Behind the Scenes – “Our African Violet Heritage”

I was one of the speakers at the 2020 AVSA Virtual Convention event. My presentation was called “African Violets 101 – Wait! It’s NOT Just for Beginners!” If you haven’t seen it yet, you can view it at that link. It’s about 22 minutes long, so a little shorter than the average podcast here at All About African Violets.

In addition to some basics, my presentation gave some history about African violets, and I talked about the Tinaris – Anne and Frank – who were instrumental in and at the forefront of African violets in the United States. I referenced a book that Anne Tinari wrote, and shared a story from it. Since I’ve had some questions about it, I thought it would make a good Behind the Scenes post :-)

When I was a relatively new grower, Anne Tinari was still alive (she passed in 2008 at the age of 95). She had written a book about her experiences in the world of African violets, called: Our African Violet Heritage. It was published in 1975, and in 2003, the only place to get a copy of it was directly from Anne herself. The Tinari Greenhouses were still open in 2003 so others more knowledgeable than I at that time said I should ring her to get a copy of her book. So, being me, I did!

She answered the phone herself (!) and we proceeded to have an absolutely amazing and wonderful, if brief, conversation. I was so excited to be actually talking to Anne Tinari!! (Yes, I was a FanGirl ;-D) I sent her a check (people still wrote checks in 2003 :-D) and shortly thereafter, this arrived in the mail.

Photo of Anne Tinari's Book and Pen
Photo of Anne Tinari’s Book and Pen

The pen was just something that Ann threw in for me. It still writes, AND it’s refillable, so I will always have it :-) I treasure it as much as I treasure her book. I recall that I didn’t ask her to autograph the book for me. I could have kicked myself! But she must have known, because just inside I found the following . . .

Inscription in Annie's copy of Anne Tinari's Book
Inscription in Annie’s copy of Anne Tinari’s Book

I most definitely have gleaned great joy in the decades I’ve been growing African violets, and I’ve been very, very lucky to have learned form some of the AVSA’s best teachers over the years – names that you would readily recognize, as well as local growers in SoCal when I was just learning – all people who went out of their way to teach and guide me. I had such a thirst for knowledge! I’ve had many more books than these over the years (most of which now reside with my friend, Joyce Stork), but these are the ones that been really meaningful for me in some regard. Some are still readily available, mainly from the AVSA, but most of them are now long out of print and must be sourced used.

11 of Annie's African Violet books
11 of Annie’s African Violet books

My best advice to you with regard to books is: Buy It When You See It. The African violet world is a niche market. Most of these books never received major distribution. Some I purchased, some were gifted to me. So, if you think you’re going to want a book that you see at convention or run across in a bookstore, pick it up – because you might not see it again.

I wish I had met Anne in person, but I am happy to have her book and pen, as well as the memory of our conversation. Her book is written in a very conversational style and I go back to it from time to time to get a glimpse of the past. I have always loved Frank Tinari’s hybrids and there’s usually at least one on my stands at any given time (and I keep my eye for them in the sales room at convention). Currently, it’s Wisteria. It’s tried and true for me – it really likes my growing conditions here in Chicagoland, because it pretty much just grows itself.

Frank Tinari Hybrid, Wisteria on Annie's Stand
Frank Tinari Hybrid, Wisteria on Annie’s Stand

Another thing I mentioned in the presentation was something called Fredette’s Allegro Plant Tonic, which smelled awful but worked great :-D The bottle I have is probably 20+ years old, but it still seems to be OK (although I haven’t used it in some time . . . ;-D).

A bottle of Fredette's Allegro Plant Tonic
A bottle of Fredette’s Allegro Plant Tonic

I was asked if it’s still available, but I do not believe it’s commercially available any longer because I haven’t seen it since the early 2000s when I was still living in SoCal. But this is the bottle. It still smells awful. :-D

I was consumed by a thirst for knowledge when I first started growing African violets and I was in the right place at the right time to meet so many great teachers. It’s my hope that I’m passing on some of that knowledge to you all through the podcast and this website.

Good Growing! :-)

p.s. If you would like a closer look at the Years of Tradition slide from my presentation – here you go!

Years of Tradition
Years of Tradition