Monday, 7 April 2014

"Be like the sweet violet - humble, modest and pure..."


Britta Huegel

In the 'language of flowers' or floriography, which especially the Victorian Ladies stylised as an art, (who could resist a tussie-mussie, a 'talking bouquet'?), the little violet meant "Hidden love makes happy" or "Nothing is so sweet as secret love." (Now, if you read my last post on berlinletters, you might ask yourself why I am running after the scent through tout Berlin - but No!)
Having managed a big garden for a long time, I was always sceptic reading about "the modest violet". In my garden they behaved quite immodest and unhumble, acting like those tiny little helpless women some men so easily fall for... (a convincing exemplary you find in the hilarious book "Mrs.Fytton's Country Life" by Mavis Cheek) :

Which perhaps, (...) was her (Angela Fytton's) second big mistake. 
For just at that precise moment, in a small, smart restaurant at 's-Gravenhage, a pretty little woman, attending a conference on Europe and dentistry, and wearing too-high heels, slipped and fell at the feet of a tall golden-haired man, who bent to help her up and who insisted (as she brushed the pretty little tears from her eyes, and shook her pretty little curls into place, and whose dainty vulnerability was written all over her round little figure and quivering little mouth, and who kept drawing her skirt hem above her sweetly roundes knee and rubbing it to show that she was being brave), who absolutely insisted, that she should join him and his colleague, David, at their table and have a drink until she was calm again. Which same David it was who wrinkled and nudged him and said, much later, 'What's The Harm?' 
Blue skies, on the whole, are never to be trusted further than you can see them.  

Violets neither.
They are worshippers of Kleistogan = "Secret marriage" - (the new model for the militant single?) -  meaning autogamy. (What a sacrifice of fun!) Violets use a sort of catapult to throw their seeds far, and they add flesh to each seed, which ants are wild about, thus shlepping them to all places.
Violets helped poor ugly Vulcanus, son of Jupiter: when Venus didn't want to answer his courtship, he garlanded himself with violets - and she surrendered. (I think it couldn't have been only the violets - maybe he was a Bel Laid, or had some animal-like charme...) In Renaissance it was part of the Christian canon, modesty, but also the wish that Christendom might spread like the violets, see as above... In 19th century (and these insights I owe to the marvellous book 'Symbolik der Pflanzen' by Marianne Beuchert), the followers of Napoleon wore violets - and he swore to be back from Elba when the violets would start to flower. As you know, Joséphine de Beauharnais threw a bouquet of violets at the young general Napoleon the first evening they met...
There are 400 different breeds of violets, and many of them have a beautiful fragrance (but each sort a different one - so you could not mistake the 'Königin Charlotte' (which grows on my balcony) with 'Viola Jooi'.
And another cliché has to be killed: violets don't prefer 'dark and moist' habitats - they thrive in sun and light!
Our powerfully eloquent breeder of herbaceous perennials, Karl Foerster (1874-1970), remarked: "Spring gardens without sweet violets are ridiculous, but very common", and thundered: "Throw out of your sunny garden corner the heinous common snowberry and thuja occidentalis!" - though not many listened over the years, I think. Most people prefer a thuja, praised as "tree of life" (boring forever) over three weeks (a year!) of real ecstasy - of "waves of cool, warm and hot fragrances of violets", promised by Karl.
If you plant them right - in drifts.

4 comments:

  1. Dear Britta, you are a veritable whirlpool of wonderful information and I love reading your posts. The violet is indeed such a graceful flower. I may have told you about a wonderful man I worked for in Paris who took a small bunch of violets tied with a very fine ribbon to give to all his female dinner dates. I have spent years trying to eradicate them from the garden but now I happily coexist with them for their charm is undeniable.
    Happy egg weekend Britta!

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    1. Dear Paul, thank you! Such a charming idea with the violet bunch - see it before me! You met very interesting people - sounds like the possibility of writing wonderful memoirs to me. (I just read a novel "The Language of Flowers" - it started very promising, but halfway it changed. Your memoirs would be brilliant throughout, I'm sure).

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  2. Oh, I am in the process of stalking many perfumes from Serge Lutens collection. Have you encountered them?

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    1. I will have to try them - love his scents very much. Though I now found out that 'too much of a good thing' in the case of violets - not otherwise! - is too much for me: I found Penhaligon's "Violetta" - nice, but not urban enough for me. But Serge L. will create a very special mixture, I am sure of that.

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