MONTANA PLANTING CALENDAR FOR JUNE

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JUNE GARDENING CALENDAR

Our pictures today are, from left to right: heirloom morning glory “Grandpa Ott’s”, and a seedling ivy geranium.  

This month you can transplant out tender vegetables, early in the month, after frosts.  If you have not planted your garden yet you can still purchase and transplant out tender vegetables that require a shorter season (80 days or fewer).  Cole crops, such as cauliflower and cabbage, and most every transplantable vegetable can be planted until about July 1, when you could begin to sow fall crops.  Fertilize and prune cantaloupes; watch for pests and diseases on garden plants.  Keep a watch on watering if weather is dry and hot; weed after watering as plants pull up easily. 

Vegetables you can direct sow until June 15 include: amaranth, dill, summer savory, edamame beans, chervil, early-maturing corn, NZ and Malabar spinach, carrots, cucumbers, parsnips and pole beans.  Sow successive crops all month of: lettuce, spinach, bush beans, beets, cabbages, cucumbers, onions, peas, radishes, potatoes. 

Transplant out leeks, endive, herbs, plus tender vegetables.  Some of these are: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins, watermelon.  Fertilize and prune cantaloupes; when they start to vine, foliar feed with 1 tablespoon borax + 1 tablespoon Epsom salts in 1 gallon of water.  Repeat when fruit is 1” to 2” in diameter.

Late in the month (for transplanting out for a fall crop) sow: Brussels sprouts, late variety cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi.  Transplant out in late August/early September (5-6 weeks, with two sets of leaves).  Grow cool, possibly under netting to prevent cabbage loopers.

Harvest: beet greens, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, lettuce, turnip greens, onions, peas, rhubarb and asparagus.  Harvest herbs: mint, balm, lavender, sage, clary, rosemary, etc. for using fresh, drying or distilling; when just coming into flower.  Lay them in the shade or on a screen in a shed to dry. 

Direct sow tender annuals and half hardy annuals early in the month (before the 15th): zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, annual euphorbia, gypsophila, nasturtiums, scarlet runner beans, Scabiosa atropurpurea,  stocks, sunflowers.  Sow nigella (succession plant every 2 to 4 weeks until end of month). 

Finish transplanting perennial starts and annual starts.  Stake dahlias, delphiniums; mulch dahlias; check for slugs around auriculas, cannas, delphiniums, hollyhocks and hosta. 

Take up spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, fritillaries, colchicums, autumn crocuses, etc., when leaves are decayed.  Carefully dig and dry them over a wire screen.  Propagate from offsets, store in cool, dry place for the summer. 

Plant strawberry runners into new beds.  Thin tree fruits after bloom so no fruit touches (this discourages codling moths); protect (cover) cherries from birds, watch for pests on fruit trees, shrubs and roses.  Wash aphids off with a force of water.  Set out apple maggot traps in early to mid-June (1 for each dwarf tree; 2-3 for each semi-dwarf tree; and up to 6 for a full-sized tree).  Scrape off bugs and apply a fresh coating every two weeks. Remove loose bark and wrap trunks with cardboard or burlap, periodically removing it to capture codling moth pupae.  During the growing season, remove branches affected by fire blight, cutting at least 6 inches below affected wood.  Sterilize tools with alcohol or a 10% bleach solution between cuts.   Set out peach borer traps by the 15th.  

Trim evergreens and all types of hedges, and be sure to water lawns in hot weather. 

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GROWING TOMATOES IN MONTANA

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GROWING TOMATOES

Here in western Montana we usually transplant our started tomatoes about May 10-21 as weather permits.  Direct seeding may be done with the earliest varieties, but there is no guarantee of a crop.  This year has been cool, with frosts still threatening in mid-May, so tender plants like tomatoes are going into our gardens a bit later than in years past.  Sow your tomatoes inside during March, or buy locally grown starts.  (Germination temp is 60-90 degrees, 75-85 is ideal; germination time is 5-14 days.) 

Plants should be hardened-off before transplanting.   A good way to do that is to expose the plants to outside conditions gradually, beginning with about two hours of shade, increasing the length of time outside every day and gradually exposing them to direct sun.  This way the plants will not sunburn and will gradually toughen up before being planted out. 

