Dog violets

Posted: Friday 2 November 2012
by Kate Bradbury

The leaves of dog violets are taking on a renewed vigour. I can almost see the flashes of purple that will dot the darkest corners of my garden in a few months.

Purple flower of a dog violet

Dog violets, Viola riviniana, appeared almost as soon as I laid the topsoil of my new garden. They’ve been here for three years now, slowly bulking up in corners where nothing else grows.

They thrive in the shadiest parts of my garden, flowering just after the snowdrops and before the first primroses, and then virtually disappear under the canopy of more showy summer plants. Sometimes they produce a smaller, second flush of flowers in late summer, which I only notice when gardening or sitting close by. 

The name dog violet arose because, having no scent, it was regarded as an inferior species of violet. It’s not nearly as popular as its fragrant cousin the sweet violet, Viola odorata, yet it's one of the commonest violets in the UK. It typically flowers from March to May and is traditionally found in woodland habitats. It also grows at the base of hedges, in grassland and, of course, in gardens.  

In fact, the dog violet is often regarded as a weed, and I can see why. Like many other weeds, it’s extremely successful at propagating itself. Seeds develop in capsules that burst open when ripe, hurling their contents far and wide. It’s also thought that the seeds are attractive to ants, which may unwittingly help to disperse them too.

Weed or not, to me the dog violet is a harbinger of spring. Right now, small clusters of heart-shaped leaves are taking on a renewed vigour while other plants in the garden die down. I can almost see the little flashes of deep purple that will dot the darkest corners of my garden in a few months. Pretty good going for a small plant with no scent and an unflattering name.

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