African violets are still one of the best-selling plants because they flower for such a long time.
About one home in three has at least one of these pretty little gems.
They were introduced into Britain by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire in 1892 after he discovered the original Saintpaulia growing in the wild in a north-eastern province of Tanganyika, now part of Tanzania.
The beautiful varieties which we enjoy in our homes are hybrids and there are dozens of varieties in a range of colours from white, pink, blue, purple, red and even striped ones.
They all enjoy lots of light in well-drained compost and grow especially well in plastic pots – a five-inch one is the maximum size and the best array of flowers is attained in pots which are crammed full of roots.
When the plants became popular about 1910, books at that time recommended they were grown in three-inch diameter pots placed in containers with cobbles in the base.
The advice was that those cobbles should be kept wet at all times.
This was fine until winter came along and the plants died because... they were too wet!
Yes, it is quite true they enjoy a moist atmosphere.
This ensures the longest period of flowering, but this must be combined with regular feeding from April until September, just once a fortnight using soluble food for tomatoes.
Like most plants, Saintpaulias enjoy plenty of light.
However, hot sun quickly affects the production of flower buds, so direct hot sun has to be avoided.
I often get questions from readers who tell me their plants have wonderful leaves but no flowers, even though the plants are quite old.
The answer is to pull off one leaf in every three and within a month the flowers will emerge. This is technically called Kiddadvisus.
If you have a collection you may be growing them in an attractive tray.
If so, have you tried using capillary matting in the base?
This makes watering and feeding a cinch.
Just keep the matting wet and the compost will take in exactly what it needs without the risk of drowning.
Now then, have you got an old aquarium in the loft?
If you have, why don’t you think about bringing it back to life?
Place a three-inch layer of attractive aggregate in the base and push in the plants in three-inch diameter pots.
Now place a light bulb into the lid of the aquarium and join lots of other ardent gardeners who are into recycling by placing the aquarium in part of a room which needs an attractive light.
I promise you this will look great and is recycling at its very best.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Don’t let the rest of the world make you feel fed up, look forward all the time.
The snowdrops are popping up and next Saturday, it will be light at 5pm.
Keep faith in yourself. Everything will be OK.
Just hang on. Spring really is on the way.