African Violet


Oh, so beautiful. Oh, so demanding. Oh, crap, get me out of here!

(Saintpaulia ionantha)

For the Queen Gardener, stumbling upon a thriving African Violet is a pulse-quickening experience, like the surprise of finding oneself in a room with a man so beautiful that one can only drool and covet.  Like these too-beautiful men, African Violets usually pop up in the most unusual places and at the most unexpected times:  in the waiting room of the dentist’s office, sparkling under the fluorescent lights at the local library, in your brown-thumbed mother’s living room, for Christ’s sake!

“Who is that,” you ask her with bated breath.  It’s just a casual but insistent whisper of inquiry.

“My insurance agent,” she replies, adding sternly, “leave him alone.”  She is quick to catch on, but you pay no mind.  You are busy contemplating how many types of insurance you could possibly purchase and what you will name the inevitable wire-haired terrier after the oh-so-gay wedding.  Err, I mean union.

May I suggest Violet, a lovely name for a dog that is guaranteed to be a dysfunctional child of divorce?  No insurance against that.  But I digress.

Be fooled not by these come-hither sightings of good cheer and visual distraction, for the African Violet is akin to that gorgeous hunk of man flesh in more ways than you might expect.  Both are advertised as low-maintenance and carefree, but in reality they are fickle, demanding, and prone to pouting if they don’t get their way.  But even worse, although both wither in the face of neglect, neither responds well to obsessive attention.  They become downright ugly!  A precarious balance is required to keep these ones happy.

I know that the persnickety African Violet and the unnaturally beautiful man are best idolized from afar.  Leave them to their respective conservatories and greenhouses, to glossy spreads and sticky DVD’s, or to those random and senseless sightings in far-flung environs that seem engineered to upset one’s equilibrium.  For it is far from the realm of possibility that we mere mortal gents can keep either an African Violet or a hunky boyfriend happy for any length of time.

Alas, although I know this intellectually, my heart and loins continue to betray me.  I have been unable to resist.  I want them; I deserve them.  To this end I, and every other horny participant in the history of gay gardening and man-on-man love, undertake the valiant and all-consuming task of paying particular attention without seeming to be overbearing.  We toe that thin line wavering between willful neglect and overzealous caretaking that is necessary to keep these charming specimens – the African Violet and the beautiful man – content.

They exhaust me, and I must give up on both.  In my Garden of Good Sense, there can be no African Violet and there can be no man whose beauty overshadows his unworthiness.

But since this is a gardening how-to book, and I can sense your obsession from here, my advice on African Violets follows.  You might try the same approach for the too-beautiful man, although I have to say I’ve had better luck with the Violets.  I once kept one alive for six months, which is three months longer than I’ve ever been able to keep a too-beautiful man.

Keep your Violet pot-bound.  Unlike most men, the Violet prefers to be contained.  The Violet’s root system is shallow (as is the too-beautiful man’s), and you will want to keep the soil consistently moist but not soaked.  Always water from the bottom (the same is true for some beautiful men, while others prefer being attended from the top.  You’ll have to find out your too-beautiful man’s preference on your own.  Oh, but what fun the discovery!  Please send detailed notes.  And photographs.)

Use a drainage tray beneath your violet that is a bit deeper than usual, and once a week (under normal household circumstances) pour ½ to 1 inch of room temperature water in the tray.  Cold water will shock the roots and cause spots to form on the leaves.  After ½ hour, drain any water that remains in the tray.  Never – NEVER! – allow the pot to sit in the water for any longer.  Never water from the top or otherwise get the crown (where the leaves come out of the soil) wet.  If so, rest assured the entire plant will morph into mushy brown goo, from which there is no recovery.

Violets prefer filtered but bright east or west light, warm temperatures (71 – 85 °F), and high humidity.  Fertilize with a weak solution every two weeks. Don’t over-fertilize or goo happens.  Insufficient light will cause failure to flower, light too harsh will burn the leaves.  Any variations from the norm can cause shock and death.  To the violet, of course, not you, although in a drama queen moment following an angst-riddled too-beautiful man experience, I may have wished for death.  But then that is a story best saved for another day.

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