No Shrinking Violet: North American Native, Lovely Viola Labradorica…

April 26th, 2010 § 3 comments

Viola labradorica, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE), North American native Labrador violet…

They say that Elizabeth Taylor once drew her lovers in with the flutter of her dark lashes and a passing glance from her violet-hued eyes. I have never seen eyes tinted in such a rich color, but I am sure that they must be powerfully seductive. Richard Burton was certainly captivated -twice in fact- and countless others fell under Elizabeth’s spell. Indeed, if you are to believe the headlines on the front page of grocery check-out tabloids, (oh come on, you know you peek at them too), the violet-eyed bombshell is still reeling them in with her gaze. Of course, not everyone loves Elizabeth Taylor, but I have a soft-spot for her – I admit it. I completely love her in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and her other great roles, and I could care less how many times she’s been married. She believes in love and she throws her heart open wide, with complete abandon…

Violets. Like most divas, it seems you either love them, or you hate them. Some are neat and tidy, and others spread wildly – sometimes even aggressively. Over the weekend, my friend Leah sent me a quick note. She was wondering if she should be concerned about the violets popping up in her garden. Leah finds them charming -as do I- but she is aware that some wild species are considered weeds. By now, it’s probably quite apparent that I have a looser approach to gardening. If a plant performs well as a ground cover, producing a lovely blossom and pretty foliage, why fight Mother Nature, right? OK, sometimes we must. Sometimes. In well-tended perennial gardens, we must keep the rhizomatous roots of spreading wild violets in check. Annual field violets and pansies are rarely a problem however, and I rather like them.

Anyway, Leah got me thinking about violets. I grow many species of viola here at Ferncliff, and I enjoy them all – including the more aggressive types spreading at the edge of the forest. And few European varieties, such as the German violets I grow, possess a powerful and intoxicating fragrance. The scent, drifting from neat colonies clustered at the base of the warm stonewalls here in spring, is quite heady. Much as I love them all, it is our native Labrador violet that has truly captured my heart..

Viola labradorica – © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Lovely Viola labradorica, as the name suggests, can be found growing wild to the north in Canada, from Labrador and Ontario, on southward into Northern New England, (USDA hardiness zones 2-8). Her gorgeous true-violet blossoms emerge in early spring, (April here in Vermont), and continue for several weeks. Throughout the season, Viola labradorica’s beautiful burgundy foliage covers the garden floor in a dense carpet, slowly morphing in color to a purple tinged green by midsummer. To put on the best show, she prefers dappled shade and woodsy soil with moist conditions, though she will also adapt to drier spells once established. This is another tough lady, with deceptively fragile looks. Tiny she is, remaining a ground cover no more than 8 inches high, (typically 3-6″), but shrinking she is not! The Labrador violet forms a bold tapestry – stunning in combination with golden Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa ‘Aurea’), and painted ferns, (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), and virtually any perennial or woody plant – particularly those with gold, bronze and orange-tinted foliage…

Viola labradorica © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Violet seduction, as personified by Elizabeth Taylor {Image ⓒ Wallace Seawell / MGM archive}

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§ 3 Responses to No Shrinking Violet: North American Native, Lovely Viola Labradorica…"

  • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Hi Michaela,
    From your description, I’m thinking that this Viola would look fantastic tucked in beside my bronze leafed Coral Bells (sorry I don’t know the specific cultivar).

    But about your “looser approach”, well now you’re talkin’ my kind of gardening! We started out here, roughly 18 years ago, with a virtually empty 2 acre parcel of land. After a lot of trial and error (and more than a few casualties) we eventually worked out a combination of soil enrichment and deep mulch being held in place with a dual purpose sod “moat” that also holds the extra water necessary for the first year. You can’t afford to baby plants when you’re living in the country on a well, so if it can’t keep up with the weather and the competition, c’est la vie bebe!

  • […] more about North America’s beautiful Labrador Violet, and an earlier horticultural tribute to Elizabeth Taylor […]

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