) Black Magic
(black with yellow eyes) and Jersey Gem (bright blue). Or try the odoratas - Rosina (pink), Royal Robe (dark blue), Snow Princess (white), White Czar (white) or Whiskers (yellow with purple lines). You may also like V. sororia Freckles which is pale blue with tiny purple markings.
When purchasing bedding viola plants look for lots of buds to enjoy a a long flowering season. Avoiding handling them by their delicate stems, gently loosen the soil around the roots and plant them at the same level as they were in their pack.
Violas like full sun but not heat. This isn’t a problem in the cool spring temperature but when planting in autumn they will need shade and water during the hottest part of the afternoon.
Jobs for February & March
- Deadhead pansies and primulas regularly to encourage flowering and prevent them from seeding.
- Plant up pots of anemone coronaria De Caen or Saint Bridgid, soaking the tubers first to double their size.
- Plant lily bulbs – five of the same variety in a 25 cm container.
- February is the last month for pruning apple and pear trees. Also prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering.
- Protect the blooms of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas from the early morning sun.
- March is the main pruning season for all roses apart from ramblers. Start with climbers and then move on to shrub roses.
- Early spring is a good time to plant hardy geraniums and astrantia.
- Brighten up your containers with spring bedding plants such as primulas, forget-me-nots and wallflowers.
- Prune buddlejas, hydrangeas and hardy fuchsias and trim dead blooms from winter-flowering heathers.
- Clean your patio and decking so that you are prepared for al fresco living.