Violets, the constant little gems that dot our gardens today, were favourites of the Greeks, taken by Napoleon as his floral emblem and adopted by Queen Victoria as her mourning flower-such is their enduring popularity.
I find the best time to plant violets is in September and October in an open, well-drained, semi-shaded position preferably with morning sun and sheltered from cold winds.
If you plant them in a cold, shaded spot the leaves will grow vigorously at the expense of the flowers which will be small and insignificant.
Plant at spacings of 25 centimetres apart and keep moist, not wet, until they have become established.
Violets are surface rooters and as they develop the crown rises above the level of the soil. If your violets fail to flower, trim off the heavy canopy of leaves before flowering as the extra light seems to stimulate production of flower buds.
These small perennial herbs are closely related to pansies and grow from 10 to 12 centimetres high.
The leaves are rich green, roughly heart-shaped with fragrant flowers of deep violet blue with varieties in purple, white, yellow, pink and pale blue.
The Australian violet, Viola hederacea, is a creeping plant with soft green leaves and white flowers with purple throats suitable for shadier spots and makes a thick ground cover.
Viola odorata is a winter and spring flowering plant renowned for its sweet perfume, and cultivars come in colours of pink, white, cream and mauve in single and double forms.
Before sugar was in general use this violet was used as a sweetener.
Viola lutea is known in Europe as the yellow mountain violet but is actually more of a soft champagne shade with a purple back and is considered one of the parents of our modern pansies.
Viola labradorica is a small purple-leafed species with deep mauve flowers with short stems about seven centimetres tall. It likes to grow in semi-shade.
The Flamboyance of Garrya elliptica
One of the most stunning winter flowering shrubs is Garrya elliptica also known as the silk tassel bush, as it festoons itself with decorative, long, velvety lime to mauve-grey catkins that look like giant caterpillars hanging among the dark green leaves.
This densely foliaged shrub was discovered by David Douglas near the Columbia River in Canada and named after Nicholas Garry, Deputy Governor of the Hudson Bay Company.
The male form is the more flamboyant with catkins which can reach an amazing 30 centimetres in length while the modest female has catkins half the size followed by very attractive purplish fruits.
Any well-draining soil will suit, preferably in a sunny position.
Shelter is not essential as the leaves can withstand wind even in coastal regions. Plant in a permanent position as they don’t like being disturbed.
It makes an excellent feature espaliered against a brick wall and looks magnificent. If necessary prune in spring.
September 2: The Westbury Garden Club’s Spring Flower Show at Westbury Town Hall. Lyall Street, Westbury from 1.30pm-4pm.
September 19: The Australian Plant Society meets at the Max Fry Hall on Gorge Rd, Trevallyn, at 7.30pm. Guest presenter Tim Rudman will speak on the current status of Mrytle rust in Tasmania. Visitors welcome. Visit www.apstasnorth.org