This month, I am featuring my tiny treasures : violets; forget-me-nots; snow drops and snowflakes; hellebores; and the tiny flowers of Winter daphne and Winter honeysuckle, all cherished for their fragile beauty and scent in a cold Winter world, when the rest of the garden has gone to sleep.Violets (Viola odorata) are a mainstay in our garden from late Autumn to early Spring, lining the main staircase up to the house and the back path (photo 3), blanketing the ground under the deciduous trees along the fence and our front door camellia and filling their own bed, where their bright blue flowers contrast dramatically with the fallen red maple leaves. We have 3 different colours : blue, a deeper purple and pink. In our old Armidale garden, we only had white violets and I used to dream of our current violet banks.
Viola odorata, or Sweet Violet, belongs to the family Violaceae and genus Viola, which contains an unbelievably large number of species : 400-500 species, though some sources suggest it could be as high as 600 species. Some of the more common ones are :
- Viola arvensis – Field Pansy
- Viola biflora – Yellow Wood Violet or Twoflower Violet
- Viola canina – Heath Dog Violet
- Viola hirta – Hairy Violet
- Viola odorata – Sweet Violet
- Viola pedunculata – Yellow Pansy
- Viola riviniana – Common Dog Violet – similar in looks to V.odorata, but scentless
- Viola tricolor – Wild Pansy or Heart’s-Ease – purple, yellow and white
- Viola adunca – Early Blue Violet
- Viola nephrophylla – Northern Bog Violet
- Viola pedatifida – Crowfoot Violet
- Viola pubescens – Downy Yellow Violet
- Viola rugulosa – Western Canada Violet
- Viola lutea – Mountain Pansy – yellow flowers
There are also 3 Australian native species :
- Viola hederaceae- common Native Violet – bright green, kidney-shaped leaves and purple and white flowers. Useful ground cover in moist shady areas.
- Viola betonicifolia
- Viola banksii
Viola odorata is a small perennial plant with heart-shaped leaves and highly fragrant, assymmetrical flowers (purple, blue, yellow, white, cream or blue and yellow), which bloom in Winter and early Spring. It is native to temperate areas in the Northern Hemisphere and loves moist shady conditions, though it does equally well in full sun. It thrives on moist, well-drained soil, rich in organic matter and only requires moderate watering. It is a tough little plant and transplants easily with minimal after-care. In truth, they are almost a weed at our place, as they throw out underground rhizomes with abandon, quickly invading large areas with their long runners. They can be propagated by seed and root cuttings, division best done in Autumn or just after flowering, though really they can be planted at any time from Spring (after frost) through to Autumn with a spade of compost and mulch to keep the roots cool. Occasionally, they get red spider mite in dry weather, but otherwise they have few pests. They are the food plant for some Lepidoptera larvae, including Giant Leopard Moth, Large Yellow Underwing, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, High Brown Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Setaceous Hebrew Character. Sweet violets are grown as a ground cover in woodland gardens, in garden beds and along water edges, as accent plants around trees and even as container plants.
Violets were cultivated in Greece before 500 BC and were used by both the Ancient Greeks and Romans in herbal remedies, love potions, wine (Vinum violatum), festivals and even to sweeten food. While our society sees the violet as a symbol of modesty, sweetness and faithfulness, to the Ancient Greeks, it was a symbol of love and fertility. For more about the mythology surrounding the violet, see: http://comenius-legends.blogspot.com.au/2010/07/legend-of-violet.htmlAncient Roman physician, Pliny the Elder, advocated the wearing of a garland of violets on the head to ward off headaches and dizzy spells. Perhaps the intoxicating scent of the violet blooms banished the headache! Certainly, both the leaves and flowers are edible and rich in vitamins and can be used in medicines and as a laxative, though they should not be taken internally in large doses! Clinical trials have shown that a syrup of V.odorata can improve cough suppression in asthmatic children. Intranasal administration of V.odorata extract has also been shown to be effective in treating insomnia. What a blissful sleep! For more information on the use of violets as a herbal remedy, see : http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/v/vioswe12.html .Fresh flowers add a lovely flash of colour in salads, fruit punches and ice bowls. The flowers can also be candied, using egg white and crystallized sugar, to decorate cakes and are still produced commercially in France, where they are known as ‘Violettes de Toulouse’. I tried making crystallized violets and rose petals for my son’s birthday cake (1st 3 photos), and while I wouldn’t say it was a roaring success (especially because I confused salt for the castor sugar initially!), it still did provide some colour! Making candied violets is obviously an art form! The French also make a Violet Syrup from Extract of Violets. The syrup can be used to make violet scones and marshmallows. I decorated the banana cake in the photo below with fresh pink and blue violets. But the most obvious use of the flowers is as a source of scent in the perfume industry, as well as in nosegays and Spring bouquets. There is even a Violet Day in Australia and New Zealand, on 2 July , when fresh violets and badges depicting violets were sold for fund-raising efforts to commemorate the lost soldiers of the First World War. Before the Flanders poppy, the violet was considered to be a ‘symbol of perpetual remembrance.’ See : http://www.familyhistorysa.info/sahistory/ww1violetday.html and http://adelaidia.sa.gov.au/events/violet-day.
