The Australian violet is perfect for those difficult spots in the garden

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viola hederaceaviola hederaceaIt is a fast spreading evergreen perennial groundcover which flowers for a very long time and grows in shade and sun. Read all about it below.

The Australian violet (Viola hederacea ) is called “Australies viooltjie” in Afrikaans and it is also commonly called the “trailing violet” or “ivy-leaved violet”. It is an excellent fast spreading evergreen perennial groundcover which is perfect for those difficult spots in the garden because it will grow in full sun as well as in shade. It also tolerates both heat and frost, and flowers for a very long time.

Approximately 400 species of violets are found around the world, mostly in cooler climates. Viola hederacea is a species which is native to eastern Australia, and into Malaysia. In Australia it is widespread and can be found growing in the shade of forests, in moist yet well-drained soils.  It is common in Victoria and Tasmania, along the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales and extending north at least to the Barrington Tops area, in the far south-east of South Australia, and in a small area of the Adelaide Hills between Belair and Mount Lofty.

This delightful groundcover is evergreen, except in severely cold regions, and because it propagates by runners it will happily spread around the garden, forming mats of lovely bright green, heart-shaped leaves. In warmer regions it will flower throughout the year, and in frosty winter regions it flowers throughout spring and summer, and into autumn. The masses of charming little, typically violet flowers are lightly scented and white with a broad lilac flush. The mature plant size may vary due to growing conditions and climate, but generally it grows to +-15cm in height, and because it spreads by underground runners it can spread 30 to 90cm or more.

Uses:

The flowers can be used as garnish, and in salads, and the leaves, which are high in vitamins A and C, can be eaten raw or cooked.

In the Garden:

The Australian Violet is a low-maintenance plant, and because it will grow in full sun as well as in semi-shade, and even deep shade, it makes an excellent groundcover for those difficult spots in the garden, and is wonderful to plant underneath trees and palm trees, or between other shrubs in the flower border where there is both sun and shade.

It is perfect for all those moist areas of the garden, and can be planted next to water features, rivers, ponds or dams. It is also excellent to stabilise the soil on banks and looks lovely planted between stepping stones and alongside pathways.

Because of its compact growth habit it is suitable for rock or gravel gardens for a spill-over effect, and is essential in all cottage and woodland gardens, and because of its trailing habit and long flowering time, it is a wonderful addition to mixed container plantings and hanging baskets.

If it gets regular care it can be used as a lawn substitute in low traffic areas, and is stunning in massed displays.

Cultivation/Propagation:

The Australian violet thrives in warm to cool temperate regions and grows well throughout most regions of South Africa. In harsher climates which may get very dry, or which experience severe frost, it endures these conditions by dying back completely, but will usually re-sprout again from the underground runners once conditions improve.

It has a low tolerance of very exposed coastal conditions and requires regular watering during dry periods. It can tolerate temperatures as high as the mid 40's°C as long as the soil is kept moist, and is hardy to frost, tolerating temperatures as low as -5°C for short periods. In severely cold regions the plant will go dormant in winter, but if the roots are thickly mulched the plant will shoot again in spring.

Although the Australian violet thrives in moist shady places, even tolerating heavy shade, as long as it can be watered regularly it also grows happily in full sun, but in very deep shade flowering will not be as profuse.

It is adaptable 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.

After planting out, provide plenty of water during the first 12 weeks or until the plant is established, and to keep it looking at its best in the garden, water regularly during dry spells. For lush coverage, and container grown plants, feed monthly with liquid fertiliser during spring and summer.

Minimal maintenance is required apart from removing any dead or unwanted foliage.

Propagation is simple, dig up a section of plant with roots attached and replant where you want them. 

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Because it does not suffer from any major problems, Viola hederacea is ideal for gardeners who do not wish to spray in the garden.

Warning:

Viola hederacea flowers are often tossed into salads and have no toxic effects reported for humans, but ensure that they have not been sprayed with insecticides etc. before eating them. Also keep in mind that if you have gastrointestinal ulcers, kidney disease, or allergies, then it’s best to avoid edible flowers altogether.

It is not advisable to give small children flowers to eat, and if eaten in large quantities, violets are mildly poisonous to dogs and cats, and may cause vomiting or diarrhoea.