Your garden space for tomatoes will be most productive in full sun.  The best growing temperatures are between 50–95 degrees, with 70-75 degrees ideal—tomatoes like warm days and warm nights.  Their preferred soil pH is 5.5-7.5.  Transplant your tomatoes out in rows at least 18” apart with 3 feet between them or into pots you can move around.  Tomato cages are helpful, as they allow the plant to have support and make picking easier.  You can cover individual cages with plastic or tarps if frost threatens.  Protect stems from cutworms by placing jugs, cans or paper rings around them. 

Keep the bed moist, not wet.  Water early in the day only, allowing leaves to dry early in the day to reduce risk of disease.  Blossom-end rot is caused by lack of water in development of fruit, combined with a lack of available calcium.   In organic gardening, alfalfa meal and fish bone meal are great sources of calcium and other nutrients.  Tomatoes enjoy steady moisture—but not too much.   Regular watering, enough to keep the soil moist is excellent; too much water all at once will split fruit.   Too dry of conditions between waterings will promote cracking of fruit and blossom-end rot. 

Some tomato pests include: gophers; leafhoppers (which carry curly top disease); cutworms, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, mites, stink bugs, tomato fruit worms, and aphids.  Diseases you might encounter: early blight, late blight, tobacco mosaic, fusarium and verticillium wilt.  A preventative garlic spray beginning in May and continuing once a month into fall will discourage leafhoppers, which carry the disease curly top.  Watch for and destroy any plants with curly top (before planting if possible).

Gather tomatoes when full sized, just ripe, and when fruit comes away from vine easily.  Check/pick every 3 days to keep plants producing.  The first tomatoes should be ready about July 15.  After harvesting keep fruit cool, but not cold; above 55 degrees, in high humidity and out of the sun.  Fruits last only 7-12 days. 

 

FEBRUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

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FEBRUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

February is a winter month for us and usually not much can be done outside besides shoveling snow.  But seed catalogs are still arriving and seed racks are in stores and garden centers now, so we can plan the garden.  It is a good time to order new bare root plants for spring delivery (such as most perennials, roses, etc.).   Later, in the spring, potted plants will be available in local nurseries.

If you have hotbeds (heated frames) you can sow several kinds of seed directly into the soil: arugula, carrots, celery, corn salad, fava beans, cress, mustard and turnip greens, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.  Inside, under lights, you can sow eggplant, onions and peppers to be grown on and transplanted out later.  It might be better to wait to start tomatoes unless you have a good light system or greenhouse, because the plants will get “leggy” reaching for light inside during our short winter days.  Some slow-growing flowers can be started inside now under lights, including: petunias, impatiens, lobelia, pansies, salvias, and perennial herbs and flowers.  (Cover pansy seeds well as they need darkness to germinate).  Check and ventilate cold frames and keep them covered at night.

Continue forcing flowers in the greenhouse, such as tulips, narcissus, roses and lily of the valley.   Strawberries can be forced now in the greenhouse also.  Protect alpines, auriculas and other primroses in pots (in a cold greenhouse) from too much rain or frosts as they will begin to bud.  Pick off dead leaves, remove the top of the soil off of the pot and replace it with rich compost.  After adding compost, clean the outside of the flower pots with warm soapy water.   Only a little water may be given to the plants, but give plentiful air.  Sow any remaining alpine, wildflower, primula and auricula seeds.

Late in the month, if weather permits, sow hardy annuals outside: cornflowers, alyssum (Lobularia maritima) larkspur, sweet peas, Lychnis, Nigella, Lavatera, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate, dill and wildflowers.  If the snow is gone you can begin planting and/or pruning fruit trees: peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, apples, medlars, quinces and pears.  Plant and/or prune: gooseberries, currants and raspberries.  Manure and other organics can be spread outside over vegetable beds, if this was not already done in December.  Prune and manure grapes, leaving space around the stems.  Grapes can be grafted late in the month.

In late February you can sow stone fruit seeds for rootstocks and hawthorn seeds for hedges; later transplanting them to their permanent position (after three years).

