Always a soft spot for a weed



Michele is trying to eradicate them from her flower beds, and many of my neighbors won’t even allow them in their hellstrips, but I can’t do it. Violets were my favorite flower as a child—just edging out lily of the valley, another aggressor—and I still love them at this time of year.

After they’ve bloomed, I do pull them from a few areas, but only in a desultory manner. The foliage serves as ground cover in a few difficult areas, though it doesn’t quite last the season. Now, of course, we have new and improved hybrids: violas that supposedly bloom all season like Rebecca and Etain (I think I tried one of them and it was no such thing). And then there are the big cold-weather pansies that are supposed to do whatever they’re supposed to do. I’ve used some of these in containers; the vibrant pansies are great for window boxes. But I like my weeds best.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Oh I would never consider a violet a weed! I let them grow everywhere….I adore them……..

  2. I love violets too, and would grow more than the two varieties I have, viz. purple wood violets and Labrador violets. As a child I could buy a posy of the large, very scented violets (Parma violets?) for the very small sum that was my pocket-money which I took to my Grandfather who was on his deathbed although I didn’t know that.

  3. I would not even begin to consider trying to eradicate the five species of Violets I have found here so far. First it would be impossible and second they are so cute. Free wildflowers, what’s not to like. I bet they are good for all kinds of wildlife too.

  4. Oh, I LOVE my violets–when my backyard would grow nothing, thanks to the shade of a maple, they were a godsend. But now in the back, they are too much of a good thing. I remember my friend Julia shrieking several years ago, “Violets in a flowerbed? Are you kidding?”

    But in front of my house, they’ve stayed more mannerly. I’ve kept only the white ones, and they are just gorgeous with my tulips!!!

  5. I love English violets with their sweet violet aroma, Labrador violets because their deep green foliage and lavender flowers look smashing next to my lime green Lady’s Mantle (and I can’t take credit for the arrangements since the violets did it themselves), and our native wild yellow violets. I know the Labrador violets are invasive, but if I pull some where I don’t want ’em, others pop up and surprise me in all sorts of places.

    There is a bluish violet with big, coarse leaves that’s really invasive that I don’t care for so much. But the others I adore.

  6. Oh, and don’t forget that the flowers are edible. They can be candied to go on cakes (um, like I have time to bake cakes or sufficient numbers of people in the house to eat them) or sprinkled as-is on salads. The leaves are edible, too, but too fuzzy and coarse for my tastes.

  7. I found violets in my yard for the first time this year, in a heavily shaded spot under a plum tree where I had been trying to get flowers to grow. Not only am I not pulling them out, I am watering them and hoping they stay around.

  8. We can’t hate the weeds and love the bees – many small flowers we call weeds are food for bees. (not violets, they’re just plain beautiful).

  9. I’ve let the violets be around some of my newly planted shrubs as a temporary ground cover until the shrubs grow in. Hopefully they won’t interfere too much, and add at least some color to what would otherwise be a large expanse of mulch.

    Once I have both time and plants available, I’ll replace them with something more respectable.

  10. Alas, violets are the bane of my existence. Yeah, they’re cute, but not when they are insistent on taking over every arable space in the yard. I let them grow in plenty of places, but am perpetually pulling and hoeing them out of my gardens. They will take over the universe with very little encouragement.

  11. Wildflowers! They’re WILDFLOWERS…

    NOT weeds… Sigh…

    I have at least 4 native species:)

    They are right now blooming amidst the masses of Jacob’s Ladder, Trillium, and Bluebells in my back yard garden.

  12. Sorry, but in the front my house, they are wildflowers. In the back, they are most definitely weeds.

  13. A weed is defined as an unwanted plant — or one that’s growing where it isn’t desired. If you like it, technically, it isn’t a weed. Having said that, I love the way my wild violets look next to my dandelions.

  14. Our front yard is beautiful because of them. There are also a couple of species of fritillary butterfly that hosts on our native violets. I do dig them out when it is time to make room for something else, but by all means save some room for these wonderful wildflower species.

  15. I also love violets. I have a type called “Freckles” that I started from seed in 1996–I got ONE of 25 seeds to germinate. Since then, it has tried valiently to take over my garden bed, but I’m just ruthless and keep them contained. They’re white and spotted light purple.

    So, Jessica Damiano, if you’re still reading this thread, let me know and I’ll ship one to you! Email me at jdybusy2000 at yahoo . com

  16. A final word: weeds are “in the eye of the beholder”… Weeds can be anything one doesn’t want; or any alien plant (like “Kentucky” bluegrass); or short-lived, aggressive seeders (Ragweed).

    But labels can be more than just words…

    In our area, streams are re-labeled “ditches”… They can be dredged, have vegetation stripped, etc., because they’re NOT stream anymore…they’re ditches! Try to protect our local waterways, re-vegetate them, use them…? Nope. They’re ditches!

    That’s why I’m careful in labeling native plants as “weeds”. In some places, “weeds” are not allowed:)

  17. so that’s what those are! they’re all over my front yard, and i just love them — in fact, i’ve been trying to convince the boyfriend to stop trying to plant grass in our shady yard and just let the sweet, cheerful violets take over. it’d be cheaper than buying the number of groundcover plants we’d need otherwise! 🙂 i’ve also discovered many different-colored ones growing wild in the stand of trees behind my house; how exciting to know what they are now!

  18. We have them sprinkled around our half acre. Garden Man hates them but I love them. They aren’t invasive, they just pop up here and there. My neighbor Judy Judy Judy has so carefully moved them into a lovely border around her woodland garden, and she just doesn’t understand why they go “walking.” But she loves them anyway.

  19. I too am a violet-lover. For a couple of years, we’ve been moving all of the violets that grow where we don’t especially want them to a cozy spot around our 100 year old lilac bush. I really like the way the violets and lilacs look growing together. It’s one of those if-you-can’t-beat-’em, join-’em strategies, for sure, but I love violets for their colors, nostalgia, and tenacity.

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