The Shy Vi­o­let

The Compass - - PORTHTE -

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 john­nor­

John Norman gar­dens in Bon­av­ista

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