Monday, February 13, 2017

Silent Companions

Years ago when I was a stay at home mom raising my little girls, I collected plants. I had all kinds of plants, but my favorites were the African violets. I got started growing violets because I remember my grandmother had one when I was just a little girl. She was quite the horticulturist and as I researched the history of the house plant I came to the conclusion that she must have had hers when they were a rather rare house plant.

Today they can be found in abundance in super markets and garden centers. I will buy them at the grocery store, but I especially enjoy buying fresh ones at the garden centers because they have a better plant variety. Lured by their beautiful and delicate flowers and their rich foliage, plants collectors find it hard to resist them.

Then the blooms fade and the plant goes to the trash. Not in this house.

In those early years I spent hours tending my violets, taking leaves and setting them in little cups of water to start new babies. I was encouraged by Zelma Gregory our high school librarian, whom I met when I took my first teaching job. She was the quintessential librarian-- the thin, gray haired lady,  slightly hunched who wore her hair in a bun on the back of her head, and you could tell that her hair was long by the size of the bun. Her glasses were those thin, round metal frames, obviously bifocals. I'd stop by her house when I wanted to add a violet to my collection because she was the only source at the time. There a wasn't surface in her house that wasn't covered with some sort of saintpaulia: the beds in her spare bedrooms, covered; the dining table in the front room, a sea of color; the kitchen counter filled with plastic pill cups, each with a leaf in water sprouting roots and tiny green leaves at the bottom of the shaft. She taught me all that I have come to know about these wonderful flowering house plants. I wanted to be her.

Yesterday I decided to transplant one plant, which gave way to a morning's worth of transplanting the violets.

My project simply was to save the life of this dear plant that I purchased months ago. I finally broke down and bought a suitable pot. Oh, the egg shells?  They are drying on this lid so that I can crush them and then add them to the coffee grounds that I am collecting in a popcorn tin to feed the roses when they wake up. They will be very hungry.

More on this plant later

You want your violets to be vibrant and happy like this one that I purchased at the garden center Saturday. I love the delicate white bloom with the green edging and the touch of lavender in the center. Mrs. Gregory's violets all had their common name like GiGi, or Coral Bell, but the commercially produced plants don't get personal names, I guess.

Inspired by this beauty, I decided to replant my current collection.

Violets will survive harsh conditions and a of neglect. They may look healthy, but they when they are unhappy they won't bloom.

Mine were sent to the basement to live during the holidays. They were next to a sunny window with morning sun, but they no doubt missed the hustle and bustle of the daily routine upstairs.

If you look closely at this one, you see two plants. Violets will propagate themselves by developing suckers. There are two plants in this pot. 

I used a sharp kabob skewer to separate the two plants. Ideally, suckers should be removed using a toothpick when they first appear as tiny leaves on the main stem of the plant just above the soil line.

Once the sucker has been separated from the main stem , I use a sharp knife to cut through the stem that is below the surface and the root system. 

You have to look closely to be able to distinguish a separate plant. They are easily separated and sometimes come with enough root to re pot.

This plant has multiple plants that can separated and replanted.

The plants look healthy, but too many are compacted in the pot. Will it bloom? Probably. Maybe?

Once out of the pot, you can really see the tangled mess.

Using the skewer, I begin to separate the plants

The new plants will range in size from this tiny one with an early any root system to fully rooted plants.  I will start a healthy root system my nurturing this  baby in a class of water.

So from one plant I have gained five new plants.

Now I need to go out to the barn to find my violet pots.

Come, let's take a walk. It is a beautiful February morning in Colorado. Warm. Sunny. 

The lawn is still brown. The Head Gardener wears a path to the barn to feed the horses and hens. 

The pond is a mess. We are entering the windy season and are leaves and depries will blow in. We will have a month of wind in March. The pond will need a good cleaning this year. We will drain it, re pot the water lilies, and do some other maintaining. I twill be hug job. The gold fish have come to the surface. Last year the green heron ate a few and traumatized the rest and we had a hard time coaxing them back to the surface. They must have short memories.

The Garden Spot lays fallow. The HG worked on the rototiller yesterday to get it ready for service in soon. We bought potatoes to plant mid March.

The hens are happy. I was amazed to see how much this gal has grown, the Blue Laced Red Wyandotte.

And the boys are out in the hay field enjoying the winter sun.

