"Violets dim But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes Or Cytherea's breath!"
Notwithstanding the attractions of other sections of Violas, they are surpassed by the matchless perfume of the Sweet Violet. Some of the flowers are single, others double, whilst they exhibit shades in blue, purple, and mauve, in addition to certain varieties which are pure-white. These Violets are all varieties of Viola odorata, a species indigenous to many parts of Europe, including Britain. Just as the Pansy (Viola tricolor) is the first flower a child usually desires to cultivate, so Violets are amongst the first wild flowers children learn to gather from the roadside. They are not the less sought after because their habit is so humble that the fragrant blossoms are frequently hidden by the ranker vegetation around them.
"It takes us so much trouble to discover,
Stands first with most and ever with a lover."
In their natural habitats in Britain, Violets bloom from about March to May, but it is possible to extend the season a little at both ends by cultivating them in various aspects out-of-doors. It is not, however, for this reason alone that Violets are cultivated in gardens, but also because cultivated flowers are superior in size to those gathered from the hedgerow or sparse plantation, whilst the varieties in themselves are of better quality than the wild type. A more artificial form of cultivation is practised in order to obtain the flowers in winter and spring. This forcing is usually carried out in frames, and, in districts free from the prejudicial atmospheric conditions of large towns, it is done with comparative ease and gratifying success, provided the few rules of procedure are thoroughly understood and rigidly observed. On the contrary, if the cultivation is careless or haphazard, failure is more certain to follow in Violet culture in frames than in many other departments of gardening.
The great bulk of the flowers on sale in the markets during winter are imported from Italy and France, but after Christmas the supplies are augmented by home-grown blooms from outdoor plants in the warmer counties, but only a very few frame-forced Violets ever appear in the markets. Every one is familiar with the general manner in which the flowers are bunched for the market, but the bunches vary in the different markets. What is termed a "Market" bunch is the bunch as sent to the market by the growers. These are frequently loosened and the same quantity of flowers divided into two or more bunches for the retail trade. It is one of the floral wonders in London that Violets can be sold so cheaply by the numerous flower-girls, whose cry of "Penny a bunch, sir," is familiar to every one. Whilst Violets are purchasable at every street corner, they are none the less popular in the high-class florist shops in Regent Street and the Central Avenue in Covent Garden Market. They are used extensively for all kinds of decoration, at funerals no less than at weddings; occasionally crosses, anchors, and other devices are formed almost entirely with Violets.
On the Continent, Sweet Violets occupy similar positions to that given them in Britain, and in America and Canada they are not less appreciated. An American writer has stated that in that country the Violet ranks third in commercial importance amongst florists' flowers, and its season extends for about seven months. Until a few years ago the cultivation in America was not of the best, although so general, but latterly much greater care has been taken to produce flowers of the highest quality, and the trained horticulturists at the experiment stations have devoted themselves to studying the several fungus diseases that attack the plants.