Virtual Tour

Welcome to the Violet Barn!  Not able to visit?  Take this “virtual tour” of our shop and glasshouse.  The photos below are representative of what a visit might be like

Yes, that’s a 100 year-old barn with a rainbow above it!  It sits atop a 600 foot hill overlooking the length of Canandaigua Lake, one of New York’s “finger lakes”, carved-out by glaciers during the last “ice age”

In front of the barn is a driveway and small parking lot–a total of 5 cars can be accommodated here.  From the driveway is a paved walk that winds around to the right (south) side of the barn to the shop entrance and the lower parking lot.

We live in the upper level of the barn (to the left of the open door).  Our living area was formerly a tool room, our kitchen and bath formerly stalls for small livestock.  Above that are two more rooms, where a hay loft used to be.  All have beautiful views of the lake and surrounding “Bristol hills”.

Since moving into the barn in 1992, the business has expanded quite a bit.  In 1997, we added a glasshouse onto the back of the barn, facing the lake.  In 1999, we built the addition you see above, to the left of the barn.  In 2002, we built onto the other (south) end.  In 2005 (after above photo taken), we resided the barn–it now looks “like new” in a light cream/beige color, and not so “rustic” (sorry, but we had to keep the rain and weather out!).

From the front (upper) parking lot, take the sidewalk around to the side of the barn.  There’s also a rear (lower) parking lot for those who might not want (or be able) to take the longer walk.  Our van is seen parked there now, since we use this door for loading packages for delivery to the local post office.  Our staff parks in a separate lot (not seen).

The sign on the entrance door.  This is what it says.

Open daily, Noon to 5 pm.  Please read the following before you enter:

  1. If there is “DO NOT TOUCH” or “NOT FOR SALE” sign, please do not touch those plants.
  2. Try not to pick up plants before you decide what to buy.
  3. Place the plants you want to buy on the front counter.
  4. Do not move plants around.
  5. If you are “just looking”, use your eyes, not your hands.
  6. Please do not walk through aisles wearing large overcoats and handbags.

The “Violet Barn” is the home of and Rob’s Violets.  We specialize in ‘hard to find’ varieties of African violets and other houseplants.  What you are about to see is not only our retail shop but also a growing area.  80% of our business is done by mail orders and some of the plants may already be sold to our mail order customers.  We work very hard to provide a nice place and the best plants.  Following the above instructions can help us minimize the potential for spreading pests and disease.  It will also help us keep our place and plants looking their best.  Thanks for your help and you are always welcome to visit. Ralph and Olive Ma Robinson, Owners of the Violet Barn.

After going through the door, you’ll enter a small room.  It was one of the rooms we added to the barn in the summer of 2002.  The room serves a number of purposes: as a coat room, a buffer between the shop and the cold outside air, and as a “welcome” area for our visitors.  It’s a very bright room, with a full-glass door and large window facing south, another window high in the east wall, plenty of artificial light, and a 20-foot high ceiling.

Looking ahead and to the right, you’ll see a 3-shelf light stand holding episcias, begonias, and “sale” violets (photo at far left).  Turning to your right, you’ll see some of the awards that we’ve chosen to display.  On the bottom is our “silver”, and on top are hand-painted china (more awards) and rosettes.  In between, of course, are more plants!

Turn further to the right, looking just to the left of the door you came through, is Begonia ‘Shamus’, one of our larger plants at about 36″ in diameter.  It sits in front of a south window (the overhang of roof outside keeps intense sun off of it).  Hoyas hang above it, and smaller plants share the shelf beside it.  Beneath ‘Shamus’  are more begonias, grown under lights (not shown).  This photo was taken at night, since it’s much too bright during daytime.

Before entering the shop, look up!  We grow a number of large ferns and other plants on the balcony above the shop entrance.  Hanging beneath the balcony are even more plants–in this case, hanging baskets ofcolumnea, nematanthus, episcia, hoyas, and more.

Looking into the shop from the entrance, you’ll first see our front counter.  Beneath the counter are various glazed pots for sale and, above it, are often hung plants.

There are two registers (for when it’s busy and we need to “check out” more than one customer) and all the necessary packing supplies are stored behind/beneath it.  The two “posts” you see are original timbers salvaged from the barn.

Upon entering, Rob, Olive, or one of our staff, will greet you and ask whether you’ve visited before.  You’ll be told what kinds of plants we grow, were they can be found, and also what is not for sale.

The first place you’ll be directed to is the “show room” where mature, fully-grown, plants are displayed.  Though these plants aren’t for sale, they’ll give you an idea of what the plants you purchase can look like when “grown up”.

This room was built in 2002, and also includes a “library” and reading area (the counter seen extending into the room, behind which is a stool).  Reference books on any of the plants we grow can be used, with permission, and a small computer is available for viewing the web-site or using the AVSA ‘First Class’ program.  A current copy of the African Violet Magazine is always available.  In practice, this ‘reading’ area is more often used by our plant inspector (to write documents for international shipments) and job applicants (when hiring).

