Opening the door to Tasha’s parlor, I sniffed the scent of spring. Snow flurries sifted outside the windows. But from somewhere in the room, floated the fragrance of violets, as if someone had secretly placed a May basket on one of the tables. I wandered around the parlor, searching for the source of the perfume and noticed a row of three pots on a windowsill. Tiny white, lavender and rosy flowers trailed from plants with shiny heart-shaped leave. Bending my head over the mounds of greenery, I inhaled and fell in love.
"Those are Parma violets, aren’t they lovely? In the dark of winter, one plant can perfume