Monday, August 25, 2014


I have never been able to grow African Violets.

Or, rather, I should say that I have never been able to keep them alive.

Once a year I walk by shelves of these lovely, colorful plants at the grocery store, bring one or two home, and within a month they are dead.

This year, staying true to a futile tradition, I picked out a sweet purple and white variety and placed it in my kitchen window hoping it would like the southern exposure.

Within a couple of weeks, its blooms dropped off, and I resigned myself to another failure.

But then, a week later, I noticed, within its velvet leaves, buds.

I turned the plant to the sun, made sure it had adequate moisture to draw into its roots, and praised it like a fool.

We've had good luck with that exposure, and the long garden bed that borders our exterior southern wall.

Bearded irises bloom there, along with variegated hostas, tulips, daffodils, and clematis, which has overgrown its original trellis, and reached out for new territory. Next year, we will have to provide it with a second.

When we first moved into the house, our neighbors said, "Plant what you love most along that wall. Everything thrives there." And to prove it, they supplied a few of the iris bulbs from their garden.

Along the way, we've had to thin out a few plants, and remove a blue spruce that had tripled in size and blocked part of our driveway.

We were sure there was something magical about that wall, beyond the sunlight.

And then one year, one of our sewer lines blocked up and had to be rodded out.

Since the only access to that particular line is in our basement, the men dragged their equipment downstairs and got to work.  After a few minutes, I heard the machine noise stop, and one of the men yell, "Lady! Could you come down here?"

He didn't look happy. Neither did his assistant. They were wiping their brows and shaking their heads. "We just hit dirt."

"Ummmm," I said, "That's not good, is it?"

"No. It means the line's broken."

Indeed. A seweroscopy, conducted the next day, revealed that the line had broken under our patio and was dumping raw sewage...where?

Into the garden bed on the south wall.

We've continued to joke about our fertile ground. There's no telling when the line broke, how long it was "nourishing" our plants. But the truth is, years after the line was repaired, everything I plant there mad.

I could say this is due to whatever remains of the constant effluence, but that doesn't explain this new small miracle, which  never had any contact with it.....

Perhaps it is the sun, after all. 


  1. I seldom have any luck with shop-bought pot plants. They always seem to die on me, giving me guilt pangs about my inability to keep them alive. Then I heard that they are actually 'designed' to last only a short time, so that you go back and buy another one. At that point, I started buying cut flowers! Italian writer Dacia Maraini has a short story about her own experience with a pot plant she does everything to keep alive – but which dies. Then someone tells her about the cunning consumer plan.
    Your story about the sewer is very funny. As for your African violet which seems to be defying its intended fate (that's so Huxley's 'Brave New World'!) then power to your elbow! Have you given her a name? Perhaps giving her an identity will strengthen her ego and, consequently, her stubborness to stay alive?
    In any case, I hope it blooms, and blooms, and blooms...

  2. I often wondered whether what you describe was the case, as it seemed to happen with other plants I bought as well (unless, of course, I bought them from a reputable nursery), and couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. But, this little plant seems to have its own ideas. And you're right, it deserves a name! But what to call it? I'm open to ideas!
    Thanks for the reassurance and good thoughts!

  3. That is so beautiful! Looks like a new species altogether. Who knows what happened? The planet is biochemistry.

    Shop-bought plants, as distinct from most nursery plants, are programmed I'm told (hideous, though this thought is) by way of horticultural technology to have a limited, sometimes fairly precise, life-span. In a similar way,devices sometimes fail one day after the warranty has expired. Such is capitalism.

    On a contrary note, I was once given a small shop-bought bromeliad which blooms for about nine months before resting. It had worked so hard that I decided to transfer in to the garden in the summer. Since then it has bloomed profusely, only not as the small red bromeliad. It is a tall lily-plant, like a tiger-lily, and the blooms just keep coming each year.

    Good to hear of your little miracles!

  4. Thank you, Rosy! I never look closely at the plants' origins, and just rip the info sticks out of the little pots, so I'm at a loss regarding details about them. I suspect this is one of many hybrids that show up in our stores—there are so many. But, I know exactly what you mean regarding capitalism and the timing of things: I had a big appliance breakdown exactly one month after the warranty expired! What made the malfunction even more infuriating was the fact that the repairman told us the factory had been putting in cheap plastic parts which they knew would never hold up. It's been said many times, but it's worth repeating, "They just don't build 'em like they used to...."

    But your bromeliad sounds lovely! I've ogled them at nurseries, and in people's homes, but have never been brave enough to buy one. I am so awful with plants, and bromeliads seem exotic beyond my limited abilities. But, perhaps I should give one a try. I would love to see a photo of yours!

    Here's to blooming beauties!