Sunday, June 14, 2009

Winter colour

The Head Gardener has been working her magic again. She has somehow managed to persuade the African Violet that has sat unflowering, on our kitchen bench for more years than I care to recall – more then ten I think – to pop up a flower spike.
To make the story even more remarkable, this turn of events has come from a large “cutting” she took some months ago. My parentheses indicate that this was far from a planned propagation – a large cluster of leaves fell off the aged plant when she was clearing the bench, and she popped it into a new pot, with some unused potting mix. I, of course, scoffed, telling her that African Violets took more skill than that to propagate, and that she was wasting her time.
In the time-honoured fashion of wives, she took delight in proving me totally wrong – the velvety purple flower being the proof of her advanced horticultural skills. Or her green fingers.
It made me think back to the time I was working in the retail side of the horticulture industry, and the large number of indoor plants we used to sell. Fashions have changed and ‘pot plants’ are nowhere near as popular as they once were – it seems few people have the time to take the sort of care special plants like maidenhair ferns require, and perhaps we have out houses a little warmer and drier nowadays., also making it slightly harder to grow many of the old favourites.
In many ways African Violets are great indoor plants for the not-too-serious gardener, as they are not very fussy about their growing conditions, even if they can be a little parsimonious with their flowers. They are small enough growing to be able to be kept on a window sill (or a kitchen bench) and they prefer to be kept slightly dry rather than overly moist, so a little forgetfulness in the watering department is not going to be punished.
They do not need a large pot – they seem to grow fine if their roots are a little constrained – although they do require a high potash fertiliser to keep them flowering happily.
The best way to water these plants is to fill the saucer the pot is sitting in until it cannot take any more water, then leave it until it has thoroughly dried out again before watering. Do not keep the saucer filled with water all the time – it will kill the plant.
The trick to keeping them flowering well is to feed them often – something we have been neglecting to do with our specimen. When each flush finished flowering, remove the old heads and then use a ‘flower and fruit’ liquid fertiliser. In extreme cases, you can put the whole plant in a dark cupboard for four or five days, and the shock will often induce flowering.
Or, of course, you can break it up and pot in a new mix!


Anonymous said...

I might point out that if the African Violet sat unflowering on your kitchen bench for 10 years, it perhaps takes a little more work than a stingy "not-too-serious gardener" has mustered ...and they are at least a little fussy about their growing conditions!

Unknown said...

Or you could argue that if the plant sat there for ten years, essentially uncared for apart from watering, it cannot be too fussy! Anyway, it is in flower now so maybe it will make the Head Gardener be more serious about its care.

Anonymous said...

:) I originally was going to suggest you needed to be smacked by a gardening glove for calling your Head Gardener "not too serious" since there's flowers now, even though you doubted. Well done!

(google African Violet Forums and see how seriously this plant causes people to fuss over them :)