Australian violets are both charming and versatile

Whether they are used as a thick evergreen groundcover or are trained to spill down the edges of a water feature or hanging basket, this little charmer never fails to delight in the garden. Its versatility includes a willingness to grow in full shade to full sun. Read all about growing and caring for this violet below.

Viola hederacea is a part of the Violaceae family and is one of the 400 species of violets found worldwide. It is commonly known as the Australian or Tasmanian violet, or in Afrikaans Viooltjie. The word “hederacea” comes from the Latin phrase meaning “like ivy,” which describes the ivy-like leaves of this this trailing ground cover.

This species of violet is native to eastern Australia, where it is widespread, and in nature it can be found growing in the shade of forests, or trailing artistically down the sides of waterfalls, or forming a blanketing groundcover around small bodies of water, or any other place where they can find moist and rich soil for them to spread via their underground runners.

The Australian violet is a delightful spreading evergreen which forms mats of bright green leaves and masses of tiny white and violet flowers in spring, summer and autumn, and in warmer subtropical gardens it can flower all year round. The flowers stand above the foliage, at a height of about 15cm, and each plant can spread via underground runners to about 30cm. Although these plants grow well in shaded conditions like forests or anywhere under heavy tree cover, they do need sunshine to flower well and will be more prolific in more sunshine.

Click here to see Google images of Viola hederacea

In the Garden & Home:

The Australian violet is an excellent fast spreading perennial groundcover for moist, shady areas, growing well under a canopy of trees. However, it also takes full sun if watered regularly, making this little plant excellent in beds where the shade pattern varies greatly between summer and winter, for example, underneath deciduous trees which allow the full sun through in winter but are shaded in summer.

It is good to stabilise the soil on banks and perfect next to water features, rivers, ponds or dams. It is essential in all woodland and cottage gardens, where it forms a pretty groundcover amongst other flowers, or in the rose garden.

It is lovely planted between pavers, stepping stones and alongside pathways. And in areas where grass struggles to grow, this plant can be a beautiful alternative.  The Australian violet is quite hardy and can tolerate being minimally walked upon by humans or animals, so long as they aren’t regularly trampled.

Its lovely trailing habit makes this violet a wonderful addition to mixed container plantings and hanging baskets.

Australian violet flowers can be used as garnish, and in salads, and as they don’t have a strong taste, they can be used with sweet or savoury foods. Enjoy their delicate beauty as a finishing touch on small cakes, or if you have plenty, add them to a spring salad. You can also add the fresh, small green leaves to your salad, as they’re also edible. Flowers are fairly prolific from spring to autumn, so these are a handy flower to have in your garden if you like to use edible flowers.

Cultivation/Propagation:

The Australian violet grows throughout South Africa, and is a very low maintenance plant that can thrive with very little care and attention if planted in the right areas.  Although it grows in sheltered positions in coastal gardens, it will not tolerate direct coastal exposure and salty winds.  If the soil is kept moist it thrives in the heat, tolerating temperatures as high as the mid 40's°C. It is also hardy to moderate frost and can tolerate temperatures as low as -5°C for short periods. In severely cold regions the leaves may go dormant in winter, but if the roots are thickly mulched the plant will willingly shoot again in spring. In the winter rainfall regions, and other hot and dry regions, it will require summer watering.

Although, in its natural habitat it thrives in moist shady places, in most regions of South Africa it will grow happily in full sun, as long as it can be watered regularly. In fact the plant flowers more abundantly where it receives more sunshine, and in very deep shade flowering will be inhibited. However, in very hot and arid regions semi-shade is always best.

Besides being very sensitive to salinity, it adapts to most garden soils, and can be grown in slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soils. It is adapted to chalk, clay loam, loam, loamy sand, sandy clay, sandy clay loam and sandy loam soils. To give your plants a good start, dig the beds over well, incorporating compost and a dusting of bone meal or superphosphate, and plant about 30cm apart for a groundcover.

For the best results, water moderately during the growing season, and the plants can be fertilised along with the rest of the garden in summer.

The Australian violet grows moderately fast and is usually not invasive, but under favourable conditions it can become invasive, but it is easy to control if necessary.

Propagation is by division of the runners in autumn - simply dig up a section of plant with roots attached and replant where you want them.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Slugs and snails also favour moist, shady areas and tend to feast on the leaves and stems of Australian violets. This is typically not a significant problem, but organic snail baits and snail traps can be used to control them if necessary. Also, look out for aphids which also love violas.

Warning:

The fresh, young flowers and leaves of Australian violets are edible.
However, seeds of many violets are considered toxic if ingested, although there is no concrete data on Australian violets in particular.