The violets we grow are varieties of Viola odorata. There is ever an increasing love of the violet, and it seems that the last three or four years the quantity grown and sold is enormous. Violets are rather a precarious crop here; if you fail you fail entirely. In milder climates where only the protection of a coldframe is needed there is not so much fear of failure. South of Baltimore violets are grown in coldframes and covered with mats in cold weather. That would not do for us, although with careful attention you can have a lot in the coldframes that will give you flowers sometimes till Christmas, and again in April, and for later they are better than those grown all winter inside.
A House of Violets.
Prof. B. T. Galloway, of Washington, D. C., in his grand little book, "Commercial Violet Culture," gives us a list of desirable double and single varieties. We can remember when the old Neapolitan was the only double grown, now difficult to find. We also well remember the advent of the beautiful Marie Louise, and what a sensation it caused among the florists. This variety has been grown in Europe for seventy years, but did not find its way across the Atlantic till 1871. And we think it was due to the large size and the beautiful color of the Marie Louise, greatly increasing the demand for the sweet flowers, that was the incentive for many men going extensively into the precarious business of violet culture.
Lady Hume Campbell is undoubtedly a distinct variety, but Mr. Galloway considers Farquhar and Imperial as merely vigorous strains of Marie Louise. In the great violet growing region of the Hudson river, it is Marie Louise, or one of its selected forms, that are exclusively grown.
Of single violets the best all-round variety is Princess of Wales. It is worth noting that some three years ago it appeared as if the single violet would be grown in larger quantities than any of the doubles. You may say, they were slightly the fad. It passed away. They are now little asked for, and popular favor has returned to the lovely Marie Louise.
In the days of the old Neapolitan structures were built for violets, often a lean-to on the south side of larger houses. It was a gymnastic feat to gain access to them, not to mention working in them. These awkward, cramped quarters were provided because it was thought most necessary for the plant to be near the glass, and so frail are we all that if one man was successful with one of these little houses a hundred followed suit. Then sash houses were built because it was thought a great advantage to be able to remove the sashes in the summer months to avoid the heat of the glass and give the plants full benefit of light and air; there are some advantages in such houses. But gradually the specialists began to grow them under a fixed roof, as the great majority are now grown. We have passed through and been a victim of almost all these evolutions.
About seven years ago we built especially for violets what we still think a good house with one important exception. The house is 20x125. The side posts are two feet six inches above the ground to the plate, even-span, running north and south. This gives two side benches of four feet each with two paths eighteen inches each, and a 7-foot center bed. From nineteen to twenty-four feet will do. It will only mean difference of width of benches. I am sure this is a better house than one of ten or twelve feet, from the simple fact that, in proportion to the plants it will hold or the bench room afforded, the larger house is cheaper to build and easier to heat. I put the hot water pipes properly on the side walls, a foot above the plants.
The exception I alluded to above was the absence of ventilation in the side walls. That was a big mistake. I had a lingering belief that the glass in the roof should be removed, and as it was butted glass we removed the glass at every third bar for a distance of six feet up the roof. This was ventilation, but it also let in the rain when it was not needed. If I were to build again I should make the walls three feet high, of double boards (no need of glass), and continuous ventilation of not less than a foot deep. The ventilators would be above, not level with the surface of the beds. There would also be continuous ventilation at the ridge. I put two 2x12-inch planks against the side posts and the same for each side of the paths, then I excavated the paths a foot, throwing the soil into the bottom of the beds. This left the bottom of the paths and height of the beds very convenient.
A house twenty feet wide should have five runs of 2-inch pipe on each wall, two flows and three returns. If you had the boiler power to make these pipes good and hot it may be a little in excess of what is needed, but it is better to have the five pipes moderately heated than three pipes almost the temperature of steam. I have seen excellent violets grown in almost every style of house, on benches in six inches of soil and on solid beds in a north lean-to house where scarcely a ray of direct sunlight reached them from November till March; they were forty feet from the glass, growing as compact and healthy as if only forty inches from the roof, and many other variations. They were new, clean houses and new, vigorous stock; that had much more to do with success than the style of the house or the skill of the grower. Yet of course it is most desirable that we should have houses where the most favorable conditions can be maintained. For several years the house i have described above grew good violets, and if there was not continuous success it was the fault of the management and not the house.