Late in the month is a good time to begin planting and dividing perennials (if the snow is gone and the ground thawed).  Also, if weather permits, propagate roses and other shrubs by suckers, layering and cuttings.

 

 

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AURICULA PRIMROSES

When we think of primroses, the first thing that comes to mind are the ‘Pacific Giant’ hybrid primroses we see in garden centers.  Actually hundreds of species of Primula are in existence, and some species have been brought into gardens and significantly developed.  The auricula primroses, members of the species P. auricula, have been grown in gardens since the 1500s.  They have evergreen leaves that curl around in a way that resembles the ear of a bear.  When first cultivated, they were called ‘Bear’s Ears’.  Charles l’Ecluse (known as Clusius) is the first person known to have grown auriculas in a garden.  This was after 1573; he grew two kinds.  The first auriculas grown in England are illustrated first left above, in a woodcut from Gerard’s Great Herbal of 1596.  By 1639, at least 15 different colors and even striped forms were grown.  Auriculas were a popular plant beginning in the early eighteenth century when keen collectors began to grow and exhibit them in competitions.  These growers were called ‘florists’.  Several specialized classes of auriculas came into existence over the following centuries.  Potted plants were (and still are) exhibited in flower on black painted shelves in a stage-like display.  The black background highlights the beautiful colors of the flowers.  Auriculas do have an extremely wide color range, much greater than practically every other kind of flower.  The second picture shows a tawny-colored auricula, a color popular in the 1600s.  Auriculas were extremely popular in the nineteenth century, but curiously, are not well-known today.

Auriculas are native to the Alps and prefer gritty, moist, well-drained soil with a good amount of humus.  They are tolerant of alkalinity and extremely winter hardy to USDA climate zone 3, or even zone 2 if covered with snow all winter.  This means they are perfectly suited to growing all over Montana.  They are shade plants, especially when grown at lower altitudes.  The individual plants are small, only about 8 to 12 inches tall when blooming.  The engraving third from left depicts a garden auricula from 1908.  A gardener must watch that vigorous neighboring plants do not overtake them.  Being evergreen, they grow rather slowly.  I found that a mulch of sharp grit, about the diameter of turkey grit, is excellent for them and will discourage slugs.  Auriculas thrive when grown organically and enjoy soil amendments such as bone meal, composted manure, kelp meal, wood ashes, and grit for excellent drainage.

The classes of exhibition auriculas are usually grown in pots and are smaller and less vigorous than garden auriculas.  The pots used to grow them are taller than average, as the plants have a long tap root.  Growers commonly use an organic soil potting mix with added grit, bone meal and wood ashes.  Grit is especially important for drainage, but also for itsmineral content.  Indeed, the flowers have a wonderful mineral-floral fragrance unlike any other.  The last picture above shows a double exhibition auricula.

Auriculas are available from specialist growers as plants or seed.  I grow mine from seed planted in a fine, fast-draining seedling mix, covered with glass and placed in a shaded cold frame.  I plant seeds in late fall or winter, so the seeds have a cold period before they sprout in the spring.  The plants are usually large enough to pot on by midsummer.  Mature plants are best divided  midsummer.  I would urge gardeners to try auriculas; they are beautiful and rewarding to grow.  If grown in the garden, they might be best appreciated in raised beds, where their delicate flowers can be observed.

GROWING HEIRLOOM PEONIES

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Two main types of peonies are commonly grown in gardens: herbaceous peonies and tree peonies.  Herbaceous peonies die to the ground every winter and regrow in spring.  Tree peonies are shrubs; their flowers bloom early in spring on woody branches.  Today we will discuss the herbaceous, perennial peonies whose flowers appear in early summer.

Several species of peonies exist.  One of the first grown in gardens was European, Paeonia officionalis (the Memorial Day Peony).  The single form, with five petals, was grown in the Middle Ages.  Thomas Jefferson grew the double form in his garden.  In the early 19th century several garden forms of the species Paeonia lactiflora arrived in Europe from China and Siberia.  French nurserymen hybridized these with P. officionalis to develop new varieties.  Several are grown today as valuable heirlooms, such as ‘Duchesse de Nemours’, from 1856.  In the 20th century America became the center of hybridization for peonies; now hundreds of cultivars are available.

