Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plants I Know and Love #6: African Violets

God made the flowers to beautify
The earth and cheer man's careful mood:
And he is happiest who hath power
To gather wisdom from a flower.
William Wordsworth

Good morning. Gold Country Sibling Tina here. I am going to talk about one of my favorite houseplants, the African Violet, also known as Saintpaulias. I love them because they are inexpensive to buy, easy to grow, and bloom their little hearts out for me.
The violet above is in an East facing window and although it has only one flower on it, I am starting with it because I still love my violets even when they are not blooming. They have amazing leaves. There are many different forms of leaves, which I will show you in a bit. They do not flower constantly, so if you grow African violets, you need to appreciate the lovely form of the plant when it is not in flower.
I first discovered the African violet as a house plant in the early 1970's. I had good friends who lived in an old home (at the time it was about 70 years old) on Pleasant Street in Placerville. Their gigantic old kitchen had a big West facing window. They liked to tell of the elderly lady who lived there before them. She filled that window with African Violets, and it must have been quite a sight. I always thought of her when I was in that kitchen, and I still do when I happen to drive by that house. I wish I could have seen the display.
When we moved into our home in Kelsey, I discovered I had a pretty good West facing window area in which to grow African violets. I quickly filled up the sill of the windows with mostly purple African violets. The purple is because that is the wealth corner of our home, according to Feng Shui practices. I will do a blog about Feng Shui one of these days.
In order to know more about African violets and grow them well, I purchased two vintage books about them. Above is the cover of the first one: All About African Violets by Montague Free (isn't that a great name?) published in 1951. It has beautiful color illustrations.
This is one of the pages showing the many colors of African Violets. There are many more colors and varieties now, almost 60 years later. But the information on growing, watering, light requirements, etc. is all still current.
This is a variety of violets grown together in a Strawberry Jar. I have always wanted to try this idea, and will someday. It looks so beautiful from all sides. You do need a bigger area to grow this in than a window sill.
I am showing you this page because it shows that you can actually display violets as hanging plants, if you have no window sill to place them on. That is another idea I would like to try someday, perhaps upstairs in my bedroom in the bay window. (Which also faces West.)
The illustrations in Mr. Free's book are lovely. I wish my plants looked like his! Some do at times, but I would like them to look like that all the time. He does show illustrations of when they have problems, such as too much sun, too much water, etc.
This is the author Montague Free (I just love his name!) showing off some of his many African violets, including the strawberry jar filled with them. He would have loved the lady's window on Pleasant Street. Maybe she had his book.
Here are some more of my African violets in their favorite West facing window. Across the room from this window, I have a thin, tall window which also faces West. My plan is to someday put glass shelves the length of the window and fill it with African violets. I know they will do well there, since they do well in the other window. You can grow them in any window as long as they receive enough light. Protect them in a Southern window from too much sun with a thin cotton curtain or sheer, or venetian blinds. Even a Northern window will allow them to flower as long as there are no trees or bushes blocking the light.
Although purple is probably my favorite color for the violets, I also love the blue and white ones.
Oh, let's face it, I love all the colors!
This is my other vintage book: The Complete Book of African Violets, by Helen Van Pelt Wilson, also published in 1951. It is filled with information, but has less color pictures than the former book.
I love this illustration of this lovely purple violet. This is what I try to achieve with my plants!
Here is a not-too-good photo showing a page with the many leaf forms of the African violet. Some are scalloped, some round, some longer and thinner, some velvety, some fuzzy, some darker green, some lighter green. Even if they didn't bloom, the lovely mound they form makes a great looking house plant. But they also BLOOM! What a great deal.
I think the white violets are especially pretty. They really stand out among the colored flowers, and literally glow when the light hits them. This is another color illustration from Ms. Wilson's book.
These pages show the various types of propagation of African violets. I need to try this one of these days, especially if I try to fill the glass shelves. I also need to try separating my existing plants. You can get up to 4 plants from one if you cut them apart. Then you have to be a bit patient as they grow back into a larger plant. It would be an inexpensive way to fill my tall window.
I buy most of my African Violets at Raley's in Placerville and Marval Market in Georgetown. They are usually about $3.99. Sometimes there is one that is finished blooming and so it is marked down because no one wants it, and I get it at a discount. In a few months after being placed in my window it will be in full bloom and I find out what color I ended up with.
Almost all my violets are growing in their original little plastic pots (I have a very few in terra cota) and I place them into containers so that I can water them from the bottom. I find that the easiest way to water without wetting the leaves. I put about an inch of water in each pot and they pull up the water and basically water themselves. Over watering is bad for them, as with most houseplants. If you water from the bottom, you can pour out excess water after an hour or so, and avoid the over watering. I usually underwater, and sometimes water them after they have wilted a bit. It never seems to hurt them, I guess they are used to me by now.
In this photo you can see how the older leaves will grow down low and start losing their lovely green color. After a bit they will fall off. This is common and does not hurt the plant. It's a natural process.
One last shot of my West facing window and some of my purple African violets. I hope you enjoyed learning about them and will buy one the next time you happen upon the little floral display in your neighborhood market. You will not be disappointed.
For the earth has till now produced nothing more beautiful than flowers.
They have complete the conquest of the globe.
Maurice Marterlinck


Lorlore said...

Lovely flowers and post Tina!!!

Heidi Ann said...

Oh, what pretty pictures! And your vintage books are wonderful. Almost makes me want to go buy some African Violets!

yosemite faith said...

you have a green thumb. i always manage to kill whtever (and then i end up with my version of death row outside somewhere before they finally get tossed). my mom always had an african violet in the house when i was growing up. your vintage books are great. john has been poring over seed catalogs getting ready for his/our outdoor garden.

Cynthee said...

African Violets loved my Grandma Murray the way they love you. Love the books! Lindsay took me to a cool thrift store in Sacrament (or Fair Oaks, or Citrus Heights - wherever we were!) called Eco Thrift. I'll have to take you there someday - after I figure out where it was...