Originally appeared in VioletsFun Photo Journal, issue no. 13 (2003)
This was a program topic at a recent meeting of one of our “local” (a 100 mile drive for us) violet clubs recently. Two of the club’s members told the group how they grew violets and other gesneriads in their home. Though both are experienced exhibitors, the plants in question weren’t being grown for show, but to decorate and add warmth to their homes. The idea of using violets in this way seems so obvious–certainly too obvious to merit an evening’s discussion. But is it, really?
So obvious, that it’s taken for granted, sometimes. Listening to the second speaker of the evening, we came to realize this. She explained how she had grown violets for years in her home, and was so fascinated by their beautiful flowers. Before long, she was “hooked” and was told by a friend to join the local African violet club. Once a member, she wanted to begin growing plants for their show. Growing showplants, she was told, meant disbudding–“taking off all the blooms”! After months of disbudding and seeing no flowers, her showplant finally was allowed to come into glorious bloom, ready to be displayed for the weekend at the show. Then, at the show, she was told, “you better take off all of those blooms before you take it home!”. She grew violets to see flowers in her home, yet the “better” she grew them, the fewer flowers they had!
She fell into the same trap that catches the most enthusiastic of us. Our love of the plants makes us want to learn more about hem–so we can appreciate them even more. We join a club and learn how to perfect our culture. We make our growing environment more and more artificial, more controlled, and more “perfect”. The plants are even happier and more beautiful. Then, in our quest for perfection, we sacrifice some of what made us so passionate in the first place.
Having a “green thumb” means having sympathy and an awareness for your plant’s needs. The first is innate, and part of one’s self that cannot be acquired, only cultivated. The second is learned. Many of us with the “greenest” of thumbs, the most passionate about our plants, are the most passionate about learning. In our zeal to learn everything, we sometimes lose sight of what first stirred our passions. True, we are more enlightened, but sometimes the “black thumb” is happier in his ignorance.
Of course, “green” thumbs can be happy, too. We grow plants for a living–they pay for our shelter, food, and clothing, as well as that for all of our employees. We get excited about the challenges of growing for exhibition. Even after 30 years, we still find something to be learned at club meetings and from other growers. Yet, we still grow dozens of plants for nothing more than our own pleasure, many of which have no commercial (only senitmental) value, and many of which take up residence in our many windows. We don’t demand much of these plants–they are grown neither for sale nor for show. Still, they reward us more than most others–the excitement of the first blooms after months of waiting, the challenge of growing something that has died in our care before, or just as the object of conversation between ourselves and other growers. We have these plants just because we like them and want to have them.