A Random Post About Violets.

Primroses and violets on Gigha

I've had violets on my mind for the past few weeks, and I blame Stella Gibbons for reminding me about them. I'm slowly but surely working my way through all of her superb (but largely unsung) novels, written after her youthful success with Cold Comfort Farm. If you love Barbara Pym as much as I do, you'll appreciate Stella Gibbons - perhaps even more. She's also as observant (and occasionally acid) as Austen, her work can be lyrical, and often surprising. It involves the female experience (yay!) it covers a period which from a present day perspective is historical and therefore very interesting, but without the preoccupations of so many male novelists of the time. Instead, she tells us a great deal about what ordinary life, especially for women, was like. She has been undeservedly neglected - but that's a post for a later date.

Back to the violets!

I was reading one of her novels set in Cornwall - The Weather at Tregulla, first published in 1962. I can recommend it. It's essentially a coming of age tale . The protagonist lives (unhappily) on a 'violet farm' in Cornwall. Which got me wondering, are there still such farms? A quick online search reveals farms with 'violet' in the name, but whether they still grow violets I'm not sure.

Now, I've moved on to an even more strange and brilliant novel called Starlight, set in 1960s London and - here we are again.A rather self conscious young curate always buys himself (much against his better judgement because he thinks it frivolous) a bunch of violets in the spring. Gibbons seems to have been fond of these flowers.

That reference to a bunch of violets, encountered late last night, when I was reading on my Kindle,  brought several memories crowding into my mind. One was of little posies of sweet violets on sale in Leeds market, during my childhood. My mum was fond of them, and my dad would buy them for her. Sometimes he would vary it with mimosa. Another disappearing flower. Eliza Doolittle would have sold them too, but who sees them now?

Then I was reminded of buying myself a bunch of sweetly scented violets from a street flower vendor when I was teaching English conversation at Wroclaw University, back in the 1970s. I put them in a glass beside my bed and woke in the morning to find a little trail of red ants (Pharoah's ants they are called in Poland, I believe) leading to and from the violets. I left them to it. By then, I'd got used to them, knew their ways, and as long as I didn't leave any sugar on my kitchen surfaces they didn't bother me. They liked the violets as much as I did. Me, Stella Gibbons and the ants.

It suddenly struck me that I haven't seen violets on sale for YEARS. Decades in fact. They still grow in the woodlands near this village although not as profusely as on the Isle of Gigha, where I was enchanted by carpets of primroses and violets when we visited one year in May.

Given my love of vintage perfumes, I hunted for a true violet scent. I have a bottle of Paco Rabanne's Ultraviolet, and I like it very much, but it's an acquired taste, and the actual violet scent doesn't quite have the freshness of the real thing. Violet essential oil is nice, and Lidl (somewhat unexpectedly) do a lovely delicately scented reed diffuser called Lush Meadow, where a gentle violet scent predominates. 

It made me realise that the flower offering in our stores is very limited these days. It's probably different in high end florists, but I haven't been in one of those for a long time. There are lots of roses, rather boring carnations in bud, alstroemeria which I dislike, for some reason, lilies which I love, and buy for their longevity, mixing them with flowers from the garden, daffodils and tulips in season but even they are not what they once were, in terms of size and variety. This year, I couldn't find a scented paperwhite narcissus anywhere. Is this yet another dubious 'Brexit benefit' I wonder? I had planted bulbs and even they didn't flower at all. 

But what I really want - even though the season is now past - is a fat little bunch of sweet violets with the flowers nestling among those glossy green leaves. I've planted some in the garden. Maybe next year ...

Nice to have the memory though! 


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