Violet (Viola odorata)

By Dr. William C. Welch
Professor and Landscape Horticulturist
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Violets were once considered indispensable perennials for the well designed garden. Although numerous native violet species occur in Texas, the violet of choice for most southern gardens was V. odorata, which is of European, Asian, and African origin. Dark blue or purple is the predominant color. Well into the early 20th century, violets were among the most popular florist cut flowers. Their fragrance, rich colors, and relatively easy culture contributed to nationwide popularity.

Violets prefer a rich, moist but well drained soil high in organic content. Partially shaded locations are preferred. Their natural bloom period is late winter and early spring. Although evergreen, garden violets become semi-dormant during our long, hot summers. They can, however, endure considerable drought and heat stress, and usually become lush and healthy with the onset of cooler and more moist fall and winter conditions.

Landscape uses include borders and ground covers. Large container shrubs can often be enhanced by a mass of violets at their base, providing attractive foliage, fragrance, and color at a season when few other plants are at their peak. Mature height is usually 8 to 10 inches. The rounded foliage is attractive even when the plants are not in bloom.

Usual propagation is by division of mature clumps during early to mid fall. Seeds can also be used to produce new plants, but require considerable attention during the early stages.

Borders of garden violets may still be found in some of the old gardens of East and Central Texas. They can be long-lived and relatively low-maintenance perennials. Few plants perform as well in shady areas and offer color and fragrance during January, February, and March. Availability in nurseries is inconsistent at present, but garden centers specializing in perennials or native Texas plants usually offer violets.