Viola cornuta

Those who love the innocent faces of wild violets will be enchanted with this species from the Pyrenees, a perfect plant for garden ground-cover. The pale lavender, deep violet or white flowers are spurred and their five petals are somewhat separated, unlike those of big garden pansies. They grow in masses in early summer, rising to about 10 inches (25 cm) from clumps of bright green, toothed, evergreen leaves.

Viola comuta grows in damp, sunny meadows in the wild, but, unless you can produce similar conditions in your gar-den, it is better to plant it in light shade, for it cannot endure drought. Put in the plants 12 inches (30 cm) apart in soil rich in humus, and allow them to run about among moisture-loving plants in bed or border, for they are not appropriate for formal grouping. Keep them watered in dry weather, and shear them over after flowering, following up with a liquid feed to encourage fresh leaves and a later crop of flowers. They increase fast and keep down weeds.

It is difficult to see how anyone could dislike V. comuta, but John Ruskin, always a contradictious critic, described it as a disorderly flower with a lanky flower-stalk like a pillar run thin out of an iron-foundry for a cheap railway station’. This is not the only time when Ruskin’s eccentric views on flowers have made me grind my teeth.

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