Violets: Love Them Or Hate Them?

It is the season when the Common Violets (Viola sororia Willd.) are blooming. People have a complicated relationship with wild violets. We see them as charming and petite wildflowers, but also as voracious invasive weeds.

Common Violets

Personally, I think that violets are fine in their place, which is anywhere other than my flower beds. I welcome violets into my lawn, where I would love to see them do battle with the Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). Despite this, few violets have established themselves there.

I do allow them to form a nice ground cover in a couple of areas, most notably the very informal Thicket Corner in the southeast part of the back garden. Rather than the Common Violet, here it is the white Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) that grows, and I find the flowers very attractive.

Canada Violet
Canada Violet

Common Violets do have many virtues. They have sweet little blue flowers. They are native to North America, and have significant wildlife value. For example, they are host plants to many species of Fritillary butterflies. What’s more, mourning doves and wild turkeys eat the seeds.

My old wheelbarrow planter, full of pansies.

Virtually no one objects to the Common Violet’s domesticated cousins, Johnny Jump Up (Viola tricolor – is that a great common name or what?) and Pansies (Viola wittrockiana). In spring I love to fill my back garden containers with both, and I leave them there until the summer heat starts wearing them down.

This year I also planted them in my raised Driveway Border, for additional early color and to cover up some of the bare earth. This experiment has been a modest success, though it takes a heck of a lot of Violas to fill in a large bed. I think I’ve decided I actually prefer the smaller but profuse flowers of Viola tricolor to the bigger, sometimes floppy blooms of the Pansies.

Johnny Jump Up
Johnny Jump Ups in containers in\the back garden, watched closely by our concrete rooster.

Having said all that, I do find Common Violas to be a problem in flower beds (the Canada Violets are better behaved and never intrude where they are not wanted). It’s not the prolific self-sowing (young seedlings are easy to remove), but the rapidly expanding colonies of rhizomes that push back everything in their path. I regularly have to pull hunks of these fleshy roots from my flower beds. This doesn’t bother me especially, but I know that if I neglect this task for very long I will have myself a Violet plantation.

Are you a lover or hater of wild violets?

71 Comments on “Violets: Love Them Or Hate Them?”

  1. I do love them – but there are limits to my love! I am brutal too, and frequently remove great clumps where they’ve spread. I’m lucky to have them in my lawn. I shall have to take a look at Viola canadensis if it’s non-invasive. Love the name “Johnny Jump Ups”! We call them Heartsease, and in Germany they are called Little Stepmothers!

  2. I find violets to be charming wherever they pop up. I have all native plant gardens, a part shade savanna garden and a full sun prairie garden with very little lawn. I had originally designed the gardens, but the plants know better than I where they want to go. .

  3. Though I like violets, they were out of control here and I pulled them out in great handfulls when I moved to this garden. Now I try to move them if I have time. I sometimes pick a bunch for a tiny vase on my desk and am always amazed at how lovely they are. The Canada violet grows wild in our woodlands and I saw thousands of them this past weekend at Yellow Branch Falls. The Romans used violets to make wine and Empress Josephine had them embroidered on her wedding dress. There is both history and romance in a violet. I can’t imagine my garden without it.

  4. I am a lover of wild violets, but I have to say that they have not been too aggressive in my planted beds. If they take over I might be less happy. You are right about needing a ton of violas to plant in a garden space. My two dozen Johnny Jump Ups are cute, but not nearly enough to really be seen. Need more!

  5. You’re right – I love them and hate them at the same time. They are fine and actually quite pretty as groundcover on an area that also has ivy or vinca. But they just don’t know when to stop. And their roots make it so hard to pull them out entirely, so it’s almost useless trying to get rid of them.

  6. Johnny Jump Up is a great common name, I almost like it more than Joe Pye weed! 🙂
    Love your canada violet but I love all violets indeed, they aren’t voracious and invasive weeds here, they just self seed discretely in my garden and I let them be….

