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Violas Just as Showy As Cousin The Pansy
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Many gardeners, myself included, grab hold of the idea that bigger is always better, not only from the size of our flowerbeds, but to the actual size of the flowers. Sometimes, however, a large number of smaller flowers make a bigger show than a few large blooms.
One flower that gets overlooked because of its diminutive size is the Viola, or Johnny Jump-up. Find these at garden centers now ready for planting just down the aisle from pansies.
You may think smaller flowers fail to create a visual impact in the garden, but you are very wrong. Viola, an old fashioned garden favorite, is the wild ancestor of the pansy and is even called wild pansy. Another common name is Heart's Ease, which originated in England where the brightly colored flowers spring up in the meadows.
Johnny Jump-ups resemble miniature pansies with small dainty faces. Although there are many color variations, most of us think of the deep violet, yellow and white. Fairly new, however, is the Sorbet group with pastel flowers.
Plants will grow 6 to 8 inches tall and are prolific bloomers that may have dozens of dime-sized flowers at one time. For this reason, they deserve a place in the landscape and in containers on the patio or deck. The sheer number of flowers produced makes them every bit as showy, even from a distance, as the pansy.
Johnny Jump-ups are very cold tolerant and transplant to the garden with ease. Select a site in full sun or partial shade with organically rich soil. For a really show-stopping display, plant a large group of single-colored 24-inch tall snapdragons such as yellow Sonnets or Liberties to the back of the bed with a mass of the purple and yellow violas in front.
Planting large-flowered daffodils like Ice Follies or King Alfred in a bed of Majestic Giant or blue Crystal Bowl pansies makes a eye-catching display. Equally showy is to plant the smaller flowered narcissus with Johnny Jump-ups.
The jonquillas, or those in the tazetta class with their smaller but numerous flowers, works great in combination with mass planted violas in a bed.
Before planting violas, prepare the bed. Purchase landscape soil mixes by the bag, cubic yard or truck full. When you look the price by the cubic yard, you'll see it is a small price to pay for the key ingredient that will give you the green thumb.
Most gardeners I talk to are plagued with a tight clay soil. Clay particles are the smallest of all soils. Because of their small size, they are easier to compact, keeping out not only water but also air. So whether you want to go with a landscape mix or simply work in organic matter, your flower success starts at ground level.
By incorporating organic matter like humus, compost or peat into native soil, good things start to happen. Organic matter helps loosen the soil for better water penetration and aeration leading to good root development. Remember that soil improvement is a continual process.
Organic matter is equally important in cases of more sandy soil. Sand is made up of the largest particles allowing for quick drainage and leaching of nutrients. By adding organic matter, the water holding capacity improves and the nutrients needed by plants can be retained.
Time is running out to create beautiful beds with violas or Johnny Jump-ups, pansies, snapdragons, and kale and cabbage. These plants can take our winters if we get them in the ground soon enough to get acclimated before a really cold period.