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LEONIE CORNELIUS & FRIENDS
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Winter colour | How the Viola can brighten the darkest days

November is not a month that most of us would associate with garden colour. This time of the year we think more of strong textures in evergreen and the bark on trees which becomes more noticeable as the leaves disappear. I love the seasons and am a big fan of the quieter months in the Winter garden, where the garden seems to take stock, gain strength and focus itself on another round of growing for next year. By mid November however, I always find that I crave a bit of colour here and there in the garden.

One plant in particular that really brightens up containers, window boxes and balconies is the Winter flowering pansy or Viola. This flower can pretty much be sown indoors at any time of the year and is a very handy little plant all year round. The Winter violet is available at most garden centres and this little beauty from Woodies is a stunning mix of rich magentas and purples.

I am always drawn to the more solid colours in the Viola as these work very well in a more contemporary scheme such as planted en masse in the white modern planter pictured here.

Interestingly, the Viola is a very handy one for using in the kitchen as it is actually edible. I love using plants from my own garden for cooking and baking and taking a plant straight from the garden is incredibly rewarding and it’s a lovely simple way of teaching kids to appreciate the food they eat. The viola is one of my favourite plants to use in the kitchen and one reason for this is that it is so easy to grow yourself and after flowering the seed pods often self-seed themselves freely into the soil.

This delicate plant, which is considered a good luck gift, has pretty heart shapes leaves and has many uses in the kitchen and beyond. The plant in its simplest form, can be picked and just added to salads, onto soups or on cakes. There are so many varieties and colours to choose from, making them the perfect finishing touch to any home-cooked meal.

The wild growing purple Viola odorata, which is native to Europe and Asia, can even be used to make candied sweets, such as the famous Violettes de Toulouse as well as syrups and delicious purple liquors. Violas are also very healthy and are used in many medicinal cures.  Many contain anti-oxidants and are said to strengthen blood vessels.  Viola herbal remedies stimulate the immune system and they are used to make cough syrups, their anti-microbial properties making them useful in the treatment of acne.

Historically the Greeks and Romans treasured violets and made wine out of the flowers. There are some wonderful recipes out there for making your own violet syrups and wine if you fancy getting creative. If you do decide to make the wine then it will be handy to know that the Romans  also believed that the flowers could prevent drunkeness and even cure hangovers! Another interesting fact is that the ancient Persians and Greeks used the violet to cure a broken heart. A truly fascinating plant!

Some more plants for beautiful Winter colour:

Primroses -Primula vulgaris

Primroses are flowers that many people associate with the very subtle delicate pale yellow of our native Primula vulgaris. Growing at the borders of woodland and beside hedges this beautiful native flower, growing to about 10cm-25cm and can even have an evergreen habit if it has the right conditions. There are plenty of Winter blooming varieties available in garden centres and these are great plants for some Winter colour in the garden.

Bellis -Bellis perennis

This pretty flower reminds us of the humble daisy and is in fact a type of Daisy. The more ornamental Bellis varieties are more fleshy in flower and the small low growing leaves are often covered with cushioned filled blossoms which float slightly higher than the leaves. These flowers are very useful in containers and they tend grow in a mat form which means they can cover the soil in containers very nicely leaving no unsightly gaps.

Forget-me-nots-Myosotis alpestris

This pretty little biennial or annual is known by most people as the alpine  ‘Forget-me-not’ and the flower has simple blue leaves and masses of blue flowers. It can be a handy plant for protected areas in the garden and will do especially well if kept away from frost under cover of a pergola for example. It can self seed freely so don’t be surprised if you have a couple of these beauties popping up in the garden in the following season. My favourite part of this plant are the flowers which have a lovely blue colour -like the sky on a clear day.

Violet Tip-At this time of the year many if us are planting up some pretty bulbs for next season such as Tulips, Daffodils and Snowdrops for example. Considering these won’t show their flowers for at least another month at least, it’s a good idea to combine these bulbs with some flowers that will give instant colour. The Viola is a perfect choice for this and under cover, it often blooms all the way through Winter making it a valuable plant to bridge the gap between Autumn and Spring. I just love seeing them planted en masse of one colour into a container-they never fail to bring a bit of cheer to the Winter garden.

Leonie Loves 

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The Gourmet Flower Kit by Plant Theatre

The clever kits from this UK based company are really lovely. Ready packaged mixes of planting such as the ‘Boozy Gardeners kit’ or ‘Psychadelic Salad Kit’ are beautifully packaged and make really great gifts for the garden lover. I love the Gourmet flower kit which includes flowers like French Marigold, Cornflower, Calendula, Dianthus, Nasturtium  as well as Wild Pansy seeds. The kits also includes everything you need to grow them such as starter growing pots made from peat, peat blocks which expand when watered and plant markers as well as Sowing & Growing Tips making the whole process of growing edible flowers so easy. The kits cost £14.99 and can be ordered on www.plant-theatre.co.uk

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Photo By: Colin Gillen

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