  7. I’m very fond of the violets that bloom in our lawn every spring, and I don’t mind the clump or two that invariably shows up in my rock garden every year. Even after they’re done blooming, the foliage is pretty. I miss the days when my children were little and would bring me sweet little violet bouquets!

    Haven’t had much luck with the Johnny Jump-Ups here. Once in a while, a random one shows up somewhere, but I’ve never had them multiply and spread from year to year, as my grandmother did!

  8. Oh Jason the pansies and violas you don’t like became my ‘spark’ flower when i went to Europe! I borrowed the word from birders, as in spark bird. The moment i saw it i suddenly realized it is my favorite and even cross stitched towels and centerpieces with pansies designs. I didn’t know there are other species like those in the few photos. I love them in planters like your wheelbarrow, unfortunately they hate our climate.

    Re: coconuts, you said you love coconut curry, wait till you tasted the freshly harvested young coconut juice and its young endosperm, oh it tastes like no other. The cleanest liquid on earth, a quencher and full of nutrients. I suggest you get that one the moment you come into a tropical clime.

  9. I agree–the wheelbarrow planter is nifty! I’m OK with Violets. Especially the ones close to the woods. As you say, they are a native wildflower afterall. We use corn gluten meal as an organic fertilizer/weedkiller to get rid of Dandelions in the lawn, and it seems to help keep the Violets in check, too. Your Johnny Jump-Ups are great, too.

  10. Oh, the purple ones can be pretty, especially when we are so floral-deprived after a long winter, but they are WEEDS! Extremely invasive weeds, I shudder every time I see one in my yard. They also almost as thuggy as creeping charlie; they spread by seed, runner roots, and root cuttings. BEWARE!

  11. I love them! In my natural style garden they are welcomed. In several areas they make a wonderful spring time ground cover, and when they are all blooming, the sight is gorgeous. They don’t seed themselves in my zoysia lawn but stay where I like them. I have both white and blue ones. They die back when summer heat arrives, and then I cover them over with pine straw. Another note: They are edible and quite nutritious. The leaves taste like spinach! By the way, I love your wheelbarrow full of pansies! I think I will steal your idea next year for my own garden!

  12. Hi Jason, Thanks for your comment on my post about gardening with nature in mind. I did some cleaning today, and looked through my gardening books to see if I have the Tallamy one. I was thinking I may, but I have one that has a similar cover, so I must not have that one. You are right, though, as long as we have some host plants for the caterpillars, and nectar for the butterflies and other pollinators, we can also enjoy some other plants.

    As for the violets, they are the flower I remember growing in the grass at my maternal grandparents’ place. I loved them, and found some to grow early on in my gardening. I let some grow in the vegetable garden, but somehow end up having to pull some out, and lots of them from my flower pots. Our next door neighbor recently complained about all of the violets growing in her back yard. Oops!

  13. I completely agree with you about the violets, I allow them where I want them and make sure to keep on top of them when they start to wander. But they sure are a cheery, early blooming “free” flower!

  14. The violets went crazy this year, but they aren’t that hard to beat back when thet are in unwelcome territory. I’m glad to have then, cause thet fill in spots I’d otherwise have to fill with annuals.

  15. I have begrudgingly learned to accept the presence of common violet in my garden, mainly because I can’t get rid of them. The flowers are indeed nice and in many areas it competes with golden creeping Jenny and the purple and yellow make a nice combo.

  16. I love them everywhere I need a ground cover and they look great in the beds, but I do find I have to pull many out as the perennials bloom…I let them go wild in several areas as ground cover especially around the veg beds….it is a love/hate relationship though at times.

  17. My one time invasive wild violets are being doubly attacked. Strawberries are taking over which is manageable and not so bad. Tasty. But something is decimating my violets in the deck boxes and chewing the leaves to their ribs. Not chewing the interspersed strawberry leaves. Any idea about the culprit? Any suggestions? I really love the wild violets that appear early with the forsythia. I’ve had them in several pots around the deck in Baltimore City for years, but this is the first time for the chewers. Thanks!

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