Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue… and White, and Red, and All Sorts Come to Think of It

The violets are blooming and as always I am taken in by their sweet fragrance and colourful little faces. I met a gardener yesterday afternoon, a woman decades my senior, and as we spoke of the violets in her garden and our mutual affection for their graceful charm, I was surprised to learn that she did not know that they are edible!

Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica) growing in the garden of the gardener I met yesterday afternoon. She said that, “…they like it underneath the tree.”

I love the combination here of Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica) with chartreuse Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)

Never one to pass up the chance to act as a goodwill ambassador for these often maligned and overlooked plants, I set about naming off their uses: syrups, jellies, candies, cake garnishes, fresh salad ingredients… violets are an easy edible flower to grow and so practical as a perennial ground cover or a spot of colour in a lawn. They are also very amenable to a range of conditions. I even grow a patch in the shadiest part of my community garden plot where just about nothing else edible will thrive. The only difference I’ve found in growing them this way is that they tend to come up and bloom a bit later.

Pinky-red violet.

I love this gorgeous peach variety. It has a hint of purple that is lovely with the soft peach colour.

All white violet.

A spotted white with purple variety called ‘Freckles.’

‘Alice Witter’ violet. The flowers tend to be smaller than other varieties.

Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica) growing in my garden. I have it underneath a black currant bush.

Last May I wrote about the violets I inherited with this place and the effort that I was taking to preserve and rehome them as we excavated the yard. What I did not mention is that I have been slowly collecting different varieties of all sorts of colours and patterns. I acquired an all white variety from my friend Julianna in a transplant trade a few years back. That year, I bought a few unusual types at a nursery outside of Toronto, and my friend David dug a few up from his parent’s lawn as a gift last spring. I have six varieties in total, but there are more out there that I’d like to add to my collection.

I happened upon this variety yesterday afternoon. Anyone know the name?

We tend to associate violets with the nursery rhyme, but they are so much more varied than the commonplace blue. In fact, I just read in “Herbal: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living” that they, “enjoyed cult status” in Victorian England and that they were even more varied than they are now. Unfortunately, many cultivated varieties were lost.


Are you growing violets or any unusual varieties? Planning to make something with them? I’ll randomly drawn two names from the comments below next Wed, April 25, 2012. The winners will receive a copy of my new book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces,” which happens to include a section on growing violets as well as suggested uses.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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71 thoughts on “Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue… and White, and Red, and All Sorts Come to Think of It

  1. I love the orange one! Honestly, I had no idea there were so many different varieties. At the most I thought I’d ever have to collect three (purple, white and white with speckles), but I can see this could turn into an obsession. I better stay away.

  2. I know that last violet as the Confederate Violet. Looked up the scientific name, Viola sororia priceana. It used to grow in our yard and around our old neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. It was not fragrant. A beautiful companion to the (also non-fragrant) purple wild violets that grew with it.

  3. Those peace ones are gorgeous! I’ve never seen anything lik them!

    I have a backyard FULL of violets so I made violet jelly for the first time this spring :) Most of mine are the really common purple kind but I do have a few of the very last, mysterious white and purple type as well.

  4. I love your labrador violet! Discovered the long-spurred violet, Viola rostrata, this spring and transplanted a piece to my tiny shade garden. It is striking – deep color, and that spur! – hope it likes it at my house.

  5. The ground cover at my rental appears to be weeds, but I’m slowly working on changing that. I might have the perfect spot for violets between two shrubs.

  6. My husband picks on me for growing violets {they are considered weeds in our area} but ever since making violet jelly, I have started to collect them. Thanks for the different varieties. I can’t wait to get more!

  7. There is a viola labridorica growing though the fence from my neighbors yard. I figure its mine now that its on this side of the fence. haha. I want to transplant it!

  8. I recently bought ‘Etain’ violets, which are pretty being yellow violets with pale purple edges. It’s probably not a rare variety though. They smell good too but I’ve never actually eaten one.

