African Violets

About African violets 

African violets (or Saintpaulia) are a genus of plants within the Gesneriad family.  Discovered in 1892 by Baron von St Paul (hence the botanical name), many species can still be found growing in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya.  Though their geography is tropical, most species reside in the mountains, at altitude, and under the cover of other plants.  This makes African violets ideal for the indoor home garden or window–requiring only moderate (“room”) temperatures and light.  Though many of the native Saintpaulia are now threatened by loss of habitat, millions of their modern descendants are grown throughout the world in homes of collectors and hobbyists.  As you’ll see by viewing our site and catalog, modern African violet hybrids can be spectacular and very different from the simple species first discovered more than a century ago.  Much information about their care and environment can be found throughout these pages.

Standard African violetGrow them large. Standard African violets are those varieties that, when mature, will exceed 8″ in diameter.  In practice, most grow to about 10-12″.  When grown for exhibition, they can exceed 18-24″ across.  We grow only those varieties that we deem superior to others in growth and blooming habit.  These aren’t your usual, run-of-the mill supermarket African violets!  Only their size is ordinary.

Pictured at left:  Olive with a ‘Best in Show’ exhibit, ‘Opera’s il Straniero’

Grow them tiny.  We specialize in miniature and semiminiature African violets.  When mature, miniatures grow to less than 6″ in diameter, semiminis to less than 8″.  With proper culture, actual plant size usually is much smaller in practice.  The smallest of them might be less than 2 or 3″ from leaf tip to leaf tip! Because these are small-growing plants and have small root systems, never use a pot bigger than 2 1/2″ in diameter, even less for the smallest varieties.

Grow them rare and unusual. ‘Chimera’ varieties are violets for which propagation by leaf cuttings will not produce plantlets identical to the original plant.  These are typically the “pinwheel” blossomed varieties that show broad center and side stripes of different colors. These are quite unusual, genetically more rare, and can be propagated only by suckers.  “Leaf” chimeras are varieties whose foliage can only be reproduced by sucker propagation.  Variegation on leaf chimeras is very rare and is completely immune to changes in temperature, environment and age. Care is identical to that of other African violets.  Both miniature and standard chimera African violets are available.

Let them grow.  Trailing African violets are perhaps the easiest to grow and bloom, especially for the novice.  They are naturally branching, spreading, plants that can left to do their ‘own thing’.  No need to remove suckers to keep symmetry or encourage blooming.  These violets freely produce extra crowns without sacrificing appearance or bloom–in fact, this increases the potential bloom!  Can let spread in shallow pots, or let hang as baskets in windows–the choice is yours.

Grow them ‘native’.  Saintpaulia species are the African violets that all modern hybrids trace the ancestry to.  Many can still be found growing on the hillsides in east Africa.  As most are endangered, some can only be found in the collections of hobbyists.

Just grow them!  Below are some tips on how to grow them best.

Basic Care of African Violets:

  • Light.  Adequate light is important for good growth and bloom.  Try to provide bright, but not not, sunlight.  If growing under artificial lights, place a two-tube florescent fixture about 12-18″ above plants for 12-13 hours each day.
  • Watering.  Use room-temperature water.  Water when the soil feels “dry to the touch”.
  • Feeding.  A ‘balanced’ formula is best (relatively equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).  Avoid “bloom boosters”.  Use each watering, following the directions for that fertilizer.
  • Atmosphere.  African violets like the same conditions you do–moderate temperatures and humidity.  If you feel comfortable, so do they.
  • Soil.  Use a peat-based, “soilless” mix consisting of at least 30-50% coarse vermiculite and/or perlite.  Brand-name “violet soils” are NOT necessarily good for African violets!  General rule: the wetter you keep the soil, the more perlite it should contain.
  • Grooming.  Exept for trailers, do not allow extra crowns (suckers) to develop.  African violets should be grown single-crowned.  Most African violets look best with no more than 5 rows of leaves.
  • Potting.  Repot all plants every 6-12 months.  Most standard African violets, grown as a houseplant, will require a 4-5″ pot at maturity.  For minis and semiminis, us a pot no larger than 2 1/2″ in diameter.

Who we are: African violet experts

We’ve been growing and exhibiting since 1975, and have been in business shipping to satisfied customers world-wide since 1985.  We hybridize many of our own plants–are famous for our ‘Rob’s’ and ‘Ma’s’ series of African violets, and our ‘Bristol’s’ series of gesneriads (African violet relatives).

We grow our plants in a renovated barn, circa 1900, with an attached glasshouse and other buildings.  At any given time, we have 30,000+ plants being grown.  We grow plants because this is what we love to do.  View the “about” page to learn more about us.

What we do

African violets in new roomAfrican violets in new roomGlasshouse African violets
We hybridize and grow all the plants we sell–we don’t buy from other growers and resell.  This means we know what each plant likes to grow best from personal experience.  We also collect the best and most unusual hybrids from other growers, then propagate them for sale, as well as collect and grow many rare species not previously grown in cultivation.  We rarely travel or attend a show and come home empty handed!

We also try to share our passion for growing plants with others, and to educate those new to our hobby.  We encourage everyone to share their experience with others–the spread the “cheer” and their knowledge.  View our “blog” pages or subscribe to our monthly newsletter to read more.

What we grow: African violets and more

We specialize in African violets and their relatives (gesneriads), and other plants suitable for the indoor home environment.  Most are of a manageable size (can be grown on a windowsill or light stand), and many will bloom readily in the home.

We also grow a huge, and diverse, collection of miniature and terrarium plants–every plant you need for a terrarium, miniature landscape, or fairy garden.  Our plants are true miniatures, not just cuttings of a large plant that will quickly outgrow your container.  Safe for use in vivariums.  Not harmful to frogs and reptiles.  We only use organic, nontoxic, products when growing these plants.  For an overview of what we grow, view the “what we grow pages”, or better, our online catalog!

How to grow African violets

Though we’d like to sell you plants (or perhaps we have) use this site as a reference–to learn about the plants you grow (or want to), or to learn how to grow them better.  Use our “search function” to answer your question–for example, type “repot African violet”, if this is what you need to know.  You’ll be directed to relevant information on this topic, or any other.  Our “plant care” pages contain much useful information, including “how to” lessons, and a FAQ (frequently asked questions) library.

If you’ve purchased a plant from us, and are having difficulties growing it, or simply need more information on its care, we can always be reached by email or phone during business hours.

Where to find us

Visit us–our shop and glasshouse are open to the public year-round.  Hours and directions can be found in the “about” pages.  We also attend (and sell at) a number of shows during the year, throughout the United States.  Dates of these upcoming events will be listed in the sidebar at right.

Keeping connected

Visit our “facebook” and “pinterest” pages (links found at page top).  Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, “VioletsFun”.  Join a society–we are longtime members for many plant societies and interest groups.  There is no better way to learn than to share your experiences with a fellow grower.  We offer incentives to join (a free plant with an AVSA membership) and encourage members to participate and exhibit (coupons for show winners).

Want to share your knowledge or experience growing African violets (or want to educate us)?  Many pages of this site allow comments.  We’ll post those that are relevant to the page being commented on.