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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.