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© 2000 All Rights Reserved.

Volume 2, Number 2
Spring 2001
On line Version


A Memory Quilt of Violets
By  Sharon Lovejoy.

      Sharon Lovejoy, is the author and illustrator of Sunflower Houses-Inspiration from the Garden (Workman, 2001), Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots (Workman, 1999), and Hollyhock Days: Garden Adventures for the Young at Heart (Interweave Press, 1994) and a Contributing Editor for Country Living GARDENER magazine. She welcomes correspondence at .

            The gentle rains of spring awaken the green blankets of violets that skirt the pathway in my old-fashioned California garden. The violets, which are like dear, adopted children to me, flourish under the dappled shade of ancient oak trees, and form thick, cushioned mats starred with blooms.

             None of my violets were purchased at a nursery; all were shared by friends and family who treasured and passed them along to me in the hopes that I would one day pass them along to another. Now my walks through the gardens are like a visit with those old friends and family especially my Grandmother, who raised me as lovingly as she raised her treasured violets.

             Grandmother's garden brimmed with the flowers of her Quaker childhood. Hollyhocks, pinks, iris, dahlias, roses, poppies, and scores of other plants shouldered together companionably. Below these old time favorites were the violets, which seemed to cover every inch of her fertile soil.

             Early in the mornings, we knelt along the borders and bent closely to sample the sweet, ephemeral scents of the violets. Often we picked small handfuls of the blossoms and made what Grandmother called "heartsease bouquets" to place in small glass vases throughout her cottage. For special occasions, we made tidy little tussies of violets, which could be pinned to clothing, tied with thin, purple satin ribbon, and shared with some of our elderly neighbors.


May Day Morning

Oh, let's leave a basket of flowers today
For the little old lady who lives down our way!
We'll heap it with violets white and blue,
With Jack-in-the-pulpit and Wildflowers too.

Virginia Scott Mike


             No traditional May Day celebration was complete without our handmade paper cones filled with ferns, Johnny-Jump-Ups, box leaves, and violets. I was the lucky girl who delivered the May Day gifts to the loneliest people in the neighborhood, the shut-ins who were cut off from the rest of the world. We filled all our cones on the last day of April, then early May Day morning Grandmother and I walked from porch to porch with our gifts. I was so thrilled to leave those beautiful offerings on the doorknobs, and I wonder now why more parents donıt cultivate this joyous tradition..


The Origin of Violets

I know, blue modest violets,
Gleaming with dew at morn-
I know the place you come from
And the way that you are born!

When God cut holes in Heaven,
The holes the stars look through,
He let the scraps fall down to earth,-
The little scraps are you.



Remembrance of Things Past 

            I was the youngest member in a group of gardeners called "Georgie's Girls." We ranged in age from 42 to nearly 90 years, and our founder, my dear friend Georgia Van Kamp, often invited us all to her home to visit her "secret garden."

            As we toured her gardens one warm, spring day, we reminisced about the plants we had loved as children. My friend Millie Baker Stanley, who grew up in Ohio in the early 1900ıs, spoke about how she loved the violets that seemed to insinuate their way into every crevice and nook of her garden. ³I treasured every little bloom,² she said, ³But, my husband Thomas, who grew up in Shelbyville, Kentucky, actually fought battles with them.².



           That day I visited with Thomas, who laughingly, though he seemed a bit ashamed, told me that he and his friends all fought violet-tug-of-wars. Thomas said that they would go out to the woods and pick a bunch of violets. "You know that little hook they have on them where the petals are? Well, we would try to hook each other and see who could snag a violet head and rip it off," he said. Whoever amassed the most violet heads was the winner of the violet tournament. Millie shook her head, "Boys will be boys," she said, "But can you imagine destroying anything as perfect as a violet?"
I later learned, during years of researching floral traditions and lore, that Thomas was not the only young boy to battle with blossoms. This flower warfare was typical play for children of many countries and through many centuries.

Violet Crowns 

             One spring day as I worked in my village garden, an elderly friend, Millicent Truax Heath, stopped to visit. As I weeded, she talked quietly with me, and picked up pieces of clover and sprigs of pink, lavender, and deep purple violets. I watched as she bent her silvered head over the bouquet, tugged out long strands, and began to weave an intricate braid of clover from the stems. Millie told me that it was her Aunt Sarah Truax who first introduced her to the beauties and simple pleasures of nature. Millie glanced up from her work and smiled, then deftly finished the braid and tied it into a neat crown ."Our jewels were the flowers in the fields and gardens," Millie said as she studded the crown with a constellation of violets. "We also made necklaces, bracelets, and rings," she added as she reached up and snugged the crown onto my hair.

More Violets for my Garden 

             When I first met Ruth Scovell, I thought that she had somehow managed to capture sunlight in her sudden, flashing smile. She was a visitor to my garden and came bearing a dazzling bouquet of daffodils, a large box of soil, and scraggly violet plants pulled from her family's homestead gardens.  "Just prepare your ground and TOSS them where you want them to grow," she said as she passed me the heavy box. "These have grown in our gardens for longer than I can remember."

             I followed Ruth's directions (though my toss was well-aimed and the plants were always properly settled into the soil), watered the new arrivals, and patted them into place. Within weeks the violets looked as though they had always grown under the plum and pear trees, and dozens of shining, white Viola blandas, which looked like unexpected snowflakes, bloomed for months.

             Most of the people who shared both plants and violet traditions with me are gone now. But each spring, when the violets delight me with their blooms, my friends and family seem quietly nearby. And, every year I share the old stock of violets, stories, crafts, traditions, and poems with other gardeners so the long chain of flower traditions will take root and bloom in uncountable seasons to come.

© 2001 Sharon Lovejoy
For The American Violet Society
All Rights Reserved


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