African Violets

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
African violets are a common houseplant that thrive if cared for properly.

Submitted: September 18, 2016

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Submitted: September 18, 2016



Feeling her age, my mother asked me to take her to see old Mrs Dann who had been a friend for more years than either of them could remember. My oldest sister and Mrs Dann’s elder daughter were lifelong friends and Ray was my contemporary. Ray was a toughie and I well remember him as being a good ally in the British Bulldogs game. If you have never heard of the game, it is rough and tumble, nowadays disapproved of by ‘the softer’ in society. Sometimes the game is called Bullrush.

Mrs Dann was an expert African violet grower and she had us sitting, drinking cordial in her conservatory that was full of her favourite plants. I cannot recall the number of African violets I have bought mum over the years, all of which had died despite her best attention and care, so we were both interested to inspect Mrs Dann’s. She had plenty of examples of how she propagated them; a hole in cardboard covering a jar of water and a leaf with its stalk sitting in the water. Once roots were formed, she potted them up. Simple as that! The key was the conservatory, although always warm, it was in constant dappled shade. Mum always put her’s on a windowsill where they cooked during the day and chilled through the night.

A couple of years later I found myself in the Tanga region of Tanzania high up in the East Usambara Mountains and staying at what was called ‘The Rest House’ in the village of Amani. Nowadays access is better and the area is called The Amani Nature Reserve.

The area is tropical rainforest and it was my good fortune to twice spend time there.

During the occupation period of German East Africa, a huge area of the forest was managed for the production of timber and for research which included the planting of many exotic species being set out as trials. Funny, by that term, exotic, I mean introduced species from other countries. It seemed that since the British tossed the Germans out, the whole forest project had been pretty much abandoned.  Abandoned or not, forests when left alone, tend to thrive and I had the time of my life there following my passion.

I was aware that the original source if African violets came from East Africa and the forester at Lushoto had told me that I should visit Amani and look for some plants.

It so happened our mate was a passionate land snail collector and the vegetation beside the track we were driving along parted, revealing a stream. So we stopped because it was a likely place to find some examples of snails, and I took the opportunity to clamber down the bank onto the stream bed to look at some lianas I spotted that were in flower. I nearly stood on an African violet plant! It was growing there among the stones on the stream bed! Mrs Dann had created a similar environment in her conservatory. There were five plants, two of them in flower! I think the actual location is supposed to be secret, and I haven’t revealed it!

The experience was special for me.

But if you are ever interested in maths and random selection or chance events, try to work out the chances of this: Three years later, one my colleagues brought his visiting sister and her husband to one of our social gatherings at Ilboru, Tanzania. I shook the man’s hand and his eyes twinkled and teeth shone from out of a bushy unkempt beard. Mags was talking to him a little later and called me over, saying that he went to the same primary school as me! His name was Murray, but how could I recognise him with his bushy beard? Maybe the surname? Dann – he isthe middle kid of the Dann family!

Yes we had travelled around the world to meet up after almost  a lifetime! While we had never been friends, because of our age groups, we certainly knew each other ‘from the good old days’.

I told him about the African violets, but he didn’t share the interest.

I was happy because somehow sharing with him tied things up for me – in a personal sort of way.

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