If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ll likely know that I’ve recently acquired a new puppy. Here is Violet, my French Bulldog little girl! She will be my flower muse, and I’m going to make her pose for pictures with pretty flowers (I know, the poor dog). Well, she’s got to earn her keep around here somehow! And since the February flower is the Violet, it’s fitting I share her first photo shoot with you here–
Ok! Now on to business about the Violet (flower)!
There is no other flower in existence that smells as sweet and quaint as the Violet. The violoa odora, or Sweet Violet, with it’s pretty, petite bloom has packed centuries of love and adoration behind it. In 18th century France, the Empress Josephine’s fondness of their distinctive heart shaped leaves drove it’s popularity up for many years after. Violet was Empress Josephine’s favorite scent, and the violet plays an important role in the love affair between the two. Every year on their anniversary, Napolean sent her a bouquet of violets. And when Josephine died, Napoleon returned from exile picked a posy of violets to lay on her grave. Upon his deathbed, a locket was found about his neck – it contained a portrait of his beloved Josephine, a lock of her hair and dried violet petals.
In the garden, the viola odora is making a comeback. But with all the hybrids available now it can be a challenge to determine if you’re buying a violet or a pansy. There is a distinct difference between the actual Viola odora and the newer hybrids, which I believe are more characteristic of the Pansy. Even though the Violet and Pansy are essentially the same plant genre, there is a difference. The aroma from a Violet is so soft, sweet, and almost candy-like, but sometimes can be earthy with a bit of powder to it. Pansies do not have a fragrance at all, and in fact the new hybrid violets sadly do not either. The violet bloom is distinguished by it’s petals and how they are arranged on the calyx. A violet will have two petals turned upward, and three pointing downward. A pansy will have the opposite, three petals up, and two downward. Also, Pansies are usually have more vivid markings on the petals. A Violet’s markings are a little more obscure and subtle if any at all. The true violet also has very distinct heart-shaped leaves, as you’ll see in the photo below;
For centuries, perfumers have captured the pure essence oil of the Viola Odora. Since the flowers are petite, it is very laborious to extract the essential oils and pure fragrance from such a tiny bloom. It takes a two acre field of blooms to make a few inconspicuous drops of fragrance. For that reason, Violet fragranced bath and beauty products have fallen out of popularity in the past 70 years or so. But while I was doing some research for my book, I stumbled across Angela Flanders London, a perfumer who has captured the sweet fragrance of the violet in her perfume ‘Josephine’. I would love to get my hands on that (hint to my husband here, as Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!), as I am sure it’s quite lovely.
Traditionally, it was the Valentine flower, and represents sweetness, modesty, and faithfulness in the language of flowers. And to me, it wouldn’t be appropriate to post about the Violet without a mention and honorable nod to The Garibaldi Family. The Garibaldi family are known as the last great American Violet Growers. I remember the last time I bought the Violets from Don Garbaldi, at Ano Nuevo Flower Growers, right up the Hwy 1 near Pescadero. I could not believe how beautiful and sweet these Violet nosegays were! They came in nosegays first of all! And wrapped in bright green violet leaves. Oh they were just magical! We set them out for Valentine’s Day in 2015, but unfortunately they didn’t sell well, so we never brought them back in. Sadly, I don’t know if we can still get them since Ano Nuevo changed owners from Garibaldi. I’ll have to investigate! So, if they’re still available, I’ll get some, so be sure to stop by and grab a nosegay so we can continue to foster the comeback of the great American Violet.