An ideal lead-in for my next tiny treasure, the humble Forget-me-not, Myosotis! In Newfoundland, the forget-me-not is a symbol of remembrance of the nation’s war-dead. It was used as a symbol in the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in remembrance of the 1.5 Million killed by the Ottoman Turks between 1915-1923 . In medieval times, the forget-me-not was a symbol of faithfulness and enduring love. Its name is purported to have originated from the German legend of a lover who, while gathering the flowers, fell into a river and cried ‘forget-me-not’ as he drowned.
The scientific name Myosotis comes from the Greek word: μυοσωτίς or “mouse’s ear” after the leaf. It belongs to the family Boraginaceae and the genus contains 74 species, 60 from Western Eurasia and 14 from New Zealand. The most common species are the biennial Woodland Forget-me-not, M. sylvatica, and the perennial Water Forget-me-not, M. scorpioides. They are now common throughout temperate latitudes, especially in moist areas.Forget-me-nots are small tufted plants with simple, blunt, lance-shaped, greyish, finely -haired leaves and tiny 5-petalled blue, mauve, pink, white or cream flowers, usually borne in sprays on short branching stems in Spring and early Summer, though my plants are currently flowering! They grow well in both sun and shade, but prefer cool weather and moist soil. They are propagated by seed or careful division in Winter. One sure fact is that once you have them, you will always have them! Some people may even go so far as to describe them as invasive, but I could never begrudge forget-me-nots nor violets for their profligacy, as I love them and despite their prevalence, they are not always that easy to locate when you are searching for them for a new garden! We found our plants growing wild on the banks of the extinct volcano, Mt Noorat (photos below). I love watching them multiply and appear in odd spots throughout the garden. Traditionally, they are used as a ground cover in woodland gardens, in rockeries and beside ponds. I love using their fragile feathery blooms to soften floral arrangements. Like violets, they are also a food plant for various Lepidoptera species, including the Setaceous Hebrew Character.
Other woodland ground covers include the delicate white snowdrops and snowflakes, often confused with each other because of their green-tipped white drooping bells. They are however quite different plants. Snowdrops (1st photo) only have one flower per stem and each flower has 3 large exterior petals and 3 smaller central petals, tipped with green.
Snowflakes are a larger plant with each stem bearing several flowers, each of which has 6 petals all the same size and each tipped with green. We grew up with snowflakes, which are members of the Leucojum genus, but the true snowdrop belongs to the Galanthus genus.
