BRIAN KIDD: Want ultra-trendy violets? Put them in a fish tank

African violets look great in an aquarium. Remove fish first.
African violets look great in an aquarium. Remove fish first.
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I started cutting down the old dead stems on the plants in the herbaceous border at home, but because of the wind and rain had to stop.

It isn’t wise to fight the weather. The ground was so wet it was difficult to finish the job professionally as my footprints were filling with water. I wonder if you can buy drying-up powder?

So this week we are staying inside and we’ll talk about one of the most popular indoor plants which I hope you’ll find interesting.

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 von Saint-Paul-Illaire in 1892. The original Saintpaulia was was found growing in the wild in Tanzania.

The beautiful varieties which enjoy our homes are hybrids and there are dozens of varieties in a range of colours from white, pink, blue, purples, reds and even stripes.

They all enjoy lots of light in well-drained compost and grow especially well in plastic pots. A five-inch pot 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 cobbles were to be kept wet all the time. This was fine until winter came along when the plants died because they were too wet.

It is quite true they enjoy a moist atmosphere as 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, but hot sunshine quickly affects the production of flower buds, so direct hot sun must be avoided.

If you have a collection you may be growing them in an attractive tray.

Have you tried using capillary matting in the base?

This makes watering and feeding easy.

Just keep the matting wet and the compost in the pots will take up exactly what it needs without the risk of drowning.

Now here’s a question: have you got an aquarium without fish?

If you have, you can bring it back to life by placing a three-inch layer of attractive aggregate in the base.

Now push in the plants in three-inch diameter pots, put 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. It will look great.

My cousin who lives in New York tells me this is all the rage at the moment and people are buying aquariums for African violets, not fish!


Don’t let the rest of the world make you feel fed up, look forward all the time.

Snowdrop leaves are popping up and next Saturday it will be light at 5pm.

Keep faith in yourself, everything will be OK. Just hang on – we’re getting there. Spring is on its way.