Sure, I drive a big-ass truck. Yes, I am covered in tattoo's and, yep - I have killed a turkey with my bare hands ( well, I took the picture), but I can't seem to help myself when autumn comes around, and it's time to begin thinking about gardening indoors, under lights, precisely where African Violets come into the picture. I am on a mission this year to make the African Violet ........cool.
|New varieties have speckled flowers, ruffled petals and leaves, or fancy variegated leaves.|
It will be a long task, for I must first navigate through cliche, redesign the iconic African Violet pot ( ugh- really? Mauve plastic?) and I will work of making the use of the color lavender illegal on every African Violet website, plant label and book. The African Violet is in need of a makeover - not the plant itself, for it seems to have everything going for it - for it's easy to grow, low cost of entry, for event the finest varieties sell for less than a Grande espresso at Starbucks, and they are highly collectable - the barrier must exist somewhere withing the name ( African Violet = Cat Lady), or the display limitations ( doilies, antimacassars and tea cups anyone?). My point it, if we all treated African Violets for what they are - the highly fascinating high-alpine tropical genus of Saintpaulia species from East African Mountains, we all might think of them a little differently. Don't believe me? Then read this great post by National Geographic blogger Digital Nomad as he discovers the world of wild African Violets.
|Kings Ransom, a new variety carried by Lyndon Lyon Greenhouses.|
I myself have a long history with the genus Saintpaulia, having passed in and out of passions with this genus over my life. I cultivated plants on windowsills in high school, perfomed studies with the genus in college, and at least two times in the 30 years since graduating college, I tried collecting a few. I think I just never had the patience to keep them long enough, and justified saving deep African Violet immersion for my retirement years, when I can really appreciate their nuances - oh geesh - see? Maybe this is a sign! Early retirement on the doorstep and now, the genus Saintpaulia. I've finally figured it out!
|Some African Violets one will never find at a Supermarket are selections like this one. 'Rob's Delicious' is a|
semi-mini with incredible sunny, variegated fuzzy leaves.
The genus Saintpaula is small, with only 5 or 6 species - all native to south central Tanzania ( yes, African Violets are indeed from Africa, which at first, even surprised me). As I am unofficially taking the role this year of honorary African Violet Evangelist, I think it's time you too rediscover the poor, neglected common African Violet. But before we all jump off of the gesneriad cliff, a few things to note. First, African Violets are not true violets ( the genus viola). It drives me NUTTY when people tell me that their mother grows 'violets' whenever I write about true violets ( as in 'scented sweet Viola odorata). Afriican Violets, I mean Saintpaulia are tropical-alpine plants, found in the mountains, in cloud mists, and they are not even remotely related to any true violet.
|Cosmic Blast, a variety from Lyndon Lyon Greenhouses, a specialist grower|
Taxonomists have placed Saintpaulia firmly into the foundation of the plant family known as Gesneriadaceae - the gesneriads. Youv'ew heard of them by other names. Gloxinia ( siningia), the Cape Primrose ( Streptocarpus or 'Strep's', as the collectors call them and the many, many other genus within this fascinating plant family. The Gesneriad Society itself is a serious group of plant collectors - perhaps even too serious for me, up there with the Orchid people, but I've found that although the fine, serious Gesneriad collectors are serious, the African Violet collectors remain isolated, often holding their own shows, and trading plants on-line. Clearly, the African Violet collectors are a different breed. Sort of like comfort food chefs, amongst gourmet chefs. Serious, but in their own friendly way. A secret club ( just search on eBay for African Violet leaves), and you will see what I mean.
|Easy to grow, African Violets don't demand much - basically, they enjoy the same temperature we enjoy - near 70º F|
I keep mine under artificial lights ( check out the Artichoke seedlings, which enjoy the warmth indoors)
|A page from the site Lyndon Lyon, a fine breeder, grower and seller of choice African violets.|
"These ain't your grandmother's African Violets"
One can grow African Violets indoors ( not in a greenhouse), for they love the same temperatures that we do - hovering around 70 degrees. There is no trick to success, other than to avoid direct sun in the spring and summer, and to keep the plants constantly moist ( never wet) and never dry, not an easy task to achieve, as one may think - especially in the winter. Many home growers create elaborate wicking devices with twine, yard, thread and vessels of water. I tried this, but I have resorted to judicious watering with a long-tipped funnel watering can, as any cold water splashed onto the leaves, will spot. But don't be afraid of getting water onto the leaves, I give my plants a warm ( tepid) rinse each week in the kitchen sink, just after I pour the tea, plate the biscuits and feed saucers of warms milk to my 12 cats....ahem.
There is so much to write about African Violets, but I will save details about the many new types and floral forms for a later post, but just to entice you - the selection is enourmous- there are miniatures which are teensy, there are new Russian varieties that are spectacular, striped forms, some with flower so large they can be measured in inches, there are some mutated from radiation, there are amazing variegated leaf forms with leaf colors that are pink, yellow and white, and there are even new yellow flowered varieties - or at least, yellow enough to be considered.......um, yellowish? For more information, visit the African Violet Society website.