It’s a hard task to pick a favourite plant from my garden at the moment, as the recent warm weather has encouraged so many to bloom but a close encounter with this plant the other day made my choice a bit easier.
It was one of those lovely warm and still, if slightly humid, days last week when perfume hangs in the air. The fact that I noticed the incredible scent of my Viola cornuta did have something to do with the fact that I was on my hands and knees weeding, at the time. Viola cornuta, or the horned violet, may be related to the masses of pansies and violas sold as bedding plants across the country but there is a delicacy and a simplicity about this plant that it’s highly bred cousins often lack. It forms clumps of mid green foliage along the edges of my brick paths and from late spring right through to autumn will consistently flower.
I have both the lilac and white flowering types which have the distinctive viola flat-faced blooms with five petals. The plants grow to no more than 15cm tall so make perfect specimens for the front of a border and like full sun although they can cope with light shade. The flowers are held above the foliage on stems creating a pretty, hazy appearance. Viola cornuta is easy to grow, some might say too easy, spreading by its roots and by seed. For me, this is a trait I’ve embraced as it softens the edges of my borders and pops up of its own accord around my garden. It seems equally happy growing in the damp, rich soil of my shady border or eking out an existence in the gravel around the base of my raised beds. By mid July the plants can start to look quite straggly but, like geraniums, if you cut it back hard it will regrow within a few weeks and reward you with more flowers into the autumn.
The perfume from these little flowers is beautiful, a scent reminiscent of our native wildflower, Viola odorata, if there were any left in the countryside for me to get a whiff of. (I’m sure there are some, somewhere, but I have yet to discover them). With large enough clumps of it you don’t need to be crawling around on the ground to experience the aroma and it would make a lovely plant for a warm, sunny courtyard or patio.
The white form, Viola cornuta ‘Alba’ is my favourite of the two with its bright, pure white flowers lighting up a dark, shady corner of my garden. It blends well with woodland style plants. I have it growing next to Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’, so that when it starts to look quite tired by mid April, the Viola then takes over. At night, the flowers almost glow in the dark, another reason to plant them near a patio.
It’s possible to buy the seed but I would recommend buying as a plant and don’t buy too many, one or two would be sufficient to get you started and it won’t be long before Viola cornuta is happily making itself at home in your garden.