The sweet violets, Viola odorata, have been flowering under the roses and in the sloping bed that runs down the side of the back garden. Last year and the year before there were scarcely any, because the rabbits ate them. Indeed, the rabbits ate so many of the leaves that I wasn't sure how big the patches of violets were or if they had survived. It turns out they can bounce back pretty well from grazing, at least after one or two years. Incidentally, Viola odorata appears on the RHS list of relatively rabbit resistant plants, but I'm afraid that just goes to show that rabbits, as the RHS themselves admit, will eat practically anything. I left a tray of young sunflower plants out last year, also on the list, and they were eaten to stumps overnight.
Sweet violets disappear almost completely over the winter, but by spring they are pushing up clumps of bright green, heart shaped leaves. I think they must seed themselves, because they pop up in odd places here and there, but the big patches are formed by runners, which root periodically, and questing underground stems. They seem to like the heavier patches of soil best.
They are mostly white, bright pink or purple, though there are a few smaller clumps in interesting shades of mauvish blue, and I planted three pale pink ones last autumn which have come through the winter but not begun to spread yet. Because of their creeping habit they are very difficult to label, unless you keep a meticulous eye on them and prevent each patch from infiltrating its neighbours. Encouraging plants to mingle with each other is one of the cornerstones of my approach to gardening, and labels generally get broken or dug up anyway, and if they don't they make the borders look like a pets' graveyard. Consequently I don't know for certain what any of my sweet violets are, apart from the pale pink ones I bought last year, which are 'Cordelia'. Looking at my records I see I have at various times over the past twenty years planted some that were sold simply as the straight species, the old rose pink variety 'Coeur d'Alsace', and quite a lot of the modern Miracle series in a variety of colours, as the plant centre stocked them and I used to buy myself a pot from time to time as a reward for my ten hour spring shifts.
I was set to buy some more from Hayloft, who for the past couple of seasons were offering them at quite a cheap rate per plant if you bought three dozen, then this year they stopped doing them. After my initial disappoinment had worn off I told myself that as I was a gardener I had no business to be spending money on bulk buying Viola odorata anyway, but really ought to propagate what I had. Accordingly I have been digging up little hand sized patches from some of the big clumps, where the missing piece should fill in soon enough, dividing them into single rooted pieces and potting them into seven centimetre pots. These are stood against the north facing wall of the house where they shouldn't get too hot while I wait to see if the pots will fill up with roots. It's looking good so far, but it's early days yet. You never quite know how plants will respond to having their roots messed around with. Last year I pricked out a lot of very healthy and promising Primula florindae seedlings, and one by one they shrivelled and died.
The Miracle violas are protected by plant breeders' rights, so if I do end up as I hope with four trays of useful ground covering violets then they will all be for my personal use in my own garden, with none to spare for the garden club plant sale.