African violets

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

Who among us didn't have mothers and grandmothers who collected African violets when we were growing up? Mine sure did, by the dozens, on plant stands, in the window sills, soaking up diffuse sunlight and blooming like crazy. Mom grows them to this day, and they do spectacularly well in her dining room and kitchen. Me? I've killed more than I can count. But after reporting a story on African violets for this Friday's paper, I'm feeling more confident. Like anything else, growing violets requires some thought. You can't just stick them anywhere and water at will. They like a certain kind of light - filtered - for 12 to 14 hours a day, and they like the air warm and humid. Maybe it's the Arctic winter temperatures in my drafty old house that've done mine in. Maybe it's overwatering, which Frank and Dee Tinari, of the famed Tinari Greenhouses in Huntingdon Valley, say is the number one reason violets die. This photos shows one of a couple thousand violets growing in one of the Tinari greenhouses. (Used to be 200,000 back in the day!) Perhaps you remember Tinari violets from the Philadelphia Flower Show. Frank says the family sold there for more than 35 years, till 1996. The booth had four sides and 10 employees selling at a clip. Remember the crowds? I do. The Tinaris no longer sell at the flower show and they've scaled back dramatically due to the high cost of heating the greenhouses, cheap competition in the big boxes and the drop in moms and grandmoms who're interested in specialty violets. So they're no longer on the cutting edge. They're still here. And so are violets, which have a fascinating history and remain the most popular blooming house plant in America. Wait till you see some of the splashy new varieties on the market in Friday's paper. Wow! It's enough to persuade me to try again.