Sweet Violets

Two bouquets of violets“It was winter in Manhattan, falling snowflakes filled the air,

The streets were covered with a film of ice,

But a little simple magic that I learned about somewhere,

Changed the weather all around, just within a thrice.

I bought you violets for your furs and it was spring for a while, remember?

I bought you violets for your furs and there was April in that December.”

Does anyone know of that song, written by Matt Dennis and Tom Adair?  It happened to be Frank Sinatra’s first hit after leaving the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/10/frank-sinatra-201010

Battenfeld tree FarmI’ve mentioned Battenfeld’s Tree Farm, Milan NY, in other posts.   Although I’ve bought bouquets of violets from them, what I didn’t know was they are the last bastion of a huge commercial violet growing industry centered on Rhinebeck NY in the late 19C and 20th C.

Tobe Carey

Tobe Carey

When I went there recently to buy violets to compete this post, Fred Battenfeld showed me a documentary called “Sweet Violets” which highlights the 60 establishments that grew violets under glass in 1903.  Some were huge operations with many glass houses but some were more Mom and Pop operations with one or two.

Battenfeld head houseBattenfeld’s farm was established in the 19C, diversifying into violets in 1903.  Violets were the number one flower in the US until WWII, when their popularity began to decline. Battenfeld continues to commercially sell violets but their flourishing anemone business is legendary.  Their anemones are really beautifully grown and last a long time in water, growing all the time as tulips do.

violets anemones wrapping upAt their glasshouses, you may catch the staff grading and packing.  When you buy violets, anemones and ranunculus (which they also grow) from the cooler, you get to play florist and wrap them up before depositing your money in the honesty box.

"Bouquet of Violets" Albrecht Durer15C German artist, Albrecht Durer’s “Bouquet of Violets” wins my vote for the most beautiful painting of violets ever!

"Bouquet of violets" by Eduouard ManetEduoard Manet’s also painted a “Bouquet of Violets”,1872, showing the bouquet with the fan – don’t you love the diagonal slash of the red which keeps the painting from becoming too sweet?  Manet also depicts the billet-doux enclosed with the violets.   He also painted his sister-in-law and fellow artist, Berthe Morisot, in a portrait called “Lady with Violets”.

Susan Detjens” Sweet Violets, Sweeter than the roses, Covered all over from head to toe, Covered all over with sweet violets……”.    The chorus of this song sounds sweet but the verses tell another story of double crossing lovers.  Sharp eyes will remember the bowl from a post a week ago ( see “Plastered”, Archives) when it was filled with Battenfeld anemones.  Now it embraces a vibrant purple cluster speaking of romance past.


About Susan

Susan Detjens is a former landscape painter, she lectures, demonstrates and runs workshops on floral design for museums, horticultural organizations and garden clubs across the US.
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3 Responses to Sweet Violets

  1. Julie Spear says:

    Dear Susan,
    What a treat to see your “Charleston bowl” filled with violets.
    Thank you for the treasure of your blog!

  2. Alexandra says:

    How happy this post is!! Especially since its bitter cold outside. Such a slpash of fun. Thanks!

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