Entering the room and looking to your right (photo at left) you’ll see the west-facing window, in front of which are mature specimens of many of the ‘miniature’ houseplants that we grow and sell. Beneath those are two lighted shelves usually containing miniature violets that Rob is growing for upcoming shows.

In the corner, in far right of photo, is a glass case (viewed from above) where violet and gesneriad-themed jewelry is displayed.


Photo at left shows a closer view of these houseplants.  Some are grown as small ‘bonsai’ subjects, some as shrubs, some as ground-covers, and a few as ‘topiary’!  The middle photo is of the south-facing wall.  Most of the plants on the counter are mature specimens of many of the begonias we sell, with taller-growing plants behind them (on the windowsills) such as jasmine and kohleria.  The photo at right shows a closer view.  Beneath the counter, under lights, are more begonias.  Of course, hanging in all of the windows are more plants!  We DO grow a large number of our plants in windows!

At left are more begonias, and a ‘jewel’ orchid in full bloom!  Turning further to your left, are two shelves ofepiscia under lights.

Another purpose of the room–to show that plants grown under lights (and the lights themselves) can be attractive in the home.  Lights can be attractive as furniture!

By now, Rob, Olive, or one of our staff, has returned to ask if you have any questions or need help.  If one of those “not for sale” plants interested you, we can likely find you one that is.

As you exit the show room, you’ll see the view in the photo at right–one of the many plant stands in the “shop”–our main growing area.

The “shop” is our main growing area, under lights, for plants we sell.  When the barn was first renovated, in 1991, it was theonly growing area.  The original light stands are still being used

Since the barn sits on the side of a hill, this level can’t be seen from the road–in effect, it’s a “half” basement, beneath ground-level on one side, above ground in back.

Before its current use, this area held large livestock, such as cows and horses.  The original dirt floor is now cement but all of the original timbers still can be seen (one appears in the center of the aisle above).  With the exception of the back wall seen in the photo above, all other walls are either wood planks and timbers or the original stone foundation (with the rings originally used to tie the cows still in the walls).  As much as possible, we’ve tried to maintain the original character of the barn, while accommodating the plants and equipment.

The shop contains 6 lighted plant stands, all made of wood.  Each stand is a little more than 12 feet long and 4 feet wide and , including the top, consist of 4 levels on which plants can be grown.  Each shelf is made of plywood and edged in 1/2″ square moulding (providing a “lip”) and sealed with a thick coat of fiberglass resin (the stuff used on boats) to make it waterproof.  The tops of the stands (the uppermost shelf) are unsealed, since only plants in trays are placed there.

Each shelf provides 50 square feet of growing space, and is lit by 6 4-foot florescent light fixtures attached to the bottom of the shelf above it (or hung from the ceiling for the uppermost shelf).  Each solid-state fixture holds two 48″ (40 watt) Gro-Lux WS bulbs, which we prefer because they make for a more pleasant working environment and give the plants a more “natural” appearance.  Lights are kept on for 13 hours a day, and are turned on and off by timers.

In the rear of the shop is a 7th stand, which has only 3 levels and 6 light fixtures.  In total, there is approximately 1,250 square feet of growing area under lights in the shop, containing about 15,000 plants.

What happens when the electricity goes out?  A system monitors power and temperature at all times and alerting us or our staff (calling them at home if needed).  A generator can be started to provide minimal electricity, and two propane-fueled heaters can provide minimal heat if the furnace should fail.

Looking left are stands A, B, and C.  These stands (as well as one more) hold all of the miniature violets for sale.  The bottom shelves of stands A and B hold standard size African violets and some Streptocarpus in larger pots.  Stands C and D (not visible), hold only miniature violets.

All of the miniature violets on these shelves are arranged in the same order as they appear in the catalog (alphabetically), so that they can be easily located.  Signs placed on the sides of stands, containing photographs, also aid in locating plants.

Notice that all areas of the ‘Violet Barn’ are wheelchair-accessible.  The front entrance and greenhouse are accessed by a ramp, and all doors and aisles are wide enough to accommodate wheel chairs.  A ‘handicapped parking’ space exists just outside the main entrance.  Oh, the two little ears in the front of the photo belong to our dog, “Lucy”, who will greet you upon arrival and happily escort you around the shop and greenhouse.

At left, a closer view of miniature violets on one of the shelves.  The blue material beneath the plants is (cheap) acrylic blanket, cut to fit each shelf.  We use this “capillary matting” to water all of the plants on these shelves.  Once plants begin to dry, about 7-8 gallons of water are poured onto each shelf.  Plants then absorb this water through their drainage holes from the wet blanket–a fast, efficient, way of watering a lot of plants.