Leucojum is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family and hails from Central and Southern Europe. The scientific name comes from the Greek words: ‘leucojum’ meaning ‘white violet.’ There are only 2 species: the Spring Snowflake L.vernum (‘vernum’ is the Greek for Spring) and L. aestivum (‘aestivum’ meaning Summer, though really it flowers in late Spring after L. vernum). It looks great in clumps under deciduous trees and shrubs and can be propagated by division immediately after flowering or when the leaves have died down. Our Leucojum are pushing their way through a border of Mondo grass on the path edge. Snowdrops however are seen far less commonly in Australia, as they only like cold to moderately cold Winters. Their scientific name comes from the Greek words : ‘gala’ meaning ‘milk’ and ‘anthos’ meaning ‘flower’. These hardy, bulbous, perennial herbaceous plants have grey-green leaves and flower in Winter before the vernal equinox, pushing their stalks through the snow. Like snowflakes, they are also from the family Amaryllidaceae and are found in the deciduous woodlands of Southern and Central Europe from the Pyrenees to Ukraine. They were introduced to Britain in the early 16th century and readily naturalized, so much so that they are often called the English Snowdrop. In England, they are also known as ‘the flower of hope’, while in France, they have a much more prosaic name ‘Perce-neige’ (‘perforating snow’). In the Language of Flowers, they are a symbol of purity and hope. There are 20 species in the genus, the most widespread and well-known being the Common Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis (‘nivalis’ is Greek for ‘of the snow’). There are a huge number of single and double-flowered cultivars (over 500 in 2002, but now a further 1500 new cultivars), all differing in size, shape and markings, and developed from G.nivalis, as well as the Crimean Snowdrop, G. plicatus, and the Giant Snowdrop, G. elwesii. In fact, snowdrop collectors are known as ‘galanthophiles’ and it is quite a competitive and exclusive hobby. See : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16789834. There are a large number of snowdrop gardens in the United Kingdom, which are open to the public during the season. See: http://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/home-garden/gardening/ideas/days-out/snow drop-gardens-to-visit-in-the-uk. Scotland celebrated its first Snowdrop Festival from the 1st February to 11th March, 2007. I bought my snowdrop bulbs from a specialist plant nursery. They were quite expensive, but fortunately, they multiply easily from offset bulbs and we were able to divide the clumps and plant them as a curved border to the fence shrubbery in front of the lilac and flowering quinces and around the bird bath. It is the perfect spot for them, as they like moist well-drained soil and shady areas. I look forward to seeing them naturalize and multiply in the grass. They have such exquisite flowers! I certainly won’t be eating them though! Galanthus are poisonous to humans, causing nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting if consumed in large quantities. Its active ingredient is galatamine, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which is used in the management of Alzheiners and traumatic injuries to the nervous system. It is also an effective insecticide in the management of beetles, Lepidoptera and Hemiptera. In fact, these plants are pest-free, avoided by rabbits, deer, chipmunks and mice! Current research is focused on its use in genetic engineering for pest resistance and the treatment of HIV. See : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255618182_Analysis_of_Pusztai_Study_on_GM_Potatoes_and_their_effect_on_Rats
Hellebores are another specialist collector plant, which can become quite addictive! I inherited the common single white and purple varieties in our new garden in Candelo, but my Mum also gave me 5 double forms (deep purple, deep red, pink, white, white blotched with pink) 2 years ago as a birthday present. My sister bought them for her from The Melbourne International Flower and Plant Show, where a hellebore specialist nursery, Post Office Farm (https://www.postofficefarmnursery.com.au/) had a stall and the following Winter, I visited their farm on one of their open days, where I bought a species hellebore, Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Pink Frost’ . See my post on Post Office Farm at: https://candeloblooms.com/2016/04/12/favourite-gardens-regularly-open-to-the-public-specialist-nurseries-and-gardens-in-victoria/
I have planted them under separate deciduous trees, as they are highly promiscuous, interbreeding with abandon, and I really want their offspring to retain their original forms true to type. For example, the white double hellebore complements the white statue Phoebe and white anemones under the maple tree on the terrace (1st and 2nd photo above); my deep red hellebore is under the Protea (3rd photo above) and my species hellebore, Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Pink Frost’, occupies a special place under the camellia beside the front door (below).
Hellebores are also known as Winter Rose, Snow Rose, Lenten Rose and Christmas Rose, due the fact that they flower round this time in their native environment, the deciduous woodlands of Southern and Western Europe and Western Asia. Their scientific name, Helleborus, comes from the Greek words : ἑλλέβορος helléboros, from elein “to injure” and βορά borá “food”, referring to their toxicity. They are low growing, clump forming, evergreen, Winter-flowering perennials from the family Ranunculaceae, the same family which includes delphiniums, anemones, aquilegias, buttercups and clematis. Hellebores have attractive, leathery, evergreen, toothed, palmate leaves and open, cup-shaped flowers in Winter. Most varieties are single with 5 petals. There are 17 different species, divided into 2 different categories.
The Caulescent types have leaves on the flowering stems and include :
Stinking hellebore, H. foetidus: Pungent smell when foliage is crushed; tall plant; large number of small lime-green bell-shaped flowers; See 2nd photo below.
Corsican Hellebore, H. argutifolius: heavily toothed leathery evergreen leaves; up to 1 m tall, so best at the back of the border; heads of lime-green flowers. One of the toughest hellebores and tolerates more sun than other species; See 1st photo below.
Majorcan Hellebore, H. lividus: Silvery leaves and smoky-pink flowers.
and the rare H. versicarius: From SW Turkey; red-tipped lime bells; thrives in the sun.
