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"God's Apology for February"

The February flower is the Violet. Right on cue, this week I saw the first of my violets flowering in my front porch. Barbara Johnson famously claimed that “Violets are God’s apology for February” and although (dare I say it?) this year has been relatively clement, I often feel the truth of her words.

The common violet is the state flower of Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and New Jersey. They are symbolic in many cultures and can denote

  • love

  • balance and harmony

  • mental clarity

  • remembrance

  • honesty

  • determination.

Violets attract pollinators, the flowers and leaves are edible... In short, it's worth paying attention to these discreet but exquisite shade-loving, little flowers.

In France we had a very few violets which popped up each spring in the garden. They were so tiny and hidden in amongst the lawn and other plants. They were difficult to see, but the scent was almost overpowering so I would invariably search around until I located them, just for the satisfaction of seeing the little flower discreetly tucked in beside more flamboyant plants. Unfortunately, the common violets I planted here in Texas do not have the heady scent of their French cousins. Nevertheless I feel that they are the perfect flower to welcome my visitors in the springtime. It was in France that I had the moment of delightful realisation that pansies (the violet's close cousin) are so named from the French word "pensées" meaning thoughts.

I love the entryway to my house which has a little porch area leading to the front door. From the sun drenched path through the front garden, 5 steps lead up to an archway through a tiny tiled "vestibule" (I guess you could call it!) with a high roof. Last year the house martins moved in and before I could blink I'm pretty sure they had produced more guano than a pair of albatrosses. I was thrilled they had chosen my porch despite the mess! And I am sure my rosebush enjoyed the bird poo I scraped off the walls and floor.

Anyway, the area between this vestibule and the front door is open to the sky with high walls it is quite shaded and cool, only about 3 metres by 3 metres with crushed granite and large stepping stones. When we moved in, this little area was planted with wispy grasses which was a lovely idea but in reality they were patchy and looked quite dead during their "brown phase". I had a different vision for this mostly shady area. I imagined a lush courtyard with a water feature on the beautiful stone wall (sadly immediately vetoed by my hubby!) I wanted to create a little haven of coolness and beautiful scents where I could drink my afternoon tea outside in relative comfort, even in a Texas summer. I waited for a full year in case anything else popped up... the old rule of living with a garden for a full year before doing anything drastic is ingrained in my gardening psyche! Finally, one afternoon, I was moved to action and I pulled out all the grasses and went shopping for a few shade-loving plants.

I bought a variety of small tester plants to see what did well. One of these plants was a tiny common violet. That first year it grew really well, flowered and remained virtually unchanged as a small clump of glossy leaves for the subsequent 18 months. Other plants seemed to do better in my porch area. I planted a few more varieties with some success and many, many more failures. It's a tricky space!

The following spring, Snowpocalypse hit Texas and a quite a few of my plants which had been really doing well succumbed to the cold and wet. The Violet remained unchanged, it did not flower. Later in the year, little brown seedpods appeared - not very attractive, I thought (rather meanly!). Other tiny violet plants were now popping up all over the area despite the barren crushed granite and stony clay underfoot, Tempted to pull them out if they were only going to produce little brown "flowers", I found myself too tenderhearted to rip out those plantlets who were there despite the Texas climate challenges. I am very glad I resisted the impulse. All through the winter their leaves remained green and then one morning, returning from an early dog walk, I saw a blue flower on one of the little plantlets. For a while it was the only one and I marked that little plant as a keeper, until one by one they all started flowering in abundance despite the intermittent freezes (and some very warm afternoons.).

It turns out that as well as producing seeds when pollinated by butterflies and bees, violets can reproduce by producing cleistogamous seed heads - automatic self-pollination of non-opening flowers.

Those were the little brown pods I had seen after snowpocalypse when the plants failed to flower. Nature is amazing. My porch area now has many violet plants. I am thrilled!

I have other plants waking up after their winter snooze but despite an unpromising start it's the little common violet which has so far brought me closest to the lush green shady courtyard I am trying to establish. So of all the qualities that violets symbolise I am going to put determination at the top of my list. They survived and thrived despite a tough climate. And I also hope the violets bestow harmony on all my guests.

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There are many things in common on our small planet that we just don't notice. But Karen's post above reminded me on how we all interact and are similar. Humans are like these violets. They can blossom, but sometimes adversity takes a toll. And as these pretty aromatic violets, us humans will embrace the sorrows and move on to blossom one more time. Aren't God's creatures wonderful!!!

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