The true Violette de Parma, as picked in my greenhouse last year. Here, Viola 'Parme de Toulouse'
Today I am trying something new, a few of us are cross-posting about the same subject which today is 'WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN'. Let me know what you think! And be sure to check out my fellow bloggers posts on the same subject. First, Joseph at GREENSPARROW garden shares his interpretation of what's old is new again. Also Francis at the popular blog FAIREGARDEN has a post where she covers the iconoclasts of classic old-fashioned plants, (what I personally remember from my childhood- yeah, I'm old! ) an inspiring post on those vintage plants that many of you may find in abandoned gardens or homesteads.
Francis writes about what I remember that was in my mothers garden; the stately Oriental Poppies, those muddy colored Daylilies, and brownish grapey German Bearded Iris. The last participant is Ryan of NOMICSCIENCE , who writes about many old-fashioned plants that come to his mind, as he explores his thoughts on what old-fashioned plants are. Ryan, Primula are certainly appealing to think about in January where I live!
PARMA VIOLETS ARE GENERALLY DOUBLE, WHILE VIOLA ODORATA, THE SCENTED VIOLET IS SINGLE.
My contribution to this list is the rarely seen Parma Violet, or scented violet ( not to be confused with the common garden violet, or African violets, for that matter). Parma Violets may not be familiar to you, but your great grandmother surely would swoon over the scent. One of the most popular cut flowers commerially around the turn of the Nineteenth Century, the Parma Violet is one old fashioned plant that Even though I have an attraction to truly old-fashioned plants like Scented violets, I have to admit that a true comeback is doubtful. It's a different world today.
Experience the flavor of violets in some candy and gum found in Australia or on vintage candy websites.
Cultivated for centuries in Europe since the 1600's, scented violets come from a mysterious place since botanically, their taxonomic affinity has not been found to link to any other violet. Viola odorata is the closest relative genetically, perhaps combined with V. suavis and V. alba that we find wild in our gardens, Parma violet cultivars have a clear connection with many Viola alba varieties but most scientists today connect them with all three species, in some what, and include them with the Mediterranean Viola ssp. dehnhardtii.
All violets are Viola species, so technically, Pansy's, and Johnny Jump Ups are all Viola's, but when most people think of violets, what comes to mind is the garden violet, or the self seeding garden pest that we all still love, Viola sororia. Which looks very much like Viola odorata, but which spreads invasively in North American gardens. Still lovely when picked, it lacks the intense fragrance of the Parma Violet, or Viola odorata. I sill like them, ( although my favorite violet is Viola jooi, and alpine plant, or Viola pedata, the birds foot violet.).My new fav is the Korean Violet, Viola coreana. Still, no fragrance but what a show!
But we really don't care about all of that, all we know is that Parma Violets are amazing, since their backstory is worthy of a Hollywood move ( with a love affair involving the Romans, Shakespeare, Napoleon and Queen Victoria, all cherished Parma Violets as a perfume or as a cutflower). Today, not so much. Good luck even finding a plant. But there are six species that are truly fragrant still left. Viola alba ssp. alba, V. alba ssp. cretica, V. alba ssp. dehnhardtii, V. odorata and V. suavis. Even V. sintenisii has some scent but not one has a true connection to the classic Viola 'Parme de Toulouse'.
This is one of those cross-over plants where there is both a vintage flavor element almost lost to mankind, and a heirloom plant element almost lost in culture. Above, Liquer de Violette by Briottet. Violetinni, anyone?
Viola odorata - both the pink and blue vintage forms, available sometimes from Logee's Greenhouses
VIOLET SCENT AND FLAVOR WAS USED IN EVERYTHING IN THE LATE 1800's, AND MOST LIKELY WAS FOUND IN EVERYTHING FROM MOXIE, TO MEDICINE. I WOULD BET THAT IT WAS EVEN IN THE ORIGINAL COCA COLA RECIPE ( just guessing).
I GUESS ONE COULD SAY IT WAS THE POMEGRANATE OF 1900.
In Toulouse France, there is a resurgence in Violetmania and some groups are working on micro-propagating some of the ancient named forms so we may see some available in the future, at least for the horticultural market, after all, before the red rose was commercially grown, Scented Violets were the traditional Valentines Day flower, with boxes of Chocolates bedecked with tied nosegays as late as 1910. Even Christmas time, meant that sweet scented violets would be on ones lap at a concert in 19th Century London.
FROM VALENTINES TO EASTER CARDS, NOTHING SAY'S I LOVE YOU BETTER THAN A BUNCH OF SCENTED VIOLETS
In a genus where there are over 600 species, the unknown phylogyney of this violet cross is sad, but a few cultivars are still handed down in France, and one sometimes can get some. I grow some old named forms, as well as the more available V. odorata if you can find the true, fragrant species. It is not cold hardy below 20 deg. F, but I grow it in an unheated glasshouse, just as they did at the turn of the last century. Try them in cold frames, and maybe by next Valentines Day, you can surprise your sweetie with something really special - a bundle a scented violets! Hey, that does leave us with about 200 species to grow in our gardens ( if we really choose to). which don't have scent, but that look exactly the same to the average gardener.
The lost or rarely found named varieties of Parma Violets are:
Viola 'Ash Vale Blue"
V. 'Marie Louise'
V. 'Gloire de Verdun'
V. 'Parme de Toulouse'
Casbas N.. 2002. Parma seeds discovery. Violet Society Journal 4: 11-12
Chauchard B. Munzinger J. Marcussen T. Henry M.. 2003. L'étude caryologique de deux cultivars de Violettes odorantes remet en cause leur origine taxonomique. Acta Botanica Gallica 150: 85-93
Coombs R. E.. 1981. Violets: the history and cultivation of scented violets Croom Helm, London, UK..
Foissy A.. 1884. Culture des violettes de Parme. Revue Horticole 1884: 102-104.
Marcussen T.. 2006. Allozymic variation in the widespread and cultivated Viola odorata in western Eurasia. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 151: 563-571
Robinson P. M. Snocken J.. 2002. Checklist of the cultivated forms of the genus Violaincluding the register of cultivars American Violet Society, Washington D.C., USA. http://americanvioletsociety.org/Registry
Tucker A. O.. 2000. The botanical names of the sweet violets. Violet Gazette