Groves Sweet Violets

 In Hardy perennials, Plant Focus, Scented plants, Seasonal Gardening

Sweet violets used to be a very popular cut flower. In Victorian times ladies would pin sweet violets to their clothes and hair.

The cut flower industry is no more but sweet violets still deserve a place in our gardens!

Clevedon Violets

sweet violet, viola odorata

Viola odorata [Sweet Violet] in a hedgerow

I was always intrigued by the story of the Clevedon violet growing industry. Until recently I lived in North Somerset just 6 miles from Clevedon.

But those nurseries that grew this sweet scented little flower were actually at nearby Tickenham and not in the Victorian town of Clevedon.

Posies of sweet violets were sent to London and other major cities.

This crop was often grown by fruit growers and Tickenham was well known for producing early strawberries.

In fact many of the areas that grew strawberries also produced sweet violets.

There’s a fascinating history of the Clevedon Violets and it’s well worth a read.

Many selections of sweet violets were made by growers and desirable characteristics that were sought were long stems, good colour and of course strong scent!

Even today plants of sweet violets can be found growing in old hedgerows in and around Tickenham. These are remnants of the Clevedon Violet Growing industry.


Groves Nurseries and Garden Centre

Grove Nurseries history sign

History of Grove Nurseries

For some forty years and three generations Groves Nurseries and Garden Centre have been growing violets!

But Groves have been nurserymen since 1866! Like many other nursery businesses they initially were seedsmen. Six generations of the Grove family have been nurserymen.

Little surprise then that they hold and care for the National Collection of Violets.

In fact they grow over 100 different varieties of violets. This includes both sweet violets and Parma violets. Their collection also includes a few other Viola species.

Plants have been collected from Devon [the Devon type], Corfe Mullien in Dorset and much further a field such as countries of the Commonwealth.

You can buy plants from Groves by visiting their lovely garden centre in Bridport, Dorset.

This is right down in the south of the UK and so if a visit for you is difficult I’d recommend that you buy these delightful plants online from their site here.


My visit to Groves

Clive Groves, Becky Groves, Sweet Violets

Clive and Becky Groves

I was especially fortunate to go behind the scenes to see the production of sweet violets.

Even better I had both Clive and Becky Groves to explain how these delightful plants are produced!

Behind their large and very organised garden centre I was invited into the main glasshouse where the violets are produced.

All are grown in 1 litre pots filled with Melcourt Sylvamix peat free compost. This is very similar to my favourite peat free compost which is called SylvaGrow Multipurpose Compost.

Becky admitted that the transition to peat free compost was not without some initial issues. However she was confident that these would be overcome.

I noticed that all plants are clearly and individually labelled. The production of so many similar looking varieties must make this essential.


Stock plants and propagation

sweet violet cuttings in trays

8 month old sweet violet cuttings

Stock plants are kept in large pots outside but under a shaded structure.

This gives them some protection but most importantly provides them with shade in summer.

Cuttings are taken from these stock plants every year in June.

The cuttings are rooted in trays in the glasshouse and remain there until they are potted up.

Violets hybridize readily and Groves have continued to breed and select new improved varieties. Many of those varieties, and the old traditional ones, are available from their website.


Violets on sale

Sweet violets on sale at Groves Garden Centre

Sweet violets on sale

Due to the pressures of coping with extra demand during the Coronavirus pandemic, there are less sweet violets available to sell this year.

But those I saw looked in excellent condition, were strong, flowering and ready to plant out!

A small number of the total plants sold were attractively displayed close to the garden centre entrance.

Do remember that a large number of these violets are sold online and by mail order.






Violet Gin

But plants aren’t the only way that you can buy violets from Groves!bottles of gin, Groves gin

I spotted a locally made gin flavoured with violet flowers!

This gin is sold as Mr Groves Violet Gin.








Sweet violets in the garden

Most violets prefer to have some shade and are naturally an edge of woodland plant. Consequently it is good to try to replicate those conditions in your garden.

Violets are very happy to grow under the shade of trees and shrubs. They do not like to get too dry in summer.

Double flowered Parma violet

Typical Parma violet

Parma violets are less hardy and need protection.

They are mostly double flowered. Their scent is very characteristic it reminded me of corner shop sweets!

Sweet violets have few pests and diseases. However red spider mite and American leaf spot can be problematic.


My title image on this blog is of Viola odorata Konigin Charlotte [Queen Charlotte]. It’s planted in the shade of the walled garden at The Newt in Somerset.


More reading

I’ve written here about my top ten scented winter garden plants.

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