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Versatile Violas

Each year the National Garden Bureau promotes a flower they feel deserves recognition and wider use. The flower of the year for 2007 is the viola, very similar to pansies only with smaller flowers. This organization has provided some interesting information about this flower. Viola is actually the common name as well as the genus name for about 500 species of wildflowers and annual bedding plants, some being tender or short-lived perennials in warmer climates. What we normally find as annual violas in catalogs are those with flowers up to one and one-half inches across. Those with flowers two inches or more across are the pansies. Most of todays violas have as an ancestor the true perennial Sweet Violet (/Viola odorata/). This is an heirloom plant, popular in the past as now for its sweetly fragrant and deep violet flowers. In gardens, there are two main groups of violets. The Johnny Jump-ups (/Viola tricolor/) is an annual, but with its self-sowing all around gets its common name. The purple, white, and yellow small flowers give rise to its species name. The flowers are nickel-sized, and have interesting dark lines or whiskers. Classic, older varieties of /tufted pansies /include Arkwright Ruby with dark wine red flowers and golden centers and edging. Chantreyland is popular for its large apricot-colored flowers. Yellow Perfection, White Perfection and Blue Perfection are named for the clear color of their blooms. These are open-pollinated, meaning they are left to cross and produce seeds naturally compared to the controlled cross between specific parents for hybrids. Among the many excellent hybrid varieties is Sorbet, which comes in more than thirty colors including beautiful pastel and two-tone colors on compact plants reaching six to eight inches tall. Penny violas are available in shades of light blue, deep blue, purple, violet, white, yellow, orange and red. Some hybrids have whiskers and blotches (faces), others are bicolor. They have a mounding garden habit and flower continuously. In 2006, Skippy XL Red-Gold was the first viola to win an All-America Selections award for superior garden performance. The large, one and one-half inch flowers are ruby red with violet-red shading below a golden yellow face with the trademark whiskers or markings. The Skippy series has many other colors, including bicolors. In the north, plants grow and flower best in full sun. Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time or occasionally fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. Water when the soil is dry to maintain even moisture. Violas have few pests and diseases.

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