Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pansies, Johnny jump ups, violas and violets

Violets have been cultivated and used in cooking and medicine for thousands of years. They are low-growing Perennials that are closely related to Pansies, and spread readily in the right conditions. They make an attractive and useful ground cover in shady situations, such as under trees. Wild Violets are prone to being thought of as a weed, as they spring up all over the place and are difficult to control.

Violets have fragrant flowers that are borne on stalks that rise from the leaves. Their leaves are dark green and oval, kidney shaped, or heart shaped. The flowers can be white, blue, purple, and rarely, yellow. Violets flower in April and May, and prefer rich, moist soil and partial shade. They self-sow readily and also spread by runners, and they may need occasional thinning.

Violet leaves and flowers are often used as garnishes in chilled soups and for a festive touch in punches. The petals can be candied and used to garnish cakes, fruits, and pastries. The leaves are tasty enough to be eaten alone, but also work well when added to green salads.

The pansy or pansy violets are a large group of hybrid plants cultivated as garden flowers. Pansies are derived from Viola species Viola tricolor hybridized with other viola species, these hybrids are referred to as Viola × wittrockiana or less commonly Viola tricolor hortensis. The name "pansy" also appears as part of the common name for other Viola species that are wildflowers in Europe. Some unrelated species, such as the Pansy Monkeyflower, also have "pansy" in their name.

Pansies, Johnny jump ups and violets all are related and, for most people, pansies rule in the spring for their hardiness and in the fall.

Violas are perennial; they typically reseed themselves. Gardeners may plant them annually, however, to be sure they get a steady show of blooms. Some violas are biennials, blooming every two years, or lasting two years before the plants die off. The spots, blotches and lines on many species draw bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. These markings give pansies their "face." Some varieties have heart-shaped leaves; others are more oval. Today's varieties come in many colors, with blends of many different colors.

The Viola. Violetta. Violets, the Ancient Greeks grew them for Demeter. Romans used them in weddings. Augustine of Hippo mentions in his "City of God": "the wedding bed, decorated with flowers, often with saffron-dyed sheets and violets after the fashion of the wedding bed of Jupiter and Juno." Homer said they were in the Garden of Calypso. Shakespeare wrote them into the bank where Titania sleeps in "A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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