Saturday, February 7, 2009

Current Obsession: African Violets

We were at the grocery store last week, where I ended up lingering in the small houseplant section (this is nothing new for me, even from when I was in high school). They had a small selection of foliage plants (three for 100 kronor!), and as tempted as I was, I was too nervous about buying something very poisonous. (One of the options was Dieffenbachia, also known as "Dumb Cane"--or, hilariously, "Mother-in-law Plant"--because it can cause your throat to swell if you consume it. I don't want to think about what would happen to a little guy like Oliver, a bird who'll chomp up anything--vegetal or otherwise--he can get his beak on...) So I decided to hold off until I did the requisite research--but I couldn't resist taking an African Violet from the next cart, just because it looks so damn healthy:

(Except that missing leaf, natch.)

My mother used to have an African Violet in our kitchen window when I was a kid, but I remember that hers wasn't as perpetual a bloomer as they're known to be--it just sort of hung out, in a drab way, a clump of dark, fuzzy leaves waiting to die in a mug. (I don't blame the plant, by the way.) So I wasn't that into African Violets for a long time, although I knew that they tend to have a cult following (especially here--no other plant had its own fan club representin' at a gardening trade show Jan and I went to last year at Stockholmsmässan). 

Somehow African Violets always seemed too common, a starter plant that's unironically grannyish. The mother of one my childhood friends had a kitchen bookshelf dedicated to three or four African Violets, complete with a pebble tray and a grow light (a huge amount of attention, to my twelve-year-old mind), and I couldn't understand the appeal. They might as well be cacti, they're so...static. I mean, there's no fragrance, no fruit, they're available everywhere--what's the point?

Well, what a difference the years have made. When I brought my grocery store flower home, I was thrilled. It looked great! Big flowers, in February! And it doesn't even take up a lot of space! Plus, it's totally bird-safe, and unlike most flowering houseplants, it doesn't seem to require a huge amount of sunlight (a limited resource in our apartment). 

Later on in the week, I stopped by my all-time favorite store in Stockholm, a gardening-supply store called Weibull's right near the intersection of Sveavägen and Kungsgatan. Since it's right in the center of the city, the store's selection is heavily weighted toward indoor houseplants (awww, yeah), and every time I go in there, it's a revelation. So many varieties! So many colors! So many latin names I can never keep straight! And they all look amazing, these glistening tropical plants that are uniformly robust and flawless. 

Of course, I never end up buying anything when I go because I get completely overwhelmed--buying something seems like a slippery slope, a gateway drug. (Plus I'm not rock-solid on which plants might be dangerous for Oliver.) So I tend to think of my visits as a form of houseplant tourism, to go and breathe the oxygen-rich, humidified air and see if I really fall in love with any one plant--and then go home to read about it online and realize why I can't provide the right growing conditions for it (oh, for bright, direct-sunlight window! Think of the fragrant gardenias I could stock up on!). 

But on my visit this week, the plants I was most impressed by were the African Violets that were on sale (only 25 kronor each!). The range of varieties were more than you ever really see (unless, *cough*, you're the kind of person who spends hours looking at the gallery on this site). A sign said they were "locally grown", which I guess is to point out a smaller carbon cost? Or maybe Swedes are famous for their varieties? Hard to say. It's not like they're native or anything.

Even though I already had the grocery store African Violet, I couldn't bring myself to buy more. (It takes a lot for me to buy something. Don't ask.) But I did go back on Friday, specifically to buy the plants, because I saw in the paper that they were advertising the African Violets for this week's sale. (Hey, I'm cheap--that was reason enough.) So I went in, agonized over exactly which plants to get, then finally settled on two:

But I also knew I wanted the miniature ones, too, so I got the two varieties they offered:

And I validated my fears about gateway drugs by buying a mimosa pudica, the "Sensitive Plant",  because they are so cool. (I had seen them at Weibull's before and thought about buying them, but needed a few weeks to think about spending the 29 kronor, apparently.) Also African Violets = crack.

Then I brought all the plants home and realized the cashier had slaughtered a significant amount of leafage from one of the miniatures in the wrapping process:

But whatever, I love them all. 

So I'm slowly becoming the old woman I aspire to be, after all.


  1. Your new plants are beautiful! You have made me want to find some African violets to buy here in New York. I think they like northern light which would be good in my apartment too. But are they OK for cats? My cats are big nibblers.

  2. I'm pretty sure they are okay for cats--at least, that's what a quick Google search seems to indicate! New York is in such a lower latitude than here, so I think northern light should be okay for African Violets. (Here, winter sun feels like a very bright moon, so northern light feels suitable for...I dunno, species found dwelling in caves deep underground?) Living here, I've basically become a human sundial, always judging every interior space based on its orientation to the sun. Of course, in the summers, the sun pretty much rises and sets in the north, so it's not such a critical issue at that time of year...

  3. Something about the tale of your trip towards the slippery slope on a quest for African Violets tickled me so. That and the words African Violet & obsession were just written in my latest blog entry. Did the newest ones have names...since you know of what I speak (AVSA :)