This Spring Think Violets
By Norma Beredjiklian
A shame to pick it
A shame to leave it
- The violet.
Haiku by Nao-jo (dates unknown)
Spring violets are seen in backyards, front lawns and woodlands. Those who appreciate this legendary flower as a beacon of spring will rejoice; those unfamiliar with them will think them a nuisance and run for the weed killer. But in fairness, violets deserve a second look.
In America, violets were particularly fancied by Thomas Jefferson, who grew them at Monticello, his home estate in Virginia; by Eleanor Roosevelt, the beloved First Lady who wore violet bouquets at her husband's inaugurations, and by Evelyn Nesbitt, the notorious chorus girl who displayed them on her hat whenever she attended her husband's trial for the murder of her lover, architect Sanford White. Much has been written about the waves of violet fashion that invaded Europe and America during Victorian and post-Victorian times but the truth is that 100 years ago, gardeners made great efforts to grow violets everywhere and in many lovely varieties, winning coveted prizes at the most important flower shows of the 20s and 30s. And let's remember that Rhode Island, Illinois, New Jersey and Wisconsin claim the violet as their state symbol.
Despite years of neglect, violets have survived all the way into our new millennium, and in no small measure because of a renewed interest in heirloom and wild flowers. North America counts with more than 70 native violet varieties that are considered vital to the well being of our environment. Wild violets are also used as genetic material to refresh and renew cultivated violets. And violets, natives and cultivars alike, are edible, of course. (Note: please do not confuse with African violets; these flowers are not edible!)
If you're blessed with wild violets: viola sororia (blue), viola blanda (white), viola pubescens (yellow) varieties in your backyard or lawn this spring, put them to use. Here are some ideas:
- Sprinkle the blossoms on your favorite salads.
- Or freeze them in water cubes for use at a later time.
- Dry the violet flowers for herbal teas filled with honey to nurse mid-winter colds.
- Make any flavor of ice sherbet; serve in elegant, tall glasses and garnish with violets.
- When setting your table for a festive spring Sunday brunch, scatter them all over the linens or insert them in your napkin rings.
- Watch them perform admirably in bubbling champagne or as colorful floaters inside punch bowls.
- Invite your favorite rabbit to a violet lunch and forget mowing!
Finally, bless your home by calling upon the Garden and Spring Fairies to show them the spring violets you've gathered and arranged into a small vase!
About the Author Norma Beredjiklian is a violet consultant and historian and consultant. She is also Editor of The Violet Gazette, published by The American Violet Society and The Republic of Violet, the first ezine for violets.
© 2001 Norma Beredjiklian