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Facing Out

Facing Out

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What's Wrong With This Picture?

Look closely. This plant is in full bloom. Why is the floral display so... dismal?

Clue:

This photo was taken from the house looking outwards.

Viola Tricolor

Refining the issue:

The flowers are all facing in the same direction. Unfortunately that direction is away from us, so all we see is the back of the flowers.

Answer:

The plant is Viola tricolor, the Johnny Jump Up. It is a relative of the pansy (Viola wittrockiana, previously known as Viola tricolor hortensis). The viola group as cool season annuals is really wonderful, giving a long show of very nice color. I especially like Johnny jump ups for their cheery little multi colored flowers. Hey - tricolor does mean three colors!

Viola

They are also terrific in that they will self-seed when happy. The seed capsules that form after flowering spew forth zillion of tiny seeds that may sprout and give a great show next year. This is a great case of picking your weeds. Not every climate or garden is suiting to them, but if they are happy, they will stick with you.

In our mystery photo we see an example of phototropism - that plants grow towards the light. In our case, the side to the house is darker (obviously shielded from sun by the house itself) and the side away from the house gets full morning sun. The flowers oblige by all pointing towards the light and away from our appreciative gaze.

There is a solution to the frustration of seeing your floral display from the rear (kind of like appreciating a Persian carpet from the back). Simplest is to grow the flowers in planters. Periodically turn the planter and, viola, suddenly they are all facing in the right direction. Of course, they won't stay like that for long and will soon turn towards the light again. Bt then you can just turn the planter again, and on goes the dance.

Plants in the ground are a different challenge. As they turn with the earth, well, the house turns too, so not much can be done about realigning the flowering face. Some like daffodils or narcissus are notorious for turning with the sun through the day. Picking plants that are not so sensitive to the direction of the sun is a possibility.

By the way, look again at the front view of these Johnny jump-ups. Compare them to these Johnny jump-ups at the height of their vigor and bloom:

Johnny jump ups

The colors of our previous photo are paler than they really should be, blurred, thin and just not as substantial as one would expect. This is typical of cool season annuals as they near the end of their time. The flowers get smaller, paler, the plant loses vigor and… if you are trying to save the seeds or to let them naturalize, then hopefully you let some seed heads mature before it gets to this stage. Otherwise, now is the time to yank them, add some organic matter into the soil there, and plant summer flowers.

Enjoy!


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