#20 - African
Violets - Tough Love
When I first started growing violets I was enchanted by their romantic
names. I lusted after plants called Rite of Spring and Moonbeam's Silver
Glow. (I made those names up but, in the wild world of violet naming there
could be plants with those very names).
I have matured in violet growing. Instead of collecting every darned violet
in sight I now stick to preferred performers. I would have called this
heresy in my early days but now, if a plant doesn't perform, I throw it
out. No, I don't 'take a leaf' and try again. I just flip it into the
trash. Heartless of me, I know, but my collection is better for it. My
plant stand is not a nursery for invalids and there are always more African
Violets out there.
I do not look for special blooms but I like the flowers to have more than
one colour, unless they are miniatures.
Here' are of my preferred plants:
Optimara Little Cherokee
If it seems that I have a preference for Optimaras, it's because they
have the reputation, sometimes deserved, of flowering freely and being
tough as an old boot. As you may have guessed I'm not growing plants for
show but for my own enjoyment. Also, if you can grown a bed of pink petunias,
you can also grow violets. That's another reason for growing more than
one plant of favourite varieties.
I wick my plants into water in individual little tubs. Some violets don't
like to get their feet wet this way. Fine. Trash them!
I look for sturdy plants that bloom freely and give me good leaves. Since
my method of growing doesn't lead to long-lived plants, I am always re-cultivating
new plants from leaves or from seed. I've had considerable success growing
from seed. It takes a while but eventually you have a forest of little
plants from which you can choose the best growers and, you guessed it,
throw it out the rest.
Like most of you I grow a few other plants, outside or inside.
Sweet 100 Tomatoes, Dahlias & and, most recently, Cacti and Succulents
from seed (If I live long enough I may see these cacti mature).
My first love remains, however, the tenacious, free blooming and infinitely
varied African Violet.
There are various ways of growing African violets but I prefer the method
called wick watering.
In a wick watering a wick made of synthetic material such as nylon baby
yarn or a thin strip of nylon stocking is used to bring water into the
soil from a small plastic or ceramic reservoir below the plant pot. There
are commercial reservoirs but I use Ziploc containers and cut a strip
from their blue plastic lids so I can place the wick through and later
fill the containers with water without removing their lids. Margarine
containers or other plastics food containers from the supermarket can
be used instead.
The wick is inserted in the plot before earth is added and goes through
the hole on the bottom of the pot to dangle into the water-holding container
Some people complain that the water in the containers turns green from
algae growth. These containers are easily scrubbed out and there is a
commercial product called Physan that prevents the algae from growing.
Popular knowledge says that adding a copper coin to the water will stop
algae but I consider that myth to be busted. Doesn't work for me.
Not all violets thrive on a with watering but those that do like it very
The plants have a continuous source of moisture but do not become overly
One thing you will notice if you start wick watering is that when plants
are preparing to bloom they'll draw much more water and the reservoir
will quickly become dry.
Wick watering is ideal for invalids or busy folks who may not have time
to individually water their plants on a regular basis.
If you have to go way on vacation or for business you can rest assured
that your plants will be well watered in your absence.
If, like myself, you don't take to scheduled waterings then wicks take
the guilt out of watering.
© Sonia Fricker Brock 2006