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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Corydalis among violets


The other day I found this really fun plant at The Living Earth in New Hope, which is a corydalis [ko-RY-dal-is]. It sounds like something you don’t want to catch but here is a picture, to me it looks like a party ready to begin and it is really fragrant. I am more familiar with the yellow variety of corydalis, C. lutea, which really naturalizes if it likes the conditions, as will the blue variety. The name describes it as having long spurs like a lark and apparently it can be found in several colors.

Spring is swelling around us and the lawn is resplendent in violets. As a gardener I have noticed that each property and micro-environment tends to have a specific dominant violet. In my lawn there are blues, dark purples, blue and white and some pure white but the dark violet is most common.

There was a time when I had the “Lord & Taylor” variety,which was white with blue specks and in a shadier area there are yellow wood violets a little later on in the spring.

At a house in New Hope there is a unique apricot violet that blooms in the company of one that is wine-purple and at another house the violets are all double white.

All of these violets with the exception of the yellow wood are the type with leaves and flowers on separate stems, some other varieties known as ‘stemmed’ have leaves and flowers on the same stem. Most violets have heart-shaped leaves and flowers with five petals, the deeper color of the neck guiding pollinators in.

The thing with violets is the spring thing is all for show, the real business of creating progeny happens under those heart shaped leaves close to the ground where hidden flowers that never open fill up with seed for dispersal, complete clones of the plant of origin colonizing an area that appeals to it, sometimes moved by ants who enjoy a coating on the seed. Solitary bees are the main pollen carriers though many other insects drink from those violets in the lawn, they are hosts for caterpillars and birds enjoy the seeds.

According to John Eastman in his “Book of Forest and Thicket,” the leaves of the violets are rich in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw in salads or as cooked greens. The violet flowers look beautiful floating on the surface of the salad or, candied, decorating a cake for May Day celebrations around the Maypole. Do people do that anymore? I was given a lilac hued jar of violet jelly to enjoy with my toast. A poultice of fresh violet leaves is said to be a balm to wounded skin, even being examined for possible use in treating skin cancers.

I love a lawn of wildflowers with the changing show. The creeping phlox that escaped from the woodland garden is popping up in the un-mown lawn as the lesser celandine fades and violets have the show.

The ajuga will be next in patches here and there along with the dandilions. I am heartened by the wealth of dandilions I have been seeing in lawns this spring, I hope it means fewer people are applying poisons. One can mow the wildflowers if a tidier look is necessary but they will respond by blooming at shorter heights, a win/win.

I saw a native violet for dry shade at Gino’s Native Plant Nursery in Wrightstown that is called the bird-foot violet or Viola pedata and it has skinny leaves, not heart-shaped. This has a reputation of being a very beautiful violet at 4-10 inches high that enjoys well-drained to dry acidic conditions, it will not thrive alongside the lawn violets in moist soil. A bouquet of violets symbolizes faithfulness between lovers.