Violets are beloved for their dainty five-petalled flowers that are borne in profusion in spring. The term ‘violet’ is generally used to refer to different hardy perennial species in the Viola genus, including sweet or wild violet, dog violet and horned violet. Violets produce tiny flowers on short stems in spring, on low-growing or spreading plants with rounded green or purple-flushed leaves. Flowers are typically blue, with white, pink and purple colours also available. Some violets are sweetly scented, particularly sweet violet, Viola odorata. The flowers are an important early-season source of nectar for bees and other insects. Violet flowers are edible and can be candied to use for cake decoration or used fresh to scatter on salads.
Don’t confuse violets with other members of the Viola genus, which is large and diverse and includes the pansy, Viola x wittrockiana. Confusingly, ‘viola’ is also the name given to short-lived bedding plants, similar to pansies but that flower in spring and summer. What’s more, there are other, completely unrelated plants that have ‘violet’ as part of their name: the best-known of these are the house plant African violet, Streptocarpus, and the pond plant water violet, Hottonia palustris.
How to grow violets
Grow violets from seed or buy ready-grown plants to put in many different situations around the garden, ideally in groups for effect as violets are small. Once established, violets need little care and can spread by means of runners, or self-seed to create larger groups or drifts.
Violets: jump links
- Planting violets
- Caring for violets
- Propagating violets
- Growing violets: problem-solving
- Buying violets
- Best violets to grow
Where to grow violets
Violets do best in full sun or partial shade, in soil that’s fertile with plenty of organic matter, and which drains well. Grow violets in a woodland garden, on rockeries and banks, at the front of borders or under shrubs with an open canopy that only cast a light shade.
How to plant violets
Violets are hardy and can be planted at any time of year when soil and weather permit. If conditions are dry, ensure plants are kept watered until they have established. When planting in groups, space plants 15cm apart.
How to care for violets
Violets need little care once established. The flowering on mature plants may decline, and plants can be rejuvenated by lifting, dividing and replanting.
How to propagate violets
Sow seed in autumn for those species that need a period of cold to germinate, such as sweet violet, Viola odorata, and place in a cold frame or an unheated sheltered spot outside. Species that don’t need cold can be sown in spring. Established plants can be divided in autumn or spring, and you can also propagate them from summer cuttings.
Growing violets: problem solving
Violets are usually trouble free.
Advice on buying violets
- Violets can be bought from nurseries, garden centres and mail order suppliers as garden-ready plants
- Specialist mail order nurseries offer a wide range of varieties
Where to buy violets
- Buy sweet violet seeds from Crocus
- Buy horned violets from Beth Chatto Nursery
- Buy dog violet plugs from Naturescape
Violet varieties to grow
Sweet violet, Viola odorata
Horned violet bears purple, white or purple and yellow, fragrant flowers on long stems. It’s great for growing as ground cover and flowers for several months.
H x S: 50cm x 50cm
Dog violet, Viola riviniana
Perfect for partial shade, the dog violet is a native perennial flowering in March and April, bearin dark purple flowers when little else is in bloom.
H x S: 10cm x 20cm