February’s birth month flower is the violet. I’ve been acquainted with the wild flower variety since childhood. Growing up in Michigan, I loved looking for them in the spring. These tiny, sweet violets peeked out from their nest of dark green, heart shaped leaves under the base of trees and anywhere the grasses weren’t suburban-shorn. But they were not as popular with my dad, who called them weeds and was constantly battling their presence – as well as that other poor innocent, the dandelion – in his lawn. Common in the eastern half of North America, wild violets appear in shady spots and spread into sunnier areas. And, yes, they are the bane of lawn aficionados, just like my dad. My mother, however, loved violets and patiently grew African violets in our home.
I often hear people say they do not have a “green thumb” and every plant they’ve tried to grow has died a horrid and ugly death. But I beg to dispel that age-old myth. From a life time of growing plants, both inside and out, my considered observation is that the supposed green thumb comes from a combination of enjoyment of plants as well as a willingness to acquire care instructions on any specific plant. Some plants need shade, some partial shade and some full sun. All plants do not require the same amount of water, either. Too much water or sun, too little water or light, can doom a plant to the trash can and the would-be grower to think they have a “brown thumb”. For example, my mom’s African violets were what she called, “fussy”. They need a particular mix of soil, a 1/4 turn per day, a North or East facing window, and the proper fertilizer, the right room temperature and humidity…you get the idea. But in her day, they were one of the most popular houseplants. For more on growing African violets, read African Violets 101.
Violets (Viola) are a genus of Spring flowering plants in the family Violaceae. There are around 400-500 species of Violets in the genus. Violets are native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere and are also found in Hawaii, Australasia, and the Andes in South America. Violets like moist, slightly shaded conditions. Common blue violets, sweet violets and garden violets are some of the popular varieties of violets. The Common blue violet is the state flower of 3 states in the USA: Rhode Island, Illinois, and New Jersey. In ancient Athens, the violet was believed to prevent dizziness and headaches. In fact, chemical analysis of the plant reveals the presence of salicylic acid – the raw material for aspirin. The leaves, which have antiseptic properties, were often used in ointments or as poultices for bruises and, when made into a tea or syrup, were taken for internal inflammations and coughs. Through the ages, sweet violets have also been used in culinary concoctions, perfumes, dyes and cosmetics.
Violets are a gentle symbol of faithfulness, modesty and loyalty. Give a violet to someone to let them know you’ll always be there for them; you’ll always be true. Few flowers have symbolized the renewal of spring as much as the violet. One of my favorite historical novels, A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers, is a story of the faithful love of one sister for another. In it we are transported into the world of Victorian London and the story of two sisters, flower sellers, who become separated, causing their lives to take different paths. The fragrant violet plays a starring role in this wonderful novel. Much has been written about this gentle spring flower that symbolizes the return of spring and of undying love.
“O wind, where have you been. That you blow so sweet? Among the violets Which blossom at your feet. The honeysuckle waits For Summer and for heat; But violets in the chilly Spring Make the turf so sweet.” – by Christina Rossetti in her collection Fly Away, Fly Away Over the Sea
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – by Mark Twain
The other February flower is the primrose. This was one of my dad’s favorite flowers. He grew them as a border, planting them in early spring as bedding plants. In the fall he would cover them carefully, nursing them to survive the long, cold Michigan winters in order that they multiply vigorously in the spring when they lent amazing, bright candy color to his flower beds. Along with the violet, it is one of the first to bloom in spring (its name, primrose, is derived from the Latin primusmeaning first). Primrose symbolizes renewal, love and devotion. Give a primrose to someone to say, “I can’t live without you”.
All images copyright Nancy Kirkpatrick Photography.
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