  9. I have violets by the hundreds, all started from a small tub from a good friend several years ago. I love them in the lawns and under my deck where they seem to flourish. I must admit I’ve never eaten them before but have often thought of freezing the blooms in ice cubes to add to drinks.

  10. Violet leaves are very good for the skin and the whole plant is great for the heart. Hence sometimes known as ‘Heartsease’. I just found seed for the ‘Freckles” so am looking forward to growing it.

  11. I’d love to be growing violets, if we had more than a tiny balcony. I found several patches of white ones growing wild around here last year, they’re definitely on my list for our future garden, along with the tiny wild orange columbine nearby. I have a soft spot for the old fashioned common flowers.

  12. Funny that you posted this today- yesterday I made violet lilac jelly after years of wanting to and today on flickr I posted a photo of the 5 varieties in my yard. Of course I now want to add the peach one. Gorgeous!

  13. Violets were one of the first things I planted here – my grandmother gave them to me out of her garden (after a cross-country journey to get them here!) From those original two plants I now have purple violets in both front and back gardens, and they continue to spread. I had no idea there were so many colours, and have never tried to eat them – it sounds like I have some experimenting to do this summer!

  14. Do you find that the various varieties of violet flowers have a different taste? Or do all the violets taste the same?

  15. We’ve also inherited a yard full of wild violets – mostly the usual purple-blue and Confederate (fitting, since we’re in the US south) varieties. I love them! I love that our yard has as much violets and clover growing as it does grass – it makes me feel like we have a meadow. There’s so many that I haven’t really felt the need to specially transplant/”save” any, much less purchasing others to plant, but now that I see all these other color varieties I might change my mind! (At least I know they’ll grow well!)
    Haven’t had a chance to eat/cook with any of them yet, though – would love to try some of your recipes for them.
    – Miz L.

  16. I’ve always loved a posy of violets! Have you ever had any success growing violets in pots or containers? (i.e. suitability for balcony garden? – I know they like somewhat shady, moist spots in the garden)

    • I grew violets in a metal trough on my roof for years. They’re fine as long as you can offer them some protection come summer. I always had to move mine into the shade or the leaves were burned.

  17. I have these teeny tiny white and purple violets all over my yard – they are about 1/3 the size of the purple ones that come up. I plan to try to make a wine out of them.

  18. I would like to plant a whole bed of violets this year, to use for salads and to dip in honey for candied flowers. One thing I’ve heard though is that eating yellow violets can make you sick. Do you know if there’s any truth to that Gayla?

    • I haven’t heard that. As far as I know, all violets are edible. I’ll do some research. I wonder though if perhaps there is some confusion with the parts of the plant. Violet flowers and leaves are edible but the roots and seeds are not.

  19. I had no idea these were edible – will make sure to take better care of the ones in my lawn now!

  20. I am not growing any violets, but I also had no idea there were so many different types. I like the freckled violet!

  21. I’ve been transplanting small patches of violets to one of my raised beds, hoping they’ll make a pretty and useful living mulch. I’d love to have a variety of colors, right now they’re all the common purple ones.

  22. Lovely photos! I just started following your blog after acquiring an apartment in the city that has a very large patio – perfect for container gardening! It also happens to be quite shadey though, so will be perusing for tips.

  23. I have johnny jump ups in seed pots right now – not violets but close! My lawn i filled with violets and I sometimes transplant them to bare parts of my garden. I’d love to find some scented ones. I’ll check out your new book!

  24. For some reason when I choose what to grow on my balcony, edible flowers don’t enter into the equation. I focus exclusively on vegetables and herbs. What do violets like growing with? I could place them in a container with something else, perhaps?

  25. We make violet jelly every year, a lovely light lemony flavor, purple. Takes 4 cups of the darkest flowers.
    Don’t store the jars in a lighted area though, or it fades to pink.
    Makes a nice mother’s day gift.

