Who can fail to love these flowers? They are so tiny and yet flower abundantly to give great splashes of colour. It seems that they are bursting with cheerfulness. Many of us long for the sun during dark winter days so their colour brings us a natural lift. ‘Heartsease’ is the common name for Viola Tricolor. This name probably stems from the use of the viola in love potions in medieval times, or maybe from the numerous illnesses it is said to cure, not only heart problems but also lung inflammation, fits, and skin complaints. Yet for me just the sight of the bright violas in hanging baskets and tubs in the garden brings a smile to my face and ‘eases my heart.’
Natural Habitat of the Viola
Viola Tricolor is a native of the British Isles. This tiny wild pansy crops up in cornfields, hedgerows and wasteland. The natural habitat of the Viola Tricolor gives them little comfort or nourishment, yet they thrive anyway, and this ‘hardiness’, easiness and resilience has been retained in the breeding. It is one of the reasons they are such winners with gardeners.
Viola Colours and Faces
The three colours (tricolor) on the five dainty petals are purple, white and yellow. In 1813 William Thompson, gardener to Lord Gambier, first began the major hybridisation of Viola Tricolor with Viola Lutea and Viola Altaica. This work has taken place ever since and the amazing combinations of colours that we find in garden centres are a result of this. One of the most endearing features of the viola is the ‘face’. There is something about a flower having a face which means that, in our minds, it develops a personality. It has a characteristic that we human beings relate to. Viola Tricolor has pretty lines in contrasting colour originating from the centre of the petals. They can look like lashes on the flower. From 1830 breeding in both violas and pansies encouraged these expressive lines and ‘blotches’.
When I come across a tiny viola on a field’s edge I feel compelled to pause for, it seems to me, that the tiny flower has its own personality and demands a moment’s admiration. So, where violas thrive, the flower heads multiply and suddenly it seems that there is a riotous crowd jostling for attention! Taken on their own, the colour of each viola takes on the significance. Yellow has a sunny, cheering disposition. Blue has a thoughtful, calming effect. Lilac and white has a sense of peace and purity. Put them together and it is like managing a class of diverse school children!
Violas are members of the Violaceae (Violet) family. This family includes pansies and violets, both of which have their own cultural histories and symbolism, and these are very different from our little violas. Unlike the purple violet, which droops its head down, the viola tricolor raises its face in joy and embraces the light. The violet is closed and private while the viola is open and sharing. I almost sense violas are waving their petals like ‘jazz hands’ at me to brighten up a dark day.
The Flower Writer