Violets are blooming all over southeastern Pennsylvania this week. Their pretty little blue flowers bob above big clumps of heart shaped leaves where gardeners encourage them, and above little clumps of heart shaped leaves where they have tried to eradicate them.
Every year about this time I wonder if I should just let them grow instead of trying in vain to weed them out my garden every year. We’re talking the wild violet here, or viola papilionacea, not their fancy viola cousins for sale at garden centers. These are the ones that just show up. Who decides which plants are weeds anyway? The folks who named milkweed, Joe Pye weed, butterfly weed and sneezeweed clearly had some question about their value in the cultivated garden. Yet native plant enthusiasts (myself included) pay cold hard cash to buy them at fancy nurseries and then feature them prominently in their borders.
Back to violets though. No question they are beautiful. Parents name their daughters after them. They represent a color of the rainbow. (Remember Roy G. Biv?) They are Wisconsin’s state flower. And without violets, how would Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson ever have fallen in love? As Mr. Forster describes it:
“Light and beauty enveloped her. She had fallen on to a little open terrace, which was covered with violets from end to end. . . . From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems, collecting in pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth. . . . George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her. ” (from A Room With A View).
Wow do I wish I could write like that.
So why not let them run in rivulets, irrigate my hillsides, eddy round my tree stems and cover my grass with spots of azure foam? Violets will do just that if left to their own devices. They are immune to most herbicides, weed and feeds don’t do the trick and REPEATED applications of Round-Up are necessary to make a dent. And this only if you’re willing to douse your garden with chemicals, which I am not. So I usually try to dig them up and throw them out, to no avail. You know, in the woodland section at the Missouri Botanical Garden, their violets are labeled with those nice little name tags I love so much. That must mean they want them there.
Here’s my plan then. If they get shaded out, too bad for them. But if they really want to be here, I think I ought to let them. (I speak here as if I had a choice in the matter). Who wouldn’t want a flower that can fill your face with radiant joy and cause the George Emersons of the world to notice?