Herbaceous peonies are quite hardy, to USDA climate zone 2.  The long-stemmed, large flowers are excellent cut.  Three basic flower forms of peonies include: single or semi-doubles with one or two rows of petals; Japanese, with five petals and large stamenoids; and double flowers with many petals.  Older hybrids come in red, pink, coral, mauve, white and cream.  A group of newer hybrids are inter-generic crosses of tree peony species and herbaceous species.  Their color range is greater and includes some very nice yellows.  Double peony flowers can become very heavy with rain in the spring and are best staked or supported by cages.

Peonies are an excellent choice for organic gardeners, as they are subject to few diseases or pests.  I have seen powdery mildew on some peonies locally, but they were growing in a raised bed and in part shade.  Their roots were very dry in that situation.  Botrytis is another disease occasionally seen in cool, humid weather.  Leaves and buds wither and turn black, flowers turn brown.  Copper fungicide will cure this.  To prevent botrytis, clean up all leaves in the fall and plant in sunny, airy spots in the garden.

Herbaceous peonies are long-lived, growing in the same spot for decades.  Generally, peonies are easy to grow, well-adapted to our alkaline soil, cool spring weather and cold winters.  Good garden soil is helpful; be sure remove quack grass and other weeds before you plant.  Soil should be well-drained and moisture retentive.  Full sun is best.  Dig a good-sized hole, add compost or well-rotted manure and mix a small handful of bone meal into the soil 4 to 6 inches below the roots.  Plant the roots with eyes up, no deeper than 3 inches; one inch deep is best.  If peonies are planted too deeply they will not bloom.  Place individual plants about 3 feet apart.

August, September and October are the best months to divide and replant peonies here in Montana.  In the northeast section of the state, where winters are colder, August and September are probably best.

 

Cloches and Cold Frames

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We have to face the fact that here in much of the Northwest we have a short frost-free growing season.  Those living at higher elevations have an even shorter growing period.  Most gardeners in the area look for ways to extend the vegetable growing season: everyone wants to have ripe eggplants, tomatoes, squash, melons, etc. before the season ends and frosts return.  A great help for gardeners is to purchase or construct covers, or cloches, to protect our plants early and late.  In the nineteenth century, glass bell-shaped cloches were used, as well as cold frames glazed with glass.

Today, one popular and inexpensive alternative cover is a polyethelyne tunnel, a series of metal hoops over which plastic is stretched.  The spring vegetable season can be started up to four weeks earlier with tunnels.  The same is true of fall, when it is possible to have crops ready up to six weeks later, because the soil will be warmer in fall and hold its heat longer if cloched.  Tunnels are quite useful for heat-loving crops in our frequently cool summers; cantaloupe, watermelons, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers are some examples.  Floating row covers will also protect plants at night from colder temperatures.  The heaviest will protect plants from frost up to seven or eight degrees of frost.

Plastic jugs, with the caps taken off and bottoms cut out, work well for small plants planted out before late frosts occur.  Covers can be placed before nightfall and removed during the day.  Gluttonous and ubiquitous cutworms will be discouraged from chewing by the subterranean sharp edges of the jugs; this is important because these creatures feed at night.  Large metal cans and paper milk jugs are other inexpensive cloches.

Cold frames are excellent cloches or protectors of young plants.  The soil inside them stays much warmer at night than the outside air.  If mats or fabric floating row covers are used to cover plants they will protect crops to lower temperatures than uncovered plastic tunnels or jugs.  I constructed my own cold frames, though they can be purchased from many sources at a considerable price!  An important factor with cold frames is to open them in the morning as soon as temperatures permit and close them before it gets too cold, in late afternoon or early evening.

Paper, glass, water-filled plastic covers or wax coated cloches are other quick solutions to save plants if a late frost is expected.  In Montana, in a mountain valley at an altitude of 3,000 feet I have used cloches to save bleeding hearts, primroses, lilies and early spring flowers from sudden freezes that would have set them back considerably.

Have a great spring!

