Ruby Bayan is a freelance writer who likes to share her simple joys.

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African Violets
by Ruby Bayan

What will it be? Glacier White's pristine white blossoms? Venetian Lace's curly two-tone clusters? Ceremonial Dance's blood-red blooms? Or Patriot's purple velvet flowers? These are just a few of hundreds of varieties of African Violets that have been the favorite indoor blooming plants in many parts of the world.

African violets, also known as "gesneriads", are not only very attractive, they are relatively hardy and easy to care for, making them an ideal houseplant or office space accent.

Most of the African Violet varieties thrive in temperatures of 60-80 degrees F -- the same room temperature range we all have in our homes and offices. They are happy with indirect lighting (sitting in window sills facing east or north) or indoor illumination (basking under regular fluorescent lights).

The best soil mixture for violets is one with good drainage -- gesneriads don't like being soaked. And that is why the ideal watering method is from the bottom up. Another reason for this method is the leaves and flowers do not particularly like getting wet -- the drops of water heat up when sunlight strikes them, which "burns" the leaves easily. Watering, therefore, should only be done when about half an inch of the top soil is dry to the touch.

In terms of fertilizing, African Violet formulas are widely available because of the plant's growing popularity with houseplant enthusiasts. Feeding fertilizers is usually done every two weeks.

African Violets are best grown in small pots, mainly because they bloom when they are "root-bound". Miniature varieties can display beautiful flowers while growing in dainty, 2-inch containers.

Plants should be repotted, though, at least every six months, when roots have started to come out of the hole at the bottom of the container. The new pot must be the same size or just about a couple of inches bigger. Repotting into fresh soil is also an opportunity to brush off the harmful salt deposits that eventually cling to the top soil.

Different varieties of African Violets can be purchased from local garden centers, but for an awesome display that is guaranteed to hook plant-lovers on gesneriads for life, an African Violets Show is the event to see.

Then it will even be harder to choose whether it's the indigo Antique Bliss, the pinkish white Texas Space Dust, or the little navy Pixie Blue -- or all of the above!

[Note: This was the "test article" I submitted to when they posted a call for writers for their office gardening project. It started an on-going relationship.]

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