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Monday, Apr 21, 2014
South Shore News

African violets like you’ve never seen before


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Two years ago I finally got to the African Violet Show and Sale at the Farm Bureau building at 100 S. Mulrennan Road, Valrico. I also went last year but forgot the times and got there just as everyone was loading cars and sighing with relief.

This year’s show and sale, Love in Bloom, will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. I plan to get there early.

African violets are ideal for people with small or no yards or who want to bring the garden indoors. Over the years I’ve visited some of the homes of several excellent growers – members of this Tampa African Violet Society – and been amazed. But I hadn’t seen their show before and had no idea how decorative African violets can be. It never occurred to me that they could be used in arrangements.

I had seen interesting centerpieces of several blooming plants in a basket, but I’d never seen one in a toy pick-up truck. Both were very attractive. There were several scenes in bonsai bowls. One called Tuscan Serenity Garden featured African violets Ness’ Crinkle Blue, Blumberry Flow and Rob’s Heat Wave in full bloom. Atop a miniature mountain was a small plant of holly and going up the mountain were moss and bits of fern with flax lily and mondo grass. It was not only beautiful but also surrounded with award ribbons.

The theme and classes change every year, so you’ll see other wonders at this year’s show. You’ll also see more kinds, sizes and colors of African violets than you could imagine. If you’re like me and have not been greatly successful with these plants, there will be people there to give you advice and answer your questions. Almost all of them grow their violets with automatic wick watering, but the reservoirs have to be refilled, as needed. For people with many plants, that’s a daily duty. Most apply fertilizer lightly but constantly in the water.

While some exhibitors grow their violets in natural light on windowsills, many grow them under fluorescent lights that stay on for 10 to 12 hours a day, still allowing the the plant the darkness they need. This gives the plants ideal light, and by growing on shelves it’s possible to have a whole garden in a small, dark space.

Perhaps you should be warned that African violets can be addictive. Once you get the gist of growing, many people naturally want more – and more. I visited a house where there were violets in every lovely room, including on top of an unused bathtub. Bathrooms and kitchens tend to have more humidity, which also helps.

Even if you never plan to grow these plants, you’ll enjoy seeing how successfully these people are doing it and what wonderful plants and people God has made.

Today’s pick is one more of the African violet cousins, Kohleria, said by some to be the easiest to grow indoors or outdoors in light shade. It has interesting velvety foliage and flowers in red/orange, pink, orange or yellow/orange, usually with dotted faces. It grows quickly 12 to 18 inches and is easy to propagate by dividing the offsets, stem cuttings or seeds. There are places on the internet where you can order them, but I’m hoping there will be some at the sale.

Now’s the time...to tell you that plants are starting to grow faster as the days are longer. Already my Page orange tree is starting to bloom. We are coming into the best gardening time of the year, though all the rest is still pretty good. You can start fertilizing again, but only when the soil is damp. It’s going to be a great year in the garden.

Upcoming event

The Tampa Bay Orchid Society will meet tomorrow at Christ the King Catholic Church, 821 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, in the Mary Martha Center on the second floor. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the meeting starts at 6:30. Milton Carpenter, one of the world’s greatest orchid hybridists; former president of the American Orchid Society; and author of “From the Hand of God to the Miracle of Orchids” will speak. Refreshments will be provided, and there will be plants for sale, a plant raffle and experts discussing blooming plants. The meeting is free and open to the public. For more information and directions, call (813) 839-4959.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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