 

 

Heirloom Petunias

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Petunias are native to South America.  Our flashy, modern hybrids are descendants of two species: Petunia axillaris and Petunia integrifolia.  (These are the current botanical classifications; both species have been renamed since they were first bought into cultivation.)  The first picture above shows Petunia axillaris.  Native to Brazil, it was in cultivation in Europe by 1823.  The flower has a very long throat; an uncommon characteristic in today’s hybrids, which are bred to have wide, flat faces.  Unlike the majority of modern petunias, this species petunia has a wonderful fragrance, especially in the evening.  The long, tubular throat of the flower is an adaptation to attract insect and bird pollinators.  I grew this species last season and I was quite pleased with its simple beauty, rain tolerance, heavy bloom, and hardiness.  The plants continued to bloom after frosts in the mid 20s F.

I do not have a picture of Petunia integrifolia.  Originally, this fragrant species was called P. violacea, for its deep purple color.  This species is native to Argentina and first bloomed in Europe in 1831.  It has smaller leaves and flowers than P. axillaris.  Hybrids between the two species appeared by 1837 in various colors: pale pink with a dark center, pale yellow with a dark center, white with a dark center.   Some of these early hybrids had streaked and veined flowers similar to a popular modern strain of veined petunias.  Double petunias were introduced from France in the 1840s.  Petunias became quite popular in the mid nineteenth century; later, by the 1880s, petunias lost popularity as geraniums became fashionable.  Their popularity revived again after 1920.

All the oldest named seed strains of petunias from the nineteenth and early twentieth century have disappeared.  The oldest seed strain available today of a named variety is ‘Balcony’, in a mix of colors, from the 1920s.  The second picture shows ‘Balcony’ blooming in pots.  The flower colors include purples, pinks, whites and lavenders.  Their fragrance is excellent, especially in the evening.  Fragrance, a charming attribute of many antique flowers, is often absent in modern hybrid petunias.  ‘Balcony’ petunias grow about 10 inches high and spread two to three feet wide.  This makes them suitable for bedding out, window boxes and hanging baskets.  The plants bloomed for months this last season.

The last two pictures are of flowers of an heirloom “passalong” seed strain now sold as Old-Fashioned Climbing’ petunias.  Plant habit is gently trailing and the colors are soft pastels.  Petals of the individual flowers of this strain are thin and filmy, with a more delicate appearance than any other petunias available today.  The blooms glow with light captured in the transluscent petals, and fragrance is wonderful.  The plants are narrow— less spreading than modern varieties, so I planted them fairly close together in window boxes and baskets.  This strain is probably the oldest remaining example of nineteenth century petunias, considering the plant’s slender habit and the very delicate, filmy  flowers.

This year I will try a few more very heirloom petunias: ‘Rose of Heaven’ from the 1930s; ‘Alderman’ and ‘Fire Chief’, both from the 1950s.  All are fragrant.

January Gardening Calendar

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On or near the beginning of each month I will present a gardening calendar.  I find that it saves time and worry if I have a ready-made plan for activities in the garden.  January is one of the least busy months of the year for gardeners, but we have a few things that need to be or can be done:

Plan your garden for the year.  Read seed and nursery catalogs and pick out what you would like to grow.  It is a good idea to plant greater numbers of the vegetables and fruits your family uses on a regular basis.  Minimize or eliminate the things you do not.  Figure out how much space you have and how much seed you need, then order.  If you are just beginning or reconfiguring your garden, January is a great time to undertake design projects.  January is also an excellent time to repair equipment, such as garden tools, plant supports and cold frames.

If you have a supply of fresh manure you can make a hotbed in which to grow early vegetables and flowers.  Though perhaps unpleasant to deal with, a hotbed provides a little microclimate that is much warmer and more humid than the out of doors.  Hotbeds will extend your growing and harvest seasons.  They are a real help in climates with short seasons and cool nights.  Squash, melons, peppers and eggplant enjoy the warm nights a hotbed will provide, thereby significantly increasing production.  In the nineteenth century most winter vegetables, such as cauliflower, were grown in hotbeds.

Carefully tend your cold frames in January, covering them with insulating materials on cold nights and admitting air during the day if it is not too cold.  Now is the time to clean debris and dead leaves out of winter lettuces and other greens in cold frames or cold greenhouses.

