Only once in my life have I had an African Violet flower at a time other than when I bought it.
It’s false advertising. You buy these things with their lush dark-green, furry leaves and clumps of glittery flowers and you think that’s how they’re always going to be. You know; beautiful.
Yet within weeks the flowers have died and the leaves, once pert and upright, begin to sag before decaying into a slimy mess.
I’m not sure how I did it, but once I managed to persuade one of these plants to flower for a second time. And honestly, until today, this was my greatest achievement.
Mr Thomas wonders why I bother. In the eight years we’ve been living together, he has had to share his home with these often on-the-brink-of-death plants. Once he asked me why I bothered. Probably after I’d parted with my hard-earned cash for, once again, two new plants after the previous two had died.
If I recall I got a little angry with him. Because I couldn’t explain it. These plants, they’re a part of me. They are my life’s challenge. I keep them because they’re a challenge. They’re the plant version of cats. You know, you can give your cats all the love and attention you think they need, feed them regularly, make sure they’re healthy and all of that and the buggers still look at you with the peering, evil eyes of something that wants you dead.
What annoys me most is that I’ve managed to keep two cats alive for sixteen years but African Violets continue to be a mystery to me.
And yes, I’ve done it all. I bought the proper soil and the proper African Violet fertiliser (though for many years I found fertiliser as a form of cheating) I don’t over-water them or under-water them. I make sure the leaves don’t get wet. I do everything the dozens of websites and YouTube videos I’ve perused over the years say to do.
Still, more times than not these plants defeat me.
My Aunty Didge, the woman I was named after and the person I have most admired in my life kept African Violets. She had one on the windowsill of her kitchen, always. More often than not it flowered with those traditional sparkly purple flowers. If she could do it — and the woman was as clumsy as ditzy as I am (must be in the name) surely I can?
But then… maybe she was doing the same thing as me. Buying plant after plant when each died in succession.
Now there’s a thought.
Today I’ve had a success of sorts. About eight months ago, just before my last African Violet was ready to die (and by this point I knew the signs), I cut the final two healthy leaves it possessed and planted them in seedling pots. I nurtured these bloody things for eight months. Yes, it was a gestation period. I sat them in a tray in my bathroom, watering them when they were dry, fertilising them every month or so.
And then, just this week, the last week we are to spend in this home I’ve had for ten years (another story; the thought of leaving this place is far too depressing for me to discuss it) a miracle occurred. Each cutting had given birth to a clump of baby leaves.
Because we are moving (again, too sad to discuss this) I knew I had to repot these beauties. This despite being in the middle of packing, because I have the attention span of a two year old, it seems.
So now my two fledgling African Violets have new homes, in the pots where dozens of their relatives have died before them.
Part of me wants to see this as a sign of ‘new beginnings.’ Fuck that. With African Violets, it can only be luck.