Viola, Tufted Pansy
Botanically speaking, violas, pansies, and almost all violets are perennials belonging to the genus Viola. However, violas and pansies are usually treated as annuals, invaluable for winter and spring bloom in mild-winter areas, for spring-through-summer color in colder climates. Typically used for mass color in borders and edgings, as covers for spring-flowering bulbs, and in containers. Violets are more often used as woodland or rock garden plants.
Violas and pansies take sun or partial shade; violets grow in part or full shade (except as noted), but most are natives of deciduous forests and bloom best with at least some sun during the flowering season.
Almost all violets have two kinds of flowers: normal, conspicuous ones that rise above the foliage and may be pollinated and set seed, and short-stemmed, inconspicuous cleistogamous (Greek for “closed spouse”) flowers that set copious seed without pollination and produce offspring identical to the parent. Many violets also spread by aboveground runners. Some reproduce so freely they can crowd out other small plants.
Violas and pansies have such complex ancestries that many botanists are unwilling to assign them to species, preferring to list them by variety name. However, it will avoid confusion if we retain these plants under their former names, invalid though they now may be.
In cold-winter climates, set out nursery plants of pansies and violas in spring for summer bloom; in mild climates, plant in autumn for winter-to-spring (or longer) bloom. Or start from seed: in cold climates, sow in mid- to late summer and overwinter seedlings in cold frame until spring; or sow indoors in winter, plant in spring. In mild-winter areas, sow in mid- to late summer, plant out in fall. To prolong bloom, pick flowers (with some foliage) regularly and remove faded blooms before they set seed. In hot areas, plants get ragged by midsummer and should be removed.
Grows to 6–8 in. high and 8 in. wide, with smooth, wavy-edged leaves. Purple, pansylike, slender-spurred flowers about 1/2 in. across. Modern strains and varieties are complex hybrids with larger, shorter-spurred flowers; they come in solid colors (purple, blue, yellow, apricot, ruby red, white) or with elaborate markings (“faces”). Plants in the frost-tolerant Penny series grow 4–6 in. tall and wide, with spring and fall flowers in bold colors. Sorbet strain comes in pastel bicolors; tolerates heat and cold.
Some nurseries offer English violas—named varieties propagated by cuttings or division. These form 2-ft.-wide clumps and are reliably perennial.
European native for rock gardens or naturalizing. In bulb and leaf, resembles small hyacinth, but 10-i...
Grows to 6–8 in. high and 8 in. wide, with smooth, wavy-edged leaves. Purple, pansylike, slender...
Native to the Caucasus. Low-growing plant with trailing stems and dark green or bronze-tinted leaves j...