When I got married about two years ago, I racked my brain to come up with a good party favor that would be meaningful to my husband and me, as well as be something the guests could keep for a long time to come. While monogrammed napkins and bubbles are nice, they didnít really speak to me or about me. I needed something relatively cheap since I was going to have 150 guests and something that I could personally make. After much consideration and research, I ended up deciding to use both my gardening and creative gifts, to come up with my perfect party favor: home-propagated African Violets in hand-made clay pots. The following is a short tale of my journey to matrimonial insanity and back.
Starting my small farm
Not yet overwhelmed by my undertaking, I set out to gather enough African Violets for 150 guests as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Sticking to my thrifty roots, I started in the places I knew best: the "save me" shelf at big box stores, my wonderful Dave's Garden friends, and my knowledge of propagation.
I started at big box stores, which have a penchant for not watering or completely overwatering African Violets to their death. Often times I could find AV's in not-too-bad-a-shape for just a dollar. I would immediately take them home, strip off two or three outer layers of leaves and begin to propagate them. It truly didn't matter what shape the plants were in, I was just looking for maximum number of leaves. I set up an inherited 55 gallon aquarium as a terrarium with all my new propagates.
I also went over to the African Violets and Gesneriads forum on Dave's Garden, mainly to boast of my undertaking and to gain some insight on how insane I really was in threads such as "Am I crazy?" and "Propagation diary of Insanobride." Along with camaraderie, I found supportive friends who sent me countless African Violet leaves and babies to propagate and care for. During this journey, I learned a lot about how African Violets, patience, and generosity.
During this process, I also discovered the wonderful world of miniature African Violets. Their small stature was perfect for my petite giveaways. Miniatures' leaves are just as easy if not easier to propagate than standard AVs.
Luckily I started this process about 11 months in advance, because growing African Violets from leaf starts is not a quick process. I had many successes and many, many set backs on my quest. I would have a busy week, forget to the check the humidity in the terrarium and lose half of my leaves. Several shriveled for unknown reasons, and at least one time my tower of precariously rigged shelves fell down, creating a mess of leaves and potting soil everywhere.
In the end, I wound up with enough violets that I could toss the really sad looking ones and keep a few named varieties for myself.
Producing 150 containers
Once I began my small African Violet farm, I had to find an economical way to present the plantlets. Small terra cotta pots in bulk can cost upwards of $2 a piece, which would push my budget over the limit. I had to think of something else.
At the time I was studying to be an art teacher with an emphasis in Ceramics. I just happened to have 24-hour access to a potter's wheel at school. As a senior, I didn't have much extra time, but I did have a bee in my bonnet about this new project. I finally settled on the ludicrous idea to throw the 150 pots I needed on a potter's wheel. This plan included throwing, trimming, cutting drainage holes and glazing all 150 vessels.
Burning the midnight oil many weekend nights, I began to make headway. I would generally throw 10-15 pots per sitting. Each pot was no larger that 4" diameter. Sometimes friends would sit at the wheel next to me and contribute a pot to my cause and chat with me. What could be better? That's when I knew I made the right decision in tackling this project.
After each pot was fired once, glazing became a mindless, relaxing activity. I would move stacks and stacks of pots to the solitary glaze room and dip them each in different glaze buckets for hours. Each pot was a slightly different shape, with a slightly different color. No two pots looked alike. Any stress I had about the wedding disappeared into finishing this relaxing task.
I decided to raku many of the pots. Raku is an ancient art of heating glazed clay to about 1900 degrees, then removing it from the kiln mid-fire and placing it into a newspaper or hay bed. The combustible material explodes into flames and creates a wonderfully varied glaze surface on the pot. It is a much more immediate process than traditional kiln firing. Traditional firing in a kiln can take up to 2 days, while raku can be as fast as 5 hours. This process is hot and arduous, especially in the summer in Texas but it added such character to the varied nature of my vessel collection.
Making it personal
Once I had my propagation and container producing processes underway, I had to figure out how to make them more personal to my wedding. I ended up making a card (shown above) to stick in the potting soil of each favor with a willow branch.
On the outside of the card I stamped an organic looking wildflower image. I stamped the date of our wedding beneath with a date stamp. On the inside I photo copied different quotes that my husband and I liked. One of which was by John Lennon:
"Love is the answer, and you know that for sure; Love is a flower, you've got to let it grow."
I then attached these cards to bamboo sticks and placed one in each violet pot.
Probably the most comical part of the story is that I did all this propagation about 10 hours from where I was to be married...which means I took this show on the road! A large roll of saran wrap, a very large cage with my two big dogs in the back, and lots of prayers got all of my pots, plants and me to Houston in time and in one piece for the wedding.
My venture was both fulfilling and successful. I heard so many compliments the night of our wedding. People thought they were personal and beautiful, which is all I wanted. For about 6 months after the wedding, my friends were sure to tell me if they still had their African Violet alive. I started hearing it less often and the crowing has died down considerably, I imagine most of my carefully grown plants are now dead. It doesn't bother me though because if nothing else, I got everyone I know and love to try gardening at least once and had a wonderful experience doing so. Maybe for our 5 year anniversary I will send out 'Micro-Tom' seeds as a nice gesture. I hear these miniature tomatoes can grow in a 4 inch pot!
About Susanne Talbert
I garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite.
My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.