Both the Ancient Romans and Greeks cultivated violets as far back as 600 BC, using them for many purposes including love sachets, hangover remedies, sleep aids, heart medications, sweeteners, and even wine making. flower and fruit gardening guides homer and Virgil often mentioned them in their writings. In fact, the violet has been immortalized in poetry throughout the ages.
And of course, there is the poem… “Roses are red… violets are blue”.
However, violets are also purple, orange, white, pink, and so on! Violet is the familiar name for members of the Violaceae family in the viola genus. Violet species number over 200 and include pansies and johnny-jump-ups as well as the many varieties of flowers with “violet” in their names.
In the wild, violets flourish in wooded areas. An early spring flower, they’re able to use the filtered sunlight that shines through the barren branches of deciduous trees to ripen their crowns and produce their vivid blooms and rich foliage. “The modest, lowly violet In leaves of tender green is set; So rich she cannot hide from view, But covers all the bank with blue.” Dora Read Goodale
During the 18th century, plant growers in France saw that there was commercial value in the violet and began collecting them, planting them, and developing the commercial strains, many of which were the forerunners of the violets grown today. Commercial violets were first grown for sale as cut flowers, perfumery, and candy making. As the world fell in love with the violet, nurseries developed strains with larger blooms and variants in color. Today’s violets are divided into sections, most notably:
1. Nominium, the true violets
2. Melanium, the pansies
3. Chaemelanium, stemless forms of the violet
Oddly enough, the flower that is most commonly called a violet, the African Violet isn’t a true violet at all! African Violets are Gesneriads and members of the genus, Saintpaulis. They usually are grown as houseplants while true violets are planted outdoors.
Growing violets is a surprise and a pleasure. Tiny perennials re-emerge each year in unexpected places and even some annual cultivars “volunteer” to return for a second season. Plant them in a well–drained area with soil rich in decayed manure and organic matter and they’ll delight you with whimsy throughout the summer.