  26. Wow! I’ve really only ever seen the standard Violet, Blue-ish, and white varieties! This is an eye opener! That peach one… oh my goodness, I need it!
    Since I found a recipe for violet tea on Chiot’s Run, I’ve been mainly using them for that purpose. But I’ve also been using them dried in cakes. They add a lovely perfumy taste to the cake, and go great in a plain vanilla tea cake. With violet tea. Mmm.
    [Must go and pick more blossoms from the yard...]

  27. I had no idea there were actual varieties, especially love the “freckled” ones. My violets and clovers are in great demand by the bunnies hanging out in my backyard, but at least it keeps the cuties away from my lettuce and chard!

  28. I too focus exclusively on herbs and vegetables. I don’t have much space to work with since I live on a corner lot and my garden hugs the sidewalk. (approx 11 ft by 6 ft space)

    I have been eying the “curb yard” on the other side of the might be a great place to grow violets!

  29. I’ve been trying to grow African violets, though it’s a bit off topic. I always end up with just the leaves, never able to coax buds from them.

    In other news, our yard is covered in wild violets of all shades from white to, well, violet. Haha! We like violet tea around here, so it’s quite awesome to walk outside to scoop some up.

  30. I’ve never grown violets before, but I’m starting to visualize a revamp of the semi-shady backyard (it’s currently a blank slate) and I think violets may go in nicely. I really like those purple labrador violets. I am becoming obsessed with the idea of culinary plants since space is a premium at our house.

  31. That peach one is a knockout! I have no place to grow them now, but violets have a special place in my heart. There was an extensive patch under my parents cherry tree, and I used to pick bouquets all summer long. One year I found out about “candied” flowers, and I was so excited about eating flowers that I made them all by myself. I think that might have been one of the first recipes I ever cooked!

  32. Such beautiful little flowers! I don’t have any outdoor space right now, but when I do, I’m certainly going to try to grow some edible flowers.

  33. Ooooo!! Time to go violet hunting. We live in a neighborhood that still has a bunch of older houses. Someone has to have violets. And now I know what they look like!!

  34. Like the article & I love the ‘freckles’ variety – so cute! I’d like to crystalise some to add a dainty edible decoration to sweet treats. Time to get some seeds for the allotment! :o)

  35. You have inspired me to investigate these little beauties. In the process of reclaiming a tiny derelict urban backyard & hadn’t considered these. Thank you!

  36. While none are currently growing in our yard, they are on the list of items to go into it during the construction of our garden. While living in the UK, I did develop a liking of violet candies. Cheers!

  37. I love the Freckles variety! My tiny apartment is crammed full of plants and we don’t have outdoor space, but this time of year the Violets are springing up everywhere in yards around our neighborhood! I love to go and admire the little beauties.

  38. Way back when I was in grade school, we had an annual class trip to the Rice Road Greenhouse (you may know of it growing up in Niagara, Gayla). The trip was always right before Mother’s Day. Every year I brought home a different violet for my mom. I didn’t know at the time that she hated them, but she always planted them under the apple and pear trees in the yard. Such a sweet mumma.

  39. I enjoy using them as pressed flowers for many different artsy projects. They are also one of the things I snack on in the mornings when I go out to water. We have had no rain. So many seeds drying out.

  40. We have some violets in the lawn of our apartment building, and growing in the cracks of the walk and driveway too… they are just so cute and cheery – I love how they seem to appear out of nowhere, and are perfectly happy in these seemingly hostile places. I’d love to grow enough to eat some of them — perhaps in our new house next month! Finally a yard of my own to dig and plant in to my heart’s content. Thanks for the chance to win the book, and for your continued inspiration. Love your photos!

  41. I think the violets are slowly choking out the remaining grass in our yard! Which is fine with me. They’re the first edible plant to come up in our garden, so my daughters are enjoying picking them and adding them to our salads.

  42. I remember being enchanted with Louise Beebe Wilders description of the scent of violets in her book, The Fragrant Path. I obtained a packet of Viola odorata seeds then, following the instructions, put them in the freezer for a few months than tried to germinate them. I think I got one plant out of the lot. I remember its heart shaped leaves, rambling stems and minuscule flowers. I don’t remember any scent. That was in my first garden. I’ve never bothered with them since. I have plenty of the unscented varieties.

