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Philippine violet is fabulous for the fall
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
I want to introduce you to a flower from India and Burma that is related to the shrimp plant and the ruellia, or Mexican petunia, and is called the Philippine violet. I can't imagine being without this beautiful plant.
The Philippine violet is known botanically as Barleria cristata. It is related to the ruellia, a plant that causes some to quake in their boots in fear of the plant reseeding prolifically and sending up huge quantities of volunteers. In all my online searching, I found one gardener who felt the Philippine violet was a pest.
Many books and catalogs suggest it is a zone 10 plant that can possibly be coaxed back in zone 9. We have it planted in zone 8 at Mississippi State University's Truck Crops Experiment Station in our tropical section. We've had ours for about four years, and last winter's cold temperatures thinned out our stand. It is well worth buying and treating as an annual in colder areas.
The Philippine violet blooms in late summer and fall, which may suggest it is day-length sensitive. Before my experience in university trials, I grew it at home and found the same bloom pattern.
It reaches about 4 feet in height and is only a green shrub until September when the glorious show of violet flowers begins. I have seen them looking very picturesque in cottage gardens paired with the quintessential white picket fence.
We created an abundance of interesting color and texture in our tropical garden. The Philippine violet is planted in front of maiden grasses, or miscanthus, that send up golden plumes that tower over the violet and dance in the wind. Flanking this are several Bengal tiger cannas. The striped green and gold foliage contrasts with the violet flowers. Once the riotous orange blooms of the cannas begin, we truly have a photo-worthy setting.
We cut ours back to the ground about seven weeks before the Fall Flower and Garden Fest. This rejuvenation allows the cannas, grasses and Philippine violets all to peak at just the right time.
The Philippine violet can be pruned in midsummer to encourage more branches. The plants are starting to show up at more garden centers, but because they are fall bloomers, many gardeners pass them by. But once you start growing Philippine violets, you'll most likely feel the way I do.
Select a site in sun to part sun with fertile, organic-rich, well-drained soil. Good drainage will help the plant return from winter further north than anticipated. Don't forget to add a protective layer of mulch. The Philippine violet is also an easy plant to root if you want to take some insurance cuttings.
There are white and pink and variegated selections, although the typical violet-purple is still the easiest to find. In addition to using it as I've suggested, try it partnered with yellow allamandas, yellow hibiscus or even the hot pink Alice du Pont mandevilla. Keep your eyes open for hummingbirds to stop for it on their way south.