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Blue blooms and happiness. April 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s April, and that means I can’t turn around without tripping over pansies. Pots of pansies, beds of pansies, windowboxes of pansies, flats of pansies, all staring me down with their huge, ominous faces. I’ll admit, I’ve always found pansies scary-looking. Their obvious appeal to pretty much everybody is totally lost on me.

I think it’s really just a matter of scale. If pansies bloomed on a tree, I might find them as enchanting as everyone else seems to. They’re just too big and bold for those little plants they’re growing on.

One reason I think this is the problem is that in exact proportion to my loathing of pansies is my love of their smaller, more endearing cousins, violas and Johnny-jump-ups. Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I have tried (and failed) innumerable times at establishing Johnny-jump-ups in our flower beds.

Fortunately, violas are easier. I grow them in containers, and that’s what this post is all about. (And fans of Alexander McCall Smith and his marvelous No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, please pardon the pun in the post’s title. I simply couldn’t resist.)

The past couple of weeks, our local farmers’ market in scenic Kutztown, PA has had flats of bedding plants (as well as herbs and veggies) galore, including violas and (shudder) pansies. One bedding plant that caught my eye was nemesia (N. fruticans), with its trailing clusters of small frilled flowers resembling blue and blue-purple equitant oncidiums. (For those not familiar with these delightful miniature orchids, the foliage resembles fleshy iris leaves and the blooms, borne in exquisite sprays, look like a cancan dancer’s outfit with a tightly cinched waist. In the case of nemesias, that tiny waist is accented with two bright yellow pompoms in the center of the belt.)

Hmmm. Those nemesias looked like the perfect pairing with violas. After perusing the violas, I opted for a pack of six primrose-yellow ones (unidentified, alas) because, unlike most of the others, they were deliciously fragrant. (One great advantage of container planting is bringing fragrance close up. Why not take advanatage of it?) And because I’d chosen primrose yellow, I opted for the blue nemesias (‘Nesia Dark Blue’) rather than the blue with rose-purple overtones (shame on me, I didn’t check the cultivar name, sorry!), buying four. (After confirming with the stand’s owner that they’d stay in bloom through the season.)

Back home, I selected a large pale beige pot from my stash and planted it with the nemesias around the perimeter, two violas in the middle, and the other four radiating out like spokes between the nemesias. Simple but stunning! For $7, I’d created a big, striking container planting that caused all our neighbors to come over, ooh and ah, and ask where they could get those plants. (Yes, I already had organic potting soil and was using one of the many pots I’ve stashed over the years. But hey, the total cost even if you had to buy both was still under $14.)

Buoyed by this success, I rushed back to the farmers’ market yesterday with thoughts of those rose-purple nemesias and mahogany-red violas dancing in my head. (I avoid dark purple flowers, both in containers and in the landscape, as they tend to look like black holes from any distance. So, though I admired the velvety dark purple violas, I wasn’t tempted to buy them.) But alas! The very few rose-purple nemesias left were scraggly and unappealing.

Luckily, there were still four great-looking blue nemesias, and I snapped them up before you could say ‘Nesia Dark Blue’. But now what?

Of course, I could have simply repeated my original planting, and if I’d had a matching container, I probably would have, placing the pair on either side of the greenhouse door. But since that wasn’t the case, I wanted to try something different. One viola that had really gotten my attention the previous week had palest purple-shading-to-white upper petals, pale purple-blue lower petals, and rich purple surrounding a yellow center. This may not sound like a good match for the blue nemesias, but it was, with blue catching blue and white highlighting it, as well as the subtle color match of the yellow centers. The only reason I hadn’t succumbed to this viola (sadly also unidentified) the previous week was its lack of fragrance. Nemesias aren’t fragrant, either. What to do?

Aha, flats of white sweet alyssum (also unlabeled) were on the next bench over. The honey-sweet fragrance of alyssum flowers would compensate for the absence of fragrance in the others, the white of their tiny blooms would echo the white viola petals, and, like the others, the alyssum blossoms have yellow centers, creating an extremely subtle but nonetheless entertaining color echo. Two four-packs of sweet alyssum, one six-pack of violas, four nemesias, and $9 later, I was on my way to another great container planting.

Make that $6. I only ended up using two of the nemesias in this container, again spoking out the violas from the center and planting the alyssum to spill over two sides. If anything, it’s more stunning than the original container.

But why only two nemesias? Well, on the way home, I stopped at the tiny local hardware store because I needed new pruners. Sure enough, there was a rack of violas out front, including the exquisite ‘Sorbet Lilac Ice’ and the jolly, Johnny-jump-up-esque purple-and-yellow ‘Sorbet Sunny Royale’. At $1 a six-pack, how could I resist? No doubt I could match up the ‘Sunny Royale’ violas with something, but I chose to simply pot them up together for a sunnily cheerful burst of color. But the ‘Lilac Ice’ violas would be a perfect foil for the blue nemesias, so I tucked two nemesias in their container.

Today, our deck and greenhouse doorway (where the original container stands sentinal) are ablaze with beautiful color combinations. Four striking, easy-to-assemble containers for a total price of $18 for the plants, $4.50 for a huge bag of organic potting soil, and some recycled containers works for me! Get a jump-start on spring and make some for yourself.

              ‘Til next time,




1. Tatyana - April 24, 2010

Hi Silence! I wish I could see your containers. They should be lovely. Do you know how pansies are called in Russia? Aniuta’s Eyes. Aniuta is a lady’s name. That is why they are staring at you!

Ha! That’s good to know, Tatyana!

2. deb - April 24, 2010

Sounds beautiful. Wish we could see them. Our violas will be going to sleep in the heat pretty soon.

Thanks, Deb! Oh, yikes, the heat! I’m already dreading it…

3. Gail - April 24, 2010

You give the best descriptions and I can see your containers perfectly…They are lovely, by the way! gail

Thank you, Gail! And I have to say, I was quite pleased with them. But today I was out buying more plants (gulp), so they’re only the beginning…

4. Elephant's Eye - April 24, 2010

Keep an eye on the Nemesia. South African plant, snapdragon family, and the botanists are thinking up a new name … Hmm …
I think I’ll have to get me some of that.

This is great, Diana, thanks so much for the link! I’m always hoping that bedding plants sold as annuals are really tender perennials; now I’ll have to try to keep them over! But I can see why a name change might be a good idea (for once… ).

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