Gardening: How to care for African violets, with Brian Kidd

This is a difficult time to write about gardening because of the weather, but Pam tells me if I write about houseplants, the weather will improve.Because we want better weather, we are hoping Pam is right!

Saturday, 25th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 25th January 2020, 6:00 am
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African Violets are still one of the bestselling 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 and the original Saintpaulia (now you can see where they got their other, former, botanical, name) was growing in the wild in Tanzania.

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The beautiful varieties which enjoy our homes are hybrids and are now, botanically reclassified as being part of the streptocarpus family.

There are dozens of varieties in a range of colours from white, pink, blue, purples, reds and even stripes.

With careful cultivation they can flower for many months and these compact plants are ideal for small spaces such as windowsills.

They all enjoy lots of light in well-drained compost and grow especially well in plastic pots.

Which sort of compost? Their root growth is fibrous and a good percentage of organic matter is required, therefore pot into John Innes No2 compost, with 30 per cent by volume added peat substitute. Alternatively use specialist houseplant compost.

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 inthree-inch diameter pots placed in containers with cobbles in the base. The cobbles were to be kept wet all the time.

Now this was fine until the seasons changed, winter came along and the plants died because they were too wet!

It is quite true that they enjoy a moist atmosphere because this ensures the longest period of flowering.

However, this must be combined with regular feeding from April until September, just once a fortnight using soluble food made for tomatoes.

Like most plants, Saintpaulias enjoy plenty of light but hot sunshine quickly affects the production of flower buds, so direct hot sun has to 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 a cinch.

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

Random question. Have you got an aquarium without fish?

Why not resurrect it by placing a three-inch layer of attractive aggregate in the base?

Push in the plants in their three-inch diameter pots and then install a light bulb into the lid of the aquarium.

Now you will be able to join lots of other ardent gardeners who are into recycling by placing the aquarium in part of a room which is crying out for an attractive light. It will look great!


Don't let the rest of the world make you feel fed up, look forward all the time. Snowdrops are in bloom and next Saturday it will be light at 5pm . Keep faith in yourself, everything will be OK, just hang on – spring is on the way.