At right is a view of the bottom of stand B, showing some of the streptocarpus in 5″ pots for sale.  As are most plants of this size, these are individually watered, from the top (you’ll notice that there is no blanket on this shelf).  In the background, you can see the stone foundation to the barn that we referred to earlier.  This 5-foot high wall extends the length of the shop along its west side, above it showing the original timbers.

On the opposite side of the room are two more stands.  This one holds only streptocarpus.  On top are trays of recently potted plants.  The lower two shelves hold about 2,500 plants in 2″ pots ready for shipping.  The remaining shelf holds blooming plants in 3″ pots for sale from the shop.  These are watered using blankets, those in trays are watered from the top.

At the rear of our shop is access to the north end of the barn.

Sorry, but you can’t go back there (unless you need to use our restroom)–employees only!  Behind window at left is our office.  Across the hallway is our laundry and “wash” room, where we clean our dirty pots, trays, and reusable supplies.  Seen in the background is our “work” area.  Not seen behind the office is our “stock” room, where most showplants and seedlings are grown.

At the front of the shop, across from the sales counter, is our “bulletin” board containing notices about upcoming shows and information on local African violet and gesneriad societies (the red signs celebrate the Chinese new year).  We encourage all those who are interested to join one of these societies.  Anyone belonging to both the national (AVSA or AGGS) and one of the local societies gets a 10% discount on all purchases made at the ‘Violet Barn’.

Looking to the left (glasshouse side) of the counter, is our ‘supply’ area.  Pots, fertilizer, soil, tools, and all the basic growing supplies are available there.  Along the wall you’ll notice a bench–one of two we have for the less-enthusiastic friends and spouses of those who are doing the shopping.

The glasshouse was constructed in the summer of 1997.  It is 50′ by 18′ and is attached to the east side of the barn.  The floors are cement

There are a number of windows, these are almost never used–it is air-conditioned in the summer.  By keeping our growing environment “closed”, and growing only our own plant material, pest problems are kept to a minimum and are easily controlled once spotted.

Seen above is the view from the entrance to the glasshouse (from the shop), looking north.  The glasshouse is where we grow most of our standard-size African violets.  We also grow most of our miniature houseplants and begonias, most of the hanging baskets there, and all of our orchids, there.

Above are two views of the glasshouse both facing south.  At left is a view from the (barn) side and, at right, a view from the outside aisle.

In the center of the glasshouse is an “island”, one large bench approximately 35′ long and 7′ wide, circled by an aisle.  The bench consists of two levels.  On top are standard violets, grown under sunlight, underneath are more violets grown under florescent light.  All of the violets are grown atop blankets and are watered from the bottom using these “capillary mats”.

Standard violets are also grown on the tops of all the benches circling the outside of the glasshouse.  Beneath these outside benches are two shelves where most of our cuttings for propagation, houseplants, and begonias, are grown under lights.  In total, the glasshouse provides an additional (approximately) 2,000 feet of growing space containing approximately 4,000 potted plants, plus thousands more in cuttings.

Beneath the center island are most of the standard violets that we set-aside for shows and for our mail-order customers.  During the day these lights are turned-off (they are on at night), so that shop visitors aren’t tempted by them. The black ‘line’ you see is actually an elastic ‘bungee’ cord tied around the perimeter of the shelf to protect the plants.

Visitors to the shop are instructed to select plants from the tops of the benches. Customers can then look for plants of a variety, arranged alphabetically around the benches.


Yes, we DO grow violets in windows!  Shown at left are many of Olive’s show plants, grown on the windowsill of the glasshouse.  Most have been growing there throughout the winter, and many will be exhibited in shows in the spring.  During the summer and fall, standard violets in 4″ pots, used for display plants are grown on these windowsills.  This is why we say that all of the varieties we grow and sell will do well under eithernatural or artificial lights.

We also grow a lot of hoya.  Most of our “stock” plants (those we use for cuttings and are not for sale) are grown hanging from rods in the east side of the glasshouse, the remainder being grown in all of our many windows.  Most will bloom throughout the year here, giving the glasshouse a wonderful “perfumed” scent.

At right are seen some of our own orchid collection (not for sale).  These are grown in the south of the glasshouse (protected by extra shading).  Those shown here are some of the phals and paphs grown atop a bench along the barn wall in the south end.  Other orchids are grown atop a bench adjoining this one (not shown).  We grow orchids for sale (hundreds of them) on many ‘bookshelves’ attached to the siding of the barn on west side of the glasshouse.

Not shown here are other growing areas, that aren’t accessible by the public.  “Stock” and “work” rooms are in the rear of the barn, where we grow seedlings and stockplants, and our staff does its work (potting, shipping, etc.).  The “new room” is a separate building located just off of our lower parking lot that houses another 10,000 plants or so (you can take a peek through the window!).  When we’re desperate for growing space, we even will have plants on light carts off-location at the ‘Violet House’.