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Everything's Coming Up Violets

October 23, 2005|DINAH ENG

The African violet is often called America's favorite house plant because it's relatively inexpensive and many varieties can bloom year-round. Those with violet thumbs recently entered their best in a show at the 2005 convention of the African Violet Council of Southern California, held at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge. We stopped by to talk with folks about their favorite posies.

Leonard Re

Retired project manager, 59

Fountain Valley

Tell us about your contest entry.

I have 20. My favorite is Lakeshore Silver. It's a pink semi-miniature.

How did you become obsessed?

In the 1950s I had an aunt who grew violets in a window. I always liked them. They don't talk back.

What is the "holy grail"?

To grow a completely symmetrical plant with 100 blooms on it.

What's the most extreme behavior you've seen in a fancier?

We have a national show every year. The minute the showroom opens, people dive in to get the new hybrids. It's like a feeding frenzy. You'll see one plant and seven people who want it. You have to duke it out.

Who is the typical grower?

A crazy person. Most are female, around 45 to 50. There seem to be a lot of nurses and teachers.

Do you have any other obsessions?

I watch "Desperate Housewives."

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Gini McCanne

Retired nursing administrator

and commercial African violet grower, 62

Claremont

What makes your entries special?

Their amount of blooms.

How do you get so many blooms?

I show them the trash basket. I have about 4,000 plants in my home, and I can't afford slackers.

How did you become obsessed?

I got some 30 years ago in celebration of my children's births. In 2001, I asked, did I want to be stressed and financially secure, or poor and happy? I became a grower full-time.

What is it about flower-growing that makes people crazy?

It's the beauty. They're all grown under fluorescent light. I have the air-conditioning running 24/7. Southern California Edison comes saying they want to do a survey, but they're really checking to see if I'm growing pot. Once when I called the police, they said, "Oh, you're the violet lady."

How do African violet people differ from orchid people?

African violet people are more laid-back and easygoing.

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Mary Welch

Cell biologist, 57

San Mateo

Tell us about your contest entry.

I have three. The one I like best is Optimara Little Cheyenne. It's white with a tinge of blue in the center.

Is there an African violet mystique?

It was identified by a botanist in what's now Tanzania, where he was a diplomat. Now there are more than 14,000 hybrids identified.

How did you become obsessed?

What makes you think I'm obsessed? The fact that I have 400 plants?

How do African violet people differ from orchid people?

Orchid people top the list of eccentric and crazy people wanting new species. They don't want to wait to develop, and instead decimate an area where new ones are found. African violet people are about: How close to perfection can we get?

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Bernadine Poulsen

President of the San Fernando Valley

African Violet Society, 72

North Hollywood

Describe your contest entry.

Champagne Pink trailer is my favorite. I didn't even have to feed it with bloom booster. I just had to pinch it. It's a semi-miniature with smaller leaves that are variegated with little pink flowers.

How did you become obsessed?

I went to an association show in 1986. My eyes just popped out. By the end of six months, I was the refreshment chair. I've got more than 100 varieties. My husband started his tropical fish collection when I started this because he had to have something to do. Now he has 40 tanks.

What is the "grail" for an African violet fan?

To introduce a new violet that's never been seen before, and that everyone loves and has to have.

What is the most extreme behavior you've seen in a fancier?

Someone who thought that she should have won the best in show. There are such rivalries at times.

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