baking tin of viola-topped cupcakes

By Susannah Felts

Back in March, I took my 5-year-old daughter Thalia with me to the Farmers’ Co-op to pick out some vegetable plants for our garden-to-be. The garden would, after all, be “hers”—a project she and I would work on together, with some assistance from her dad. Soon after we arrived at the co-op, some bright, small flowers caught her eye: violas. Also called Johnny jump-ups, these are the kid sisters to pansies, and always good for a splash of color.

I wasn’t really focused on flowers on that outing. We were there for veggies. But how could I say no? The little blooms delighted her, and in the interest of nurturing her enthusiasm for gardening of any kind, I said we could get some.

young girl dressed as Merida picking violas
“Merida” takes time out from being Brave to pick a few violas.

When we got home, the question became where to plant them. Thalia had ideas about that, too: She wanted them to go with the veggies in one of our raised beds. Again, this wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but I figured, why not? So we planted them in a row along one edge of the bed.

Turns out Thalia was onto something. The violas have been exceedingly happy in that raised bed, blooming profusely, and I have to admit that is has made me really happy to see them there. Maybe mixing flowers and veggies really is the way to go.

Recently, Thalia requested a Brave-themed party for her fifth birthday. It didn’t take me long to realize that the movie’s color scheme (lots of purple, blue, yellow, and green) is one I see in the garden every day. Those are viola colors!

Then I remembered a really cool thing about violas: They’re edible. What better way, then, to decorate the cupcakes for her birthday party? Thalia was game, so the morning of her party, she and I headed for the garden to pick a bunch. As usual, my little director took charge: I was to pluck each flower and place it in her outstretched palm, then she would deposit it in the bowl we’d brought along. We gathered just enough to put a single blossom atop each cupcake.

Close-up of viola on chocolate-frosted cupcake
Totally delicious — and totally edible!

Needless to say, the cupcakes were a big hit, and several people asked if the flowers were edible. “Yes!” I said, “But you don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to.” To my pleasant surprise, though, many people did.

As the summer continues, I’ll be thinking of other ways to bring violas to the table. I definitely plan to try them in salads, as I’m hoping the presence of those happy little blooms will entice my kiddo to eat more of the greens they accompany. We’ll see how it goes.