The Grumpy Gardener – On Cowslips and Violets

The Grumpy Gardener – April

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander is delighted to report that splashes of yellow and violet in the garden signal that Spring  is finally here.


Viola-odorata-closeup (Credit: Wikipedia)


Two very different wild flowers are bursting out all over here at the moment, both rich in folklore and both of which are favourites of mine, if for no other reason, than that they signal a particularly oppressive winter is drawing to an end and spring is finally in sight.   

The common cowslip or Primula veris are poking their yellow flowers out in dozens of inconvenient places in one garden which I take care of. They prefer full sun and have a habit of popping up through the lawn which, as I don’t have the heart to mow them, leaves a lawn looking a little uncared for until they go over in May. 

My failure to take a harsh approach means that they have spread consistently year on year. Once used to make wine, they are also reportedly great for insomnia if drunk as a tea. The flower was also recommended in medieval times as a cure for wrinkles — it was mixed with white wine and then used as a face wash. 

There is some debate as to whether or not it was Pliny the Elder who first made this discovery. I have my doubts. Returning from the apothecary and letting forth with a cheery “Hi honey I’m home. I came up with a great cure for your wrinkles today,” would almost definitely have ensured he never qualified for the title of ‘elder’!

The other plant now emerging from hibernation is the violet. Viola odorata are very common and are synonymous with France and particularly the southern city of Toulouse. 

These along with the rose and the lily were one of the three favourite flowers in medieval times. They were also much-loved by both Napoleon and Josephine. She is said to have thrown a posy of them to him on the day they met and he included one as his emblem whilst keeping a bouquet of them on his writing desk. 

Before being deported to St Helena he visited her grave which was covered in violet plants. Taking some of the petals he wore them in a locket around his neck until his death.


The cowslip now turning lawns into a Spring bed of yellow (Credit: Mike Alexander)

Violets are an essential ingredient in many perfumes but it takes a ton of flowers to get one fluid ounce of essence. There was also a legend that they could only be smelt once before losing their perfume.

Science has subsequently revealed that they contain ionine which because it deadens the scent glands temporarily, led to the flower gaining this reputation.

Violets traditionally come in white and purple but cultivars now also allow a grand display of pink, rose and apricot … violet. They prefer semi-shaded positions and grow easily from seed which is why they are so abundant in gardens here. I like to plant them into dry stone walling where they are better displayed and out of the way. This is easily done by removing plantlets from mature plants, wrapping the roots in moss and compost and then plugging them into gaps in the wall. All parts of the plant are edible and both leaves and petals can be added to salads. Individual flowers frozen into ice blocks make for an attractive addition to summer drinks. 

Stop and smell the flowers now that spring is here! (Credit: Greg Bishop flickr)


Previously – click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
To read this article - click here
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
Dogs and Daffodils... full story - click this image
The iris and Madame la Guillotine... full story - click this image
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
Hedge You Bets - how do YOU like your hedges... full story - click this image
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets

Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander

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