The Violet Gazette

Return to AVS Homepage
Return to The Violet Gazette Index
Return to The Spring 2001 Contents

Written by:  John Snocken, AVS Associate Board Member 
© 2001 All Rights Reserved.

Volume 2, Number 2
Winter 2001
On line Version


The Violetta

      By John Snocken, AVS Associate Board Member and Director Of The National Viola and Pansy Society (UK).

With an abundance of fragrant bloom held well above tight, and crisp foliage, the violetta makes a delightful addition to any viola collection. The history of its development gives some insight into those characteristics that set it apart.

Click Here For A Larger Image Of Violeta Rebecca
Violetta 'Rebecca'
Raised by R.G. Cawthorne
Photo Courtesy J. Snocken, for The National Viola & Pansy Society
© 2000 All rights reserved 



             In the 1870s, the viola was quite a well-established garden plant, however, many varieties were still somewhat lank in habit, and the majority of the blooms showed definite rays. Dr Charles Stuart, residing in Scotland, embarked upon a breeding programme with the object of producing "rayless" blooms on plants with a good tufted habit. In 1874 he took pollen from a variety named 'Blue King' and applied it to the stigma of v.cornuta. Twelve seedlings were the result. He then applied the pollen of an unnamed pink variety to each of these seedlings, and it was from this cross that he found he had not only retained the tufted habit, but also increased the range of colour. Doubtless, he was a man of great patience, for it was not until 1887 that a totally "rayless" seedling finally appeared. It was white, with some yellow suffusion in the bottom petal, and a pronounced fragrance; he named it "Violetta." He chanced to send a box of bloom to William Robinson, who through his editorship of "The Garden," held great influence in horticultural matters at that time. Suitably impressed, and recognizing them to be a distinct new strain, Robinson featured them in his magazine and so, the first of what was to be known collectively as Violettas came before a wider and grateful audience.

             At the Viola conference held in 1894, it was decided that the time had come to formally define the essential characteristics of a Violetta. It was agreed that the flowers of these comparatively miniature types should be "rayless," oval in shape and between one and one and a half inches in size; the foliage to be small and compact; the plant being of dwarf and bushy habit. This definition has stayed with us, although I am certain that it is not applied with the same rigidity as in Victorian times.             



             Very few of the earliest violettas survive. 'Dawn' a pale yellow and 'Buttercup,' a rich warm yellow (originally named Rock Orange) are still with us. These two are the results of work done by D B. Crane, and his son H. H. Crane, in the early part of the twentieth century. As the popularity of the viola declined throughout the middle part of the century, it was H. H. Crane who worked to keep both interest and the violetta strain alive. However, it was Richard Cawthorne who more than anyone made certain that this delightful group did not suffer extinction. By collecting and breeding he ensured that Violetta's charms still be enjoyed today. 'Little David' is a cream self that retains popularity, as does 'Boy Blue,' a mid-blue self. It was 'Boy Blue' that gave us what is probably the most popular of all 'Rebecca.' This is a sport of 'Boy Blue,' which shows creamy-white blooms boldly flaked with rich violet. In my experience everyone who sees this variety for the first time, wants to have it in their gardens, and because of its fine bushy habit there is always plenty of good basal cutting material.

             A question remains over the future of Violettas in this new century. I am certain that a few favourites will survive, but it is to be hoped that some enthusiast might take on the work of maintaining and improving this worthy strain.         

© 2001 John Snocken, Associate Board Member and Director
The American Violet Society
All Rights Reserved

Return to The Spring 2001 Contents
Return to The Violet Gazette Index
Return to AVS Homepage