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Perennial Violas

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Violas are one of my favourite little plants.  I find the annual types are much more vigorous than pansies when standing up to our British weather and they generally look after themselves.  If you really want to push the boat out, a bit of dead-heading, plenty of water in summer and a feed with tomato food will keep them very happy.


Pernnial Viola Collection

Pernnial Viola Collection


Whilst everyone has seen the aforementioned bedding violas, not everyone knows about their hardy perennial cousins.  They are often fragrant and come in a beautiful variety of cottage-garden colours.  They have a long flowering period, even moreso if deadheaded regularly.  Well-established clumps can become quite large and I believe nothing can beat their little faces to make a gardener like me smile.  Mine become smothered in flowers held above a mound of compact foliage.


Viola Clouded Yellow

Viola ‘Clouded Yellow’ – a variety with Viola cornuta parentage which results in elongated petals


Perennial violas were bred from hardy Viola lutea (a UK native) and Viola cornuta (native to the Pyrenees) in the last half of the 19th century, whereas pansies and annual violas have different parentage which makes them less reliably perennial and more straggly in appearance.

The varieties in the gallery below have distinct Viola cornuta heritage which gives the petals an elongated appearance.  ‘Swallowtail’ in particular is a strong grower and easy to take cuttings from (middle, bottom row).



Pernnial violas are relatively easy to take from cuttings.  This is the only way of ensuring that a plant will be the same as its parent.  Violas cross-pollinate with each other wildly so seedlings are not likely to be the same as their parents, although this is one way of discovering new varieties.  The three violas on the top row above are all colour variations of the same plant.



To keep perennial violas happy it is best to plant them in full sun at the front of a border.  The soil should be moist but not wet, and it’s best to mix a soil conditioner or other organic matter through the soil to give them a good start.  Don’t let them dry out in the summer, especially in pots.  They also need a regular liquid feed (tomato food or other high-potash feed is good) in pots.



I find that the foliage doesn’t get bothered by slugs and snails, although the flowers often get munched.  However, these plants produce so many flowers that you won’t notice the odd nibble here and there.  If you do get bothered by them, my friend Jo swears by used coffee grounds scattered around plants as a slug deterrent!



Violas can be trimmed to encourage new growth and more flowers.  In early autumn it’s best to give them a further trim to 6cm to give the plants a chance to rest before winter.

Good varieties to start with include Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow (very vigorous grower) and Magic.  The best sources for finding these plants are:




And if you need another reason to find a place for these plants in your garden, the flowers are edible and look lovely on top of pastries and salads.  Click here to find out how to make them.



Elderflower cream tarts with edible sugared flowers

Sugared violas topping elderflower cream tarts


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