Thursday, February 28, 2019

African Violet Revival


Late last year I cycled to Lowe's to look for a bag of potting soil. One downside of our move last year was that it put unwelcome distance between us and the two person-owned nurseries I like (GRDN and Gowanus). And I was desperate. So Lowe's. But they only had horrible Miracle Gro, filled with synthetic fertilizers, I turned to leave. But not before I cast a fatal glance at the indoor plant section on the way out.

Many of the plants were wilted and their soil desiccated. But the rich colour of some African violets stopped me. I felt their soil. Dry like the Kgalagadi desert in July. Their price? $3.99 each. How do you even grow a plant for $3.99? The labor, the transport...? I scooped them up and rode them home nestled in my bicycle box, their bag tied shut against the cold November air.


These cheap little plants woke up a very old, buried plant love. I grew African violets on my bedroom's windowsill - propagated them from leaves - as a very small girl. The cuttings came from my grandmother Quez (to me she was Ouma) who grew them on the windowsills in her flat. Her plants may have come from her down-the corridor neighbour Tina, who was effusive in her affection toward me, and the real violet queen: she had dozens of plants, and they were always in full bloom. They were intoxicating.


I adored the flowers then, and looking at the plants that I began to collect again last year, I was reminded of how they fascinated me, all those years ago: it was like meeting long-forgotten landmarks within the botanical details of pollen, petal-iridescence, leaf texture. Mesmerising. I started looking for more but could find them nowhere but on Lowe's reject pile. So I rescued them.


I wanted some rich and some subtle colours, but I bought what was available. They are riotous and a little gaudy and I love them.


Where is the African violet comeback? They are perfect for small spaces and apartments. They actively dislike direct sunlight. Give them that despised northern window light. Water them in their saucer once a week, and feed them every time (I am using Espoma's African Violet Food, but need a few more weeks to see how well it works).


I took some cuttings. The undersides of their leaves are exquisitely anatomical.


These cuttings have since rooted very well.


This last picture was taken a few days before I rushed to South Africa, leaving autumn's bounty forgotten.

But the violets live on, happily, and I must find some more.

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14 comments:

  1. I was not aware you could root them in water, I will have to give that a try. I had two violets for years that did well and then all of a sudden started dying off, and I couldn't save them. Now I have one that Mom handed over when she went to Florida, and it's very happy after repotting - no flowers yet, but happy regardless with lots of new growth. Thanks for the tips!

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  2. My favorite are the saturated deep purple.

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    1. I think mine, too. I am not a purple fan, but in flowers, yes...

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  3. A shared history! Mother used to raise them on a tray in the dining area when I was a child. She moved on to orchids as space and time allowed, but i grew them for years. But then somehow forgot. Lowe's is on my way home from lunch today .... perhaps a little something purple on my desk. We shall see ... and soon! Thanks.

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  4. Lovely plants! I have two which must be over 30 years old now and horribly neglected - and in a south facing kitchen window! But they are almost always in flower. Of course I daren't even move them now - who knows what would happen if I did.

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    1. Wow! Have they grown enormous? What do you feed them?

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  5. After a deep grey February, I woke on the 1st looking for something? And this was it. Thank you. I now live in senior housing, have a walker in place of my old bike, but I do have north facing windows. But how to get plants. I already had a grocery order in for Shipt delivery the next day. Maybe. Added as a special request. I wish I could post a photo here. First contact w shopper: basket with three plants in it: blue, new to me, violet, and white. "Best I could find." I took all three! 2 into Spanish ceramic pots and one into a pot I painted...and them where to locate! Thank you so much. PS Here by back 40 is a 5x7' roofed balcony. Thank you so very much.

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    1. Hi Joan - Thank you! I had to Google Shipt, I didn't know them. What a nice story, three arriving and three appealing to you. I hope you and the violets get on very well...

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  6. They are gaudy and ubiquitous until one studies them up close. My mom had them, I was fascinated by their velvet leaves. When it comes to botany you can literally make anything sound rediscovered.

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  7. I love your blog, and I loved this post! It's really beautiful. And I love all the photos, especially the wonderful leaves...

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