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Including Violettes, leur origins, leurs cultures by Armand Millet.

Translated and annotated by E. J. Perfect Park Farm Press,
Glenwood, Park Farm Road, High Wycombe, HP12 4AF (UK)1996 ISBN 0 9527998 0 4

Reviewed by Annebelle Rice

            It was a bit daunting for me, as a novice in the world of violets, to be assigned the review of E.J. Perfect's Armand Millet and his Violets. My knowledge of violets has come from a three- year enterprise growing plants for the trade and reading all I can find on their cultivation and history. However, all trepidation was allayed as I perused the book. The biography of Millet, which prefaces the translation, albeit with several conjectures, gives us an entre into the world of 19th century French violet growing. The photographs and records, which Mr. Perfect has included, only create in us a longing to be able to see more.

            Mr. Perfect has done violet enthusiasts a great service by providing a biography of Millet. He has captured the essence of this man - his life, his family, his work. Millet's enthusiasm and perseverance with this little flower, shows us the contribution, which father, son and grandson have made to violet history. His book Violets - their origins and cultivation is a personal history of the violet industry in France. We can sympathize with Millet, when in 1892 he presents seedlings at a meeting of the Horticultural Society, when in 1892 he presents seedlings at a meeting of the Horticulture Society, only to find identical plants had been presented two weeks earlier by another --- as 'Princess of Wales'!

            Millet was only we years old in 1868 when he was taken into his father's firm. Unfortunately, two years later the Germans occupied the area of Bourg-la Reine during the siege of Paris. Following this, there was the necessary rebuilding of the soil, and the recovery of the area from the occupation and consequent looting by the enemy. Despite this, Millet began to exhibit at horticultural shows every year with his vegetables, fruits and flowers.

            In 1879 Millet won first class awards for this first showing of violets 'Brune de Bourg-la-reine' and 'Souvenir de Millet Pere.' His growing and showing consisted of strawberries, dahlias, and violets, which brought him much acclaim and he exhibited in England, the U.S. (St. Louis International Exhibition, 1904), Milan, Turin as well as other countries. He contributed to the French National Horticultural Society, as a writer, by serving on committees and winning many awards.

            His family life was filed with many joys and sorrows which you share with him as you read his biography and know that through it all he has devoted to the violet, its cultivation, exhibition and perfection.

            I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in violets It is a fine translation and Mr. Perfect has provided Translator Notes which serve to elucidate and enhance the translation. He also includes lists of violets raised or introduced by the Millet family, violets listed in Millet's catalogue (1932-1933). There is also a chapter on "Tree Violets," with appendices including articles in Le Journal de la Societe Nationale d'Horticulture de France. There is also a bibliography of the writings by Armand Millet, including brief notes. The book concludes with a Bibliography and extensive Index.

Note 1: Violets were sold in bunches in the markets of Paris from around the beginning of the 19th century. They had been deliberately planted in "beds" from 1750 with the intention of growing them for sale. Before this, they had been gathered in the woods surrounding Paris for herbal medicines, for drying and for making pomades and other uses. It was during the middle of the 18th century that "commercial" growers around Paris realized that money could be made from violets, and between 1750 and 1780 the wild violets were grown commercially and selections made from them. These were known as 'quatre saisons' (four seasons) violets. There were selected for their different colors amongst other things. The town of Vincennes, Charenne, Bagnolet, Saint-Cloud, and Massy Palaseou were involved in this early flower production, with the main center at Fresnes les Rungis, and this later moved to the south of Paris to what is today regarded as the traditional home of the violet, namely Chatenay, Bourg la Reine and Fontenay aux Roses. It would be some years before other violets upstaged the 'Quatre Saisons' at the markets, though it should also be noted that in the South of France, early forms of the Parma violet were already being grown.

Annebelle Rice 1998
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