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4/08/2007

The Violet Season

Ozarks Gardening, Syndicated Newspaper column
Copyright©Jim Long, Mar 12, 2007

The Violet Season

In the South, spring is the season for Confederate violets, those little gray, native violets that grow in the woods. The story is these little violets blanket the graves of lost Confederate soldiers who were never identified after the War. The fact is, this little violet, (Viola sororia ‘Confederate’), is actually light blue, but the color blue, even after a century and a half, still isn’t a favorite color down South, so they call it, “the gray” violet.
Violets are a weed to some gardeners and a joy to others. In the Ozarks, the showy birdsfoot violet (Viola pedata) grows in fields, along old highway embankments and on rocky outcroppings, in the sun.
But the other violets, the blue, white, yellow and purple ones, prefer semi-shade and will thrive in perennial flower beds and under trees. In fact, if you are a morel mushroom hunter, you will doubtlessly encounter violets on your walks in the woods.
The Missouri and Arkansas woods has a substantial variety of violets, from light blue to yellow, on to purple and deep blue. Given filtered sunlight, they bloom profusely, yet if you plant them in dense shade, they will likely not bloom at all.
The simple little violet is an excellent ground cover for those shady places in the lawn that won’t grow anything else. You can plant them around the bases of lawn trees, or along pathways that trail out of your yard into the woods.
An added advantage is that violets are edible. The leaves always go into my first pot of cooked spring greens and I’ve made quiches with the leaves, too. (A pot of cooked violet leaves by itself is a bit of a laxative). The flowers can be candied, or turned into violet jelly, either the canned or frozen jelly. You’ll find the jelly has a pleasant, subtle, floral flavor. The flowers can also be used to make vinegars and violet honey.
The scent of the violet is as fascinating as it is elusive. The violet, with its delightful smell, can only be smelled about one time in an hour. The flower has ionone in its essential oil, which temporarily dulls your sense of smell after you have first sniffed it. That first smell is delicious, the second sniff gives you no obvious scent at all!
I have a patch of violets in my Ozarks native medicinals garden that grows next to the blue cohosh and the goldenseal. That particular one is a variety called, “Freckles” and is a pale blue with darker blue dots. In another part of the yard I have a deep maroon one called, “Robes Pierre” and it blooms a little later. What is great about these little plants is how they thrive in poor soil, stay a robust, dark green even in the heat of summer, and require nothing of me beyond admiration. They are the perfect groundcover and make themselves at home around rocks near my tiny water pool.
They do, however, throw their seeds freely after blooming and I usually have a few to dig out and move to the roadside. Some violet varieties spread by underground runners, as well, and quickly make themselves at home. But violets aren’t tenacious and as bothersome as plants like Johnson grass or Bermuda. They remain one of the joys of roadside and woodland wildflowers in springtime.
Happy gardening! Comments and questions always welcome at www.Longcreekherbs.com.

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