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Human Interest Stories

The Happy Gardener's Guide: Don't Touch

by Charlotte Swanson, Gardening Consultant
February 12, 2020

                                                                    THE HAPPY GARDENER’S GUIDE


                                                                                - DON’T TOUCH –


“Don’t touch!” That was the stern warning from my grandmother, when as a child I wandered too close to the African violets near her window ledge. I obeyed, keeping my distance from the houseplant that even some of the most prolific gardeners call “fusspots.”

Avoiding the persnickety houseplant was ingrained in my psyche until a gardening friend entreated me with “Please, please,” take some of her African violets off of her hands. This provided me the unique opportunity to tap into my local resources by offering the plants to members of my garden club! Club members were elated at the selection offered and I was secretly hoping all of the plants would be claimed at our next meeting, but no – there was one left. So, I thought to myself, “What could it hurt to give it a try?” I gave the leftover African violet a place on the kitchen desk near the northeast windows.

African violet
         African Violet Purple


To my surprise and delight, we got along, this African violet and I. The lighting was bright, but not too direct. I watered it from the bottom, like grandma did. However, remembering to fertilize every two weeks was too much, so I experimented with a weak solution (one-quarter teaspoon per gallon) of an all-purpose fertilizer at each watering. It solved my problem! Fast forward a few years, and now, I have a focal point in that corner that is the size of a giant beach ball, and full of purple blossoms in every season.  I like to think my grandmother would offer an approving wink.  

I was content with just one happy African violet, until another nongardening friend asked me to “Please, please,” take two white African violets off of her hands before their certain demise under her care. I wanted to demur, but then remembered I could again tap into my garden club resources by consulting a member who collects such things. So, my “no” became a “yes” and I took both plants. Since they were identical, it felt unfair to ask my collector friend to take both. So, I kept one, and it flourishes on the other end of the same kitchen desk as my original African violet. This particular plant’s frilly white petticoat blossoms are iridescent in the morning light – often catching my eye and producing a smile.

African Violet White
        African Violet White Ruffled


That should be the end of my story, but it’s not. This past September, our district hosted the state annual meeting of our federated garden clubs. In the accompanying standard flower show, there was a large spread of miniature African violets. I didn’t even know they came that small! One of the top ribbons went to the tiniest exhibit, ‘Beginner’s Luck’, a sweet pink-flowered one that was hardly the size of a skimpy breakfast muffin. And guess who couldn’t resist the charm of a tiny pink African violet that was available to take home?

Grandma, you could have warned me sternly that one happy African violet is never enough!

Charlotte A. Swanson, Consultant, Gardening Schools
Photos by Charlotte Swanson

Article and photos reprinted with permission by The National Gardener, Winter 2020


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