All is right with the world.

Here then is my pot stash. (Dare I call it that? I do live in Colorado)

I came in with a nice selection of clay pots and two ceramic pots that I have had for years.

They needed a good cleaning, so I first washed them in soapy water with a dash of bleach. Then I let them soak in hot water to get all of the bleach out.

Clean pots and nice new soil. Life is good for my quiet companions.

A fresh bag of potting soil.


Here they are nicely re potted and back in place at the west facing kitchen window. Violets love direct sunlight, especially north facing exposure with the light diffused through a sheer curtain. They cannot take direct sunlight through the window because the heat will burn the leaves. When the plant fails to bloom or re bloom or the blooms fade early, probably the plant needs more light. 

Nor do violets like too much water, too little water or watering from the top. They prefer tepid water, not cold. Much like teaching a cold shower for us, cold water will cause spotting on the leaves too. Consistently watering from the top will cause the crown to rot, so always water from the bottom. Every now and then, however, to remove dirt and dust and help flush out the soil I will give the violet a nice warm shower under the faucet spray as long as there is good drainage and the plant does not have to sit in water for too long, causing root rot.

A bit of fertilizer now and then will make the plant happy, too.

I am not so sure that these in the dining room will be very happy. I need to find better lighting for them.

I even re purposed Lily's high chair. She doesn't like using it anymore, anyway. She's four, you know.

The arrowhead will take a while before it is has a nice shape and it will be weeks before the the re potted violets bloom.

As my silent companions, they demand nothing except water and light. They are simple friends, the kind that don't talk back, bark, chatter, meow, or throw tantrums. They carry on sitting quietly.

A quiet week planned. I need to finish up the prairie dresses. I am having a lot of trouble with the collars this time. We are in for a warm week, so unless the wind kicks up, we should be able to do some garden clean-up

Happy Valentine's Day, dear friends. 

Linking with Maggie at Normandy Life for Mosaic Monday. Hope to see you there, too.


  1. Hello, I wish I had a green thumb. Good luck on your five new African Violet plants. I like their pretty blooms. Enjoy the warm weather. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week ahead!

  2. Something new on Bloglovin where I left a comment from my iPad - wondering if the blog writer even gets to see them?
    Anyway, I mentioned that African violets and I are not compatible, unlike my mother who fussed with hers and always had them blooming.
    Happy Valentine's Day Ann!

  3. Thank you for your pearls of wisdom on African violets, Ann. For so long I couldn't pass them by in the grocery store yet once they bloomed, they died. With your tips I'd like to give it another try. They are so delicate and pretty.

    Subtle changes as we move from early to late winter. We tend to warm up later than you and everyone west of Iowa so I'm not holding my breath!

    Great post, my friend!

    Jane x

  4. This is the most amazing violet post, dear Ann! I thought to know something about these (now not so fashionable) little plants but you told me that I knew nothing. How super interesting and inspiring to get some when I come across them again. Thank you so much for showing your 'silent friends' :-). Happy Valentine - it is a lonesome for me, EG set out for sailing to England and Wales. Unfortunately, no home sitter, therefore I stay for the animals. But perhaps there is a chance to start in the garden.

  5. I've struggled to grow African violets in the past and after reading your excellent post now have a few ideas as to why! Watering them the wrong way and standing them in sunlight are just two of the mistakes I've been known to make, but no longer. The next time I see violets on sale in the market I'm going to bring some home with me and refer back to you if I have any problems, d'accord?
    Great post for the MM crowd to enjoy.

  6. What an informative post about African violets. I've never had much luck with them, but your tips make me want to try again.
    Gardening indoors can be just as satisfying as gardening outdoors, it seems. Happy Valentine's Day.

  7. Thank you for the great post, dear Ann!
    This is a house plant I haven't tried to grow, even though my mother has grown and propagated them successfully. With your instructions, even I could try.
    Oh, I would have liked to live in an era when librarians were like the lady you described and the libraries were quiet places... :)
    I hope you had a lovely Valentine's Day. Wishing you a sunny weekend!

  8. I used to be so devoted to my houseplants, and had a small collection of African violets. They loved to live on the north facing window ledge over my kitchen sink. But when we moved here, I had a SOUTH facing window ledge over my kitchen sink, and the violets hated it. I eventually gave up trying to grow them at all, because they didn't like our new house at all! Ha ha