  43. We try to add as many edible species as we can to our community garden in Rome. I wonder if violets can be planted together with other edibles, in container gardens, so that they can hold the dirt from being erode? The best use of violet must be the Violet Icecream, made by a small icecream lab in my neighborhood.

  44. All of our violets are wild. The ones that grow them selves make the ones I plant seem finicky and fussy. Love your pictures, must put my bias against the cultivated varieties aside and try again. Love that you have a collection.

  45. You inspired me to go see if we have violets on our ravine lot. Ha ha – it turns out we have more violets than grass! Without your post they would have been mowed over without anyone noticing them. But instead this year they’ve made it into a wild violet vinegar – a beautiful gift for mother’s day! Thank you, Gayla!

  46. We just moved into our new house last fall and I finally have a garden. Unfortunately there is a patch of dirt where nothing will grow (almost no sun) so I’m hoping to grow some violets there.

  47. Love all the comments… wish more people mentioned climate/area they live, as I like to know what grows well where.
    My grandmothers garden was full of violets in February, here in central coast CA. When I grew up & discovered pansies, I was so disappointed that they lacked scent. I was so happy about 8 yrs ago, when I saw the REAL violets in my neighbors yard, She allowed me to dig up a patch, they have good years & bad years… & for a while the patch seemed diseased… curled leaves… weird woodiness to the stems.. but this year they were great.. and just yesterday I noticed what look like violet seedlings in my flagstone path.. about 15 feet & around the corner away.. hope this is true!

  48. The freckles variety look so cute! We have a lot of the common blue violet variety around here, Viola sororia. I may have to try and track some “freckles” down. Thanks for sharing!

  49. Despite having regular purple violets going nuts, and ‘Freckles’ taking over, and pale lavender ones doing very well, the Labrador violet barely survives. I don’t know why it insists on being difficult when it would be impossible to kill the others!

  50. I have a small patch of black violets i purchased at a flower nursery in Maine a few years back. They are some of my favorite flowers.

  51. Violets are beautiful, and because they are so hardy and grow freely, they are seen as symbols of optimism and freedom. I have a wooded garden and they are wonderful because they grow under shady tree areas which not many flowers do. I also like the creeping Jenny intertwined with your violets, it has given me an idea to add creeping Jenny to my shady garden areas.

  52. I plan on filling in any empty patches in my yard with transplanted violets rather than planting grass. Hopefully they will take over!

  53. I don’t have any violets on my balcony, but if I can track some down I would love to use them on my Mom’s mother’s day cake. She loves angelfood cake with whipped cream, and little violets on top would be beautiful.

  54. Beautiful pictures, thanks for the great post! I’ve been loving the violets everywhere, and it’s good to see someone else loves them.

    We’re trying hard to establish ramps where we are, which are delicate and slow to propagate. But they’re also delicious… anything we can do to help them along?

  55. I second the astonishment over variety. We have quite a few violets around our house, as well as Spring Beauties, but they are all the common dark purple color. I’ve heard of eating them, and known people who sugar coated them for cakes, but I’ve never tried myself. I just canned for the first time this week, so maybe I’ll tackle that next!

  56. All of these pictures make me think of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland movie and A golden afternoon where they all sing.

    I have a sweet spot for violets in my garden beside a tree with deep roots :)

  57. My family owns a cabin, and I have great memories of all the little purple violets that grew in between the stones of the pathways and under and around the shady hastas and other plants. Love seeing all the varieties!

  58. We have purple one in the yard. I never realized you could eat them! I’ll have to try them in a salad or something one of these days!

  59. My grandmother had about 50+ violet plants on every windowsill of her house when I was growing up, all kinds of varieties (at 6 I didn’t think to find out the names!) It’s one of those distinct memories I have of her, I will always associate her with violets.

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