In acaulescent varieties , the leaves are basal and stemless and include :
Oriental Rose, H. orientalis, the most common species in Australia. Pink, maroon and cream single flowers, ageing to green.
Green Hellebore, H. viridus: Green flowers.
Black Hellebore, H. niger: The roots are black and the flowers white, flushed with pink or purple as they mature.
Ferny Hellebore, H. multifidus: Green flowers and finely-divided leaves.
H. cyclophyllus : Yellow-green flowers and slight perfume.
H. odorus: Light green flowers.
Helleborus atrorubens : Dark green and purple flowers (photo below).
There are also a large number of hybrid cultivars, including:
- sternii : H. argutifolius x H. lividus
- nigercors: H. argutifolius x H. niger
- x ballardiae ‘Pink Frost’: H. lividus x H. niger (1st photo below) and
- orientalis x H. purpurascens : Red-purple hybrid.
Other crosses using oriental hellebores have created a wide colour range from slate grey and metallic black to red, purple, dusky pink, lime green, yellow and cream and white, often with speckles and flashes. There are also double and semi-double forms. To fully appreciate the huge variety in hellebores, consult the following websites: https://www.postofficefarmnursery.com.au/galleries and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/10648349/A-hellebore-for-almost-any-situation.html.Hellebores grow throughout cold and temperate areas in Australia from Tasmania, Victoria and the coastal stretch up to Sydney; inland as far north as the Queensland border and in temperate areas in South Australia. They like Winter sun and Summer shade and can handle dry periods, so are ideal under deciduous trees. Dappled shade is best, as full shade results in less leaf growth. They also like a humus-rich, slightly acidic soil and hate waterlogged soil or sand. They are used in mass plantings and as ground cover, especially in dry shade and under established trees. They combine well with galanthus (very similar growing conditions), hostas, anemones, aquilegias, epimediums, solomon’s seal, ferns, vinca, scilla, cyclamen, leucojum and crocus. They look lovely at the feet of camellias, magnolias, dogwoods, flowering quinces, daphne and hydrangeas (photo below). They can even be grown in pots. Hellebores propagate from seed, which spreads readily. Seedlings should be transplanted when very young (only a few centimetres high), as they do not like having their roots disturbed. They can also be lifted and divided in Autumn and early Spring. They should be planted with organic compost, then mulched in Summer to keep their roots cool. Old leaves and flowers should be removed in Autumn, as the new leaves appear, to allow them to flourish and display the flowers to their best advantage. The only exception is the caulescent hellebores, in which the old flower stems should be removed in mid to late Spring after flowering. The plants benefit from a well-balanced fertilizer in Autumn, as well as a handful of dolomite lime. Generally though, hellebores are tough and individual plants have been known to reach 40 years of age. The flowers last a long time on the plant, but only up to 7 days in the vase. Their heads tend to droop and should be propped up with other flowers or the vase placed on a high shelf, where their flowers can be appreciated. Floral treatments in the past vary from splitting stems to scalding them by plunging the stem ends into boiling water (often still done by commercial growers), but most experts agree that a good long soak prior to arranging is essential, even to the extent of totally submerging the flower heads in water for up to 3 hours. Recut the stems 2-3 cm from their ends, especially if they have been seared by the grower and use preservative in the water. Misting the flowers is also beneficial. Their flowers also look good floating in a shallow bowl of water. Flowers can be wired for support, but should not be used for corporate designs, as their flowers will droop and dry out in air conditioning or heating. They also hate foam, so only use a vase. The flower centres are also suitable for drying.
Do be aware though when collecting seed and handling hellebores that they are extremely toxic. They contain protoanemonin and are strongly emetic and laxative. In fact, they were used in the past to induce vomiting. They can cause diarrhoea, cardiac problems and skin irritation. They are also very poisonous for livestock. But don’t let it put you off these otherwise delightful plants!
It is well worth visiting Post Office Farm on one of their Open Days (every Sunday between 5th June and 25th September 2016). See: https://www.postofficefarmnursery.com.au/events-fairs/ or if you cannot make it, one of their plant stalls at the numerous plant fairs around the country. See: https://www.postofficefarmnursery.com.au/plant-fairs/.
