Several years ago, fired up with enthusiasm after reading and re-reading Rodney Fuller's most informative book, I decided to try a Victorian style viola bedding scheme in the front of my house.
The only space available was an unprepossessing, north facing plot to one side of the drive. The soil was a cold heavy alluvial clay. It was enriched with all of the compost that I could spare. A substantial quantity of pea shingle was dug in, to improve the drainage and the whole site was liberally doused with 'Armillatox' in an attempt to sterilise the soil.
To maximise the impact, I decided to bed out in groups of six plants of each cultivar and calculated that, in total, the plot would hold 105 plants all of which were from my own raised cuttings. That meant that I could use 21 cultivars. A planting scheme was prepared to try to get the best overall effect with the material that I had.
When the risk of frost was over, the actual planting was done and the whole bed was dressed with a final mulch of pea shingle. Initially the plants grew away strongly. Early in the summer, the display was stunning with literally thousands of blooms and many passers-by stopped to admire it and to ask about the "lovely little pansies" (sic) in particular, "Irish Molly", attracted much attention and comment. However, deadheading needed constant attention but I was indeed fortunate to be able to give that task to my wife, giving me more time to feed and spray as necessary, and attend other jobs elsewhere in the garden.
As the weather grew progressively hotter and the hosepipe ban bit more deeply, watering became more of a problem. Several plants died unexpectedly almost outright. At first I thought that drought was to blame but eventually I found out that it was due to the unwelcome attention of a neighbour's cat and one of our own local foxes too. The remaining plants struggled but put on a reasonably good late flush in the cooler wetter Autumn weather.
The plants were left in situ to take their chances during the winter, but the losses, through natural causes, were heavy. In the first winter, the situation was not helped when despite all my protestations, the bricklayer who was building a boundary wall, put his cement mixer in the middle of my lovingly prepared viola bed.
I have kept detailed records of how the various cultivars have performed over several seasons. The following have died out completely and did not survive even the mildest winter - "Maggie Mott" , "Charity", "Alwyn", "Martin", "Vita", "Little David", "Louisa", "Irish Molly", "Foxbrook Cream", "Buxton Blue" , "Molly Sanderson" , "Rebecca" , "Ardross Gem", "Melinda" , "Desmonda", "Pippa", "Davina", "Jackanapes" and "Piper". On the other hand, the only one to survive with a score of five out five plants consistently year after year is "Myfanwy". Has anything of use come out of this trial? The answer I leave for you to judge.
For my part I would certainly recommend "Myfanwy" to anybody interested in bedding violas as a most reliable garden plant at least in this part of Kent. I have also resolved to take more cuttings, even when plants are doing well, as a precaution against unexpected losses so as to insure the survival of my small collection. It now becomes apparent that some cultivars are better bedding plants than others. I now know that the Victorians must have put on some magnificent displays in their days and that they were right in saying that viola cultivation was better suited to cooler "northern" conditions. I must also thank our Secretary John Snocken publicly for his generosity in letting me have some plants to make up some of my losses.
The loss of plants on such a large scale was not entirely a sad thing as it gave me the chance to try some other cultivars be making space available for them. Additionally, there has been a bumper crop of chance seedlings. As their parents were all of fine lineage, I have high hopes of finding something worthwhile amongst them and from our Secretary's remarks in the last newsletter, it seems that I may have done so with the seedling to be named after my wife, a small token of my gratitude for her dead heading efforts! My next venture will be to try out another Victorian idea of planting on tiered pots, one inside the other, to create a large cone shape of blooms. I intend to plant a single cultivar in each ring but will have to watch the blend of colours to get the most pleasing effect, and possibly that could be the makings of another article.
It would be nice to hear of other members' experiences and to know what bedding types do well in other parts of the country. So what about writing in and answering our Secretary's oft repeated requests for articles or snippets of any kind for the Society's newsletter.
Colin Andrews Rochester, Kent.
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