Who we are
We’ve been growing and exhibiting since 1975, and have been in business shipping to satisfied customers world-wide since 1985. We hybridize many of our own plants–are famous for our ‘Rob’s’ and ‘Ma’s’ series of African violets, and our ‘Bristol’s’ series of gesneriads (African violet relatives). “Violet Barn” began as a small, part-time, endeavor in 1985 (originally known as “Rob’s Mini-o-lets”, then “Rob’s Violets”) in Buffalo, NY. In 1991, it became a full time business, rebranded as the “Violet Barn” when the growing facilities moved to Naples, NY. In 1997, the owners married (see below).
We grow our plants in a renovated barn, circa 1900, with an attached growing house and other buildings, almost entirely under artificial lights (many of our personal plants grown in windows). At any given time, we have 30,000+ plants being grown. We grow plants because this is what we love to do.
What we do
We hybridize many of the African violets and gesneriads and grow all the plants we sell–we don’t buy from other growers and resell. This means we know what each plant likes to grow best from personal experience. We also collect the best and most unusual hybrids from other growers, then propagate them for sale, as well as collect and grow many rare species not previously grown in cultivation. We rarely travel or attend a show and come home empty handed!
We also try to share our passion for growing plants with others, and to educate those new to our hobby. We encourage everyone to share their experience with others–the spread the “cheer” and their knowledge.
Gardening, particularly indoor gardening, has been a large part of each of our lives since we were adolescents. Growing and selling plants for a living had been a life-long dream for both of us, and we both gave up careers as adults to pursue our dream. Pursuing this common dream is what introduced us to each other. We each operated our own plant business and continued to meet each other at African violet conventions. It was “love at first sight”. Photo at left: the “early days” in our glasshouse, 1998.
It’s a modest life, but it’s rare that one can live one’s dream. We hope you can enjoy these plants as your hobby as much as we enjoy them as our livelihood.
About our plants
10-time winners, Best New Cultivar award, African Violet Society of America national show.
12-time winners, Best Commercial Display, AVSA national show
Regularly featured in hobbyist publications, including The African Violet Magazine.
Our plants have appeared on the covers of international hobbyist publications in Japan, Australia, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Taiwan, among others.
Prominently featured in numerous major newspapers, such as the New York Times and The Washington Post among many others. Also featured in national magazines such as Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Indoor and Patio Gardens, Fine Gardening, Organic Gardening, People Places & Plants, as well as foreign gardening publications like Gardening Guide (Japan).
Featured many times on local and nationally syndicated television, and on programs such as Martha Stewart Living Television.
About the owners
Dr. Ralph Robinson
“Rob” has been growing and exhibiting African violets since 1975. Formerly a college professor, he bred, grew, and sold African violets part-time while teaching. He gave up teaching to grow and sell violets and related plants full-time in 1991.
Former Senior Judge, African Violet Society of America. Past president of New York State AV Judges Council.
Long-time columnist for African Violet Magazine, and contributor to numerous national gardening publications.
Awarded Bronze Medal by African Violet Society of America (1997), for lifetime achievements in breeding of African violets and scientific contributions.
4-time winner Grower of the Year, New York State African Violet Society. Winner of numerous Best in Show awards at local, regional, and national conventions.
Served on boards of African Violet Society of America, and numerous state and local societies.
Frequent speaker at national AVSA and TGS conventions and to clubs and businesses throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and the far east.
Olive Ma Robinson
A native of Taiwan, Olive has been seriously collecting and growing plants since 1986. Olive owned and operated ‘Violet Fun Greenhouse’, a small, urban nursery in Taichung, from 1996 until marrying Rob and emigrating to the United States in the spring of 1998.
Former Judge, African Violet Society of America (the first to be accredited in Taiwan)
Served as director, African Violet Society of America
Awarded Bronze Medal by African Violet Society of America (2011), for lifetime achievements.
The Violet Barn is truly a “team effort”. Everyone here helps in producing and growing, then shipping, plants.
Head grower: Frank Rouse
Started 2000. Frank oversees production of our streptocarpus, begonias, hoyas, and petrocosmea, and is hybridizer of many of our recent ‘Bristol’s’ streps.
Grower: Jeanne Rounsville
Started 2016. Jeanne oversees production of our trailing and Saintpaulia species African violets.
Full-time: Philip Groshner
Started 2020. Philip grows and maintains both standard and miniature violets.
Part-time: Karen Gotham, Angelina Chappell
Karen has been with us since 1999 and helps with prep work for growing and shipping.
Angelina since 2019, and does our final shipping and packaging and materials preparation.
Greeters: Pookah and Mei-Mei Robinson
These sisters have been with us since 2018. Always smiling and wagging their tails, they are in charge of company morale, answering the door, and greeting visitors.