Contrary to popular belief the violet is February’s birth flower, not the red rose of St Valentine’s Day. Symbolising faith, humility and chastity the violet is however just as appropriate. The Victorian language of flowers defined a gift of violets as meaning “I’ll always be true.”
The violet’s link with love goes back many years. In Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck uses the flowers to make his love potion. Violets were found in a locket worn by Napoleon, picked from those growing on Josephine’s grave. And the flowers are mentioned in many myths and legends, all on the theme of love.
The botanical name for the violet is viola. The common names however are much more exciting – ‘heart’s-ease’, ‘Johnny-jump’ up and ‘love in idleness’.
Violets were grown not only for their flowers but also for their perfume. By the late 1900s the chemical formula for their scent had been identified and so the trade declined. Violets did however remain popular with florists.
Devon’s Dawlish was the UK’s main growing centre and a train ran to Covent Garden each day, taking the blooms to market. When war came the fields were used to grow food and the trains were stopped.
Violas and Pansies
A low-growing perennial plant violets are happiest when growing in partial shade. They are an absolute delight when spotted on a woodland walk. However, their cousins, the larger and more vibrant violas and pansies, have taken their place in most gardens.
Easily grown from seed or plug plants violas and pansies are cool season plants. The main difference between the two is that a pansy plant will produce few but larger flowers whereas a viola will produce small flowers but lots of them!
African violets are popular for the house or greenhouse. With interesting leaves and attractive flowers, they will start flowering as early as January.
So, whether you grow violets or ones of their close cousins, February is the month.