'Dame Violet'
Hesperis matronalis

The 'Dame Violet' which is also known as 'Damask Rose' is neither a Violet nor a Rose! It is a short lived perennial related to the Wallflower and has the most wonderful scent somewhere akin to both the Violet and the Damask Rose.

The flowers of the 'Dame Violet' are either white or lilac, and in single or double flowered forms. The doubles are the most highly prized, not only because of the flower itself, but also because they have a stronger scent than the single flowered plants. Like the 'Night Scented Stock' (Matthiola bicornis) the flower scent is much stronger in the evenings than during the heat of the day.

The species, which is very variable, is from Southern Europe and was probably introduced from France. By the fifteenth century it was widely grown primarily for it's use in nosegays and for scenting rooms, and for two centuries was grown in large numbers. In addition to the white and lilac there were also striped and purple flowered plants both of which have now been lost. It is difficult to know whether the plants still grown are directly from those grown five centuries ago, or whether they are the result of re-introduction.

From personal experience it is a difficult plant to grow, even in what appear to be perfect conditions! It will grow away with vigour and when you look for it a few days later it has died out! In recent years some plants have been grown by tissue culture and cleared of virus, so there is a hope that perhaps these plants may prove more long-lived! While the singles grow readily from seed, the doubles have to be propagated from cuttings - and only a very small percentage of them will root! The Dame Violet requires a good humus rich soil and seems to have an abhorrence of artificial fertilisers or any form of pollution.

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