Early cabbage can be sown indoors, as well as parsley, cauliflower and eggplant.  Flowers to sow inside to transplant out later include: geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, petunias, pansies, snapdragons and violas.  Primroses, auriculas, delphinium and many other perennials can be sown now indoors.

Manure can be spread over vegetable beds and perennial borders.  Pruning can begin of fruit trees and raspberries.  If you live in a mild climate or have a large cold frame or cold greenhouse, you can harvest any of the following: leeks, spinach, kale, carrots, lettuce, corn salad, onions, parsnips and chard.  In a cold climate carrots and parsnips outside can be covered with straw to protect them, so you just have to push away the snow and straw to dig them.  In a cold (unheated) greenhouse greens can be grown and harvested all winter, especially if an inner layer of floating row cover is placed over the crops to protect them.  Stakes or hoops will prevent the fabric from touching the leaves of the plants.

Enjoy January!

 

 

The Development of the Florist Pansies

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Pansies were developed in England in the early 1800s.  One Lady Mary Bennet, the daughter of the Earl of Tankerville made a heart-shaped flower bed in her garden at Walton-On-Thames, Surrey England, about the year 1812.  She collected wild specimens of Vila tricolor, known as “heartsease” and planted them together in the bed.  Her gardener, a Mr. Richardson, began saving seed.  The resulting plants attracted attention and soon Mr. Thompson, gardener to Lord Gambier began growing and selecting seed from both Viola tricolor and Viola lutea, another species native to Britain.   In 1830 Mr. Thompson discovered a seedling that had a small patch of color in the center of the bloom.  This is what gives the pansy a “face”.  Pansies as we know them today descend from this color breakthrough.

In nineteenth century England and Scotland enthusiastic garden hobbyists grew and developed several types of flowers, among them primroses, carnations, tulips and ranunculuses.  These very serious folk were known as “florists”.  They grew their own plants, traded and purchased choice cultivars and raised new plants for show from seed.  The flowers of each type of plant were required to conform to a set of rules for exhibition.  Outstanding varieties were named, exhibited and often propagated by cuttings and by 1835 more than 400 named varieties of pansy had been created.

Pansies are short-lived perennials and very few of the old show varieties are in existence today. Today most pansies are grown from seed.  The photographs above are of plants I grew from an English seed mix developed from the few remaining florist pansies left in existence.  Their flowers are larger than those of Viola tricolor, but smaller than modern pansies.

Pansies enjoy cool weather and thrive in climates with cool summers.  I have grown them in the cold climate of Montana, the coastal climate of Washington state and in the winter in the desert at Palm Springs.  Their culture is the same as for Viola tricolor.  Seeds of the old strains of pansy can be sown in winter inside for summer flowers, or sown in fall to flower in early spring until it gets too hot.

Viola tricolor

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Viola tricolor is one of the oldest cultivated plants. We see it in Medieval manuscripts and old herbals, including Gerard’s Great Herbal of 1596.  In Europe it is a common plant of woods, meadows and hedgerows and is known by several names among the country folk: “hearts-ease,”  “love-in-idleness,” “cat’s face,” “call-me-to-you,” “herb trinitas,” “three-faces-under-a-hood,” “jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me,”  and “johnny-jump-up.”  The species name “tricolor” refers to the white, purple and yellow of the small blooms.  The photo above shows a rather pale-colored flower of the true wild form from England. The name “pansie” or “pansy” is derived from the French pensee, which means “thoughts.”  What we think of now as pansies are hybrids of Viola tricolor and Viola lutea developed in the 1830s and I will discuss their origin in more detail in a later post.

As recent as one hundred years ago several named varieties of Viola tricolor were available.  Bright modern seeds strains can be found, but only one old variety still exists, ‘Bowles’ Black Viola.’  It comes true from seed and is a very dark purple, almost a true black, with a tiny golden eye.

Viola tricolor plants do well in part shade in a moderately rich, moist soil containing organic matter. They bloom best in cool weather and a site with morning sun seems ideal.  A good way to have these delicate flowers in abundance is to start them from seed in late summer to bloom in spring, or sow indoors in winter to set out in spring.  Seeds can be direct sown in fall to come up in the spring.  In climates with mild winters violas and pansies are often planted for winter flowers and removed when it gets hot.