The Shy Violet
About 80 years ago, the Saintpaulia or African Violet was introduced to the house plant market and since that time it has become a worldwide favourite amongst gardeners. Its main attraction remains its compact growth habit and ability to flower year after year on almost any windowsill.
However, the African Violet you have today is not that same plant found in a 1940s sunroom of Boston or Montreal. The original violet was notoriously difficult to grow, with specific moisture, light and temperature requirements that often left the plants owner in a state of stress over whether the poor plant would ever bloom again.
Thanks to select crossbreeding, over time the house plant industry has produced us a mutant beauty (sad but true) which will produce a robust plant that is often free flowering throughout the year.
With these new man-made Saintpaulia hybrids an average gardener could expect their violet to have several flushes of blooms each year. A seasoned violet handler, like a friend of mine here in Bonavista, can often have almost continual blooms for up to 10 months of the year.
The modern violet, as I have said, is no longer an anxiety inducing flower, speaking to only those who take gardening as seriously as I do. For others, houseplants may have never been a stressor in your life as it is for us more competitive growers, always wanting the most unique specimens with the largest foliage or colourful blooms. There are growers out there who are happy just to see a bloom on their plant or even healthy leaves, but let’s face it, some of us want more … a lot more!
In order to have happy and healthy African Violets that produce an abundance of blooms the grower must keep five key points in mind: steady warmth, careful watering, good light, high air humidity and regular feedings.
Sounds like a demanding plant, but it really is not at all. Many of these needs can be fulfilled by simply placing the violet on a windowsill out of hot direct midday sun. A windowsill will likely provide a warm site with lots of light and often a slightly higher humidity level then compared to other locations in a room. Just make sure not to let the leaves of your plant touch the cold glass of your window during winter or the leaf involved will die and fall off.
Violets need moisture but not too much. Keep the soil moist to the touch by watering the pot from the bottom. You can do this by simply placing the violet’s pot in an inch or two of water once a week, allowing the plant to drink from the bottom of the pots drainage holes. Instead of this you can always buy a specialized violet pot where one solid, but porous, clay pot sits inside another which is filled with water that can very slowly, over many weeks seep through to the violets roots.
When it comes to feeding your African Violet, a specific fertilizer can be found in any major garden center or hardware store which sells garden supplies. A feeding every 6-8 weeks should do it.
Now that all the details have been hashed out you should be itching for a violet of your very own! Either that or you have anxiety induced hives, in which case you should change your search to an Aloe plant, easy to grow and very soothing.
African Violets come in three basic varieties: trailers, standards and miniatures and they grow just as they sound.
Trailing violet types such as “Breezy Blue”, “Sweetheart Trail”, and “Trail Along” all do best in hanging baskets near a window. These violets tend to need even more humidity than standard varieties.
Standards are those which you see in every grocery store in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white. These violets can grow on your window without many problems, producing single or double petal blooms and some even come with unique leaves to add interest. “Crimson Frost” for example has attractive variegated foliage rimmed in white, while “Winter Wonderland” produces holly like leaves which are semi-spooned in nature.
My favourite violets are the miniature and micro- miniature varieties such as “Pip Squeek” and “Blue Imp” but unfortunately these varieties are hardest to find and cost the greatest. They are often the most difficult to grow as well, since they are least altered from their natural growth habits, thus requiring similar conditions to their humid and tropical habitats. Of course we all now understand why I would be attracted to them, rare to find in the garden center and trickiest to grow!
I hope this has encouraged some new indoor gardeners to pick up a violet to try this long and cold winter, if for nothing more than to add some colour to your windowsill. But who knows, if it survives you may just buy another … and another … and another …
If you have questions about houseplants or any gardening issue facing you this winter feel free to email me at email@example.com
John Norman gardens in Bonavista