And now for some slightly larger plants, whose tiny scented Winter flowers still allow for their inclusion in a post on tiny treasures:
Winter Daphne Daphne odora
Native to China and Japan, Winter Daphne belongs to the Thymelaeceae family and the Daphne genus, which includes 50 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs throughout Asia, Europe and North Africa.
Winter Daphne is an evergreen, densely-branched, ornamental shrub, up to 1m tall, with simple, alternate, glossy-green leathery leaves. There is a variety ‘aureomarginata’, whose leaves are edged in a creamy-yellow colour. It has highly fragrant pale-pink fleshy tubular flowers, each with 4 lobes, from mid Winter to late Spring. There is a variety, ‘Alba’ with pure white flowers. The flowers are hermaphroditic and are pollinated by bees, flies and Lepidoptera.Daphne has a reputation for being difficult, but if they are planted in the right spot, they can be quite long-lived , tough, low maintenance and drought-tolerant shrubs. My research into their ideal planting site revealed their preferences:
- Morning sun or easterly-facing aspect with shade from the hot afternoon sun.
- Fertile, slightly acidic peaty soil.
- Perfect drainage- a raised bed or drier spot under the eaves is ideal, as they are prone to root rot.
They should not be over-watered or over-fed and pruning should be minimal. After flowering, a slow-release fertilizer with iron chelates can be applied. Mulch will keep the root run cool, but should be kept away from the stem. Daphne hates any root disturbance or cultivation around its roots and transplants badly. It can be propagated by softwood cuttings in early to mid Summer and semi-ripe or evergreen cuttings in mid to late Summer. They are susceptible to a virus infection, which causes mottling of the leaves, and attack by scale insects, which can be squashed or smothered in white oil.All parts are poisonous to humans and livestock. The sap can cause dermatitis, so be careful when cutting. Despite their toxicity and their finicky nature, I would not be without a Winter Daphne. Their scent is divine, both indoors and outside, so make sure it is in a prominent position. Our plant is right beside the back steps as we leave the house, very close in fact to the Winter Honeysuckle, my last feature plant for this post, so the air smells quite heavenly in Winter!Winter Honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissimaAlso known as ‘Chinese Honeysuckle’, ‘Sweet breath of Spring’ and the quaint name ‘Kiss-me-at-the-gate’, Winter Honeysuckle belongs to the Caprifoliaceae family and the Lonicera genus, which contains 200 species of Honeysuckle shrubs and climbers, including the well-known white-and-yellow Japanese Honeysuckle, L. japonica and pink-and-gold Woodbine, L. periclymen (photo below).Winter Honeysuckle is native to China and was introduced to England by Robert Fortune in 1845, making its way to America by 1852. It is a semi-evergreen shrub 1-3 m tall and wide, though it can reach 4.6m tall and it takes 5-10 years to reach full height. Its slender spreading branches form a bushy tangle over time. It is deciduous in areas with harsh Winters. White to creamy white, two-lipped flowers with protruding yellow anthers are borne in pairs in Winter and early Spring. They are highly fragrant. Branches cut for the house will perfume a room for days, so long as the vase is kept away from heat. The flowers are also a great nectar and pollen provider for insects and birds in Winter. Winter Honeysuckle loves full sun, though will tolerate partial shade. Propagation is by hardwood or semi-hardwood cuttings in late Summer. There are very few pests and diseases.These old-fashioned ornamental plants can be grown as a specimen plant, a clipped or informal hedge or screen or at the back of a shrub border. My Winter Honeysuckle is in an ideal location right outside the back door and on the bend of the back path, as it becomes the entrance path. I adore that waft of fresh lemony scent every time I go out the back door at this time of year. It is so uplifting! It also flowers for a long time- at least 3 months! I feel so lucky to have inherited such a beautiful old shrub- in fact, it was one of the reasons we bought the place, as it was in full bloom we first discovered the house in August 2014.I also like to use their flowers to decorate cakes. Here is a photo of a rustic apple cake, topped with the sweet blooms of erlicheer jonquils, Paperwhite jonquils and Winter honeysuckle.To finish my post, here is another delightful watercolour painting by my daughter Caroline, illustrating some of my tiny treasures. It reminds me of a wonderful description I once read in ‘Tulipomania’ by Mike Dash about the festivals of the Ottoman Empire during the Tulip Era (1718 -1730), the latter half coinciding with the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (ruled 1703 -1730), during which tortoises, with candles fixed to their backs, moved slowly through tulip beds under the April full moon on the first night of the Tulip Festival. I just love it! Thanks Caro! x