When I was in high school I took dancing classes (all my friends did) and acquired never-to-be-used-again proficiency in waltz and polka. Every couple of months or so there was an official dance when the girls were given a bouquet of flowers by their dancing partners. I never got anything more exciting than carnations and remember being dead jealous of one of my friends who was presented with a charming posy of sweet violets. Violets are my favourite flower of all time and carnations probably my least favourite, so clearly she was the lucky one.
Sweet violets have the most delicious fragrance and are the loveliest shade of violet but they are tiny things and gathering a posy is a labour of love. (My friend’s dancing partner confessed to bribing his younger sister to pick the flowers – I still thought it was sweet) .
These days I’m all emancipated and when I want flowers, I don’t wait for anyone to give them to me, I grow them in my garden. Violets have a couple more things going for them besides being pretty and fragrant – both the flowers and the heart shaped leaves are edible and can be added to spring salads. You can crystallize the flowers and use them to decorate cakes or steep them in vinegar and use the flavoured vinegar to make lemonade. They also have medicinal uses, helping against sore throat and cough among other things.
Because violets want sun in winter and in spring but prefer shade later in the year and because they spread by runners, they are an ideal ground cover for the edible forest garden. Under my fruit trees, apart from the sweet violet (Viola odorata), I grow the purple-leaved Viola labradorica and violet ‘Freckles’ (Viola sororia) with light speckled flowers.
Those are edible too, though sadly not scented. Sweet violet is the first to flower (usually in March) but the other two varieties flower much longer. On Saturday, I gathered a small bunch and put it on the kitchen window sill where I can see them whenever I’m busy in the kitchen. It’s the small pleasures in life that are important, right?
p.s. If you’re into pretty bouquets of seasonal local flowers, I highly recommend checking out the lovely Juliane Strimatter’s Instagram and her #onebouquetperday project – from 1st May till the end of October she picks and beautifully photographes a bunch of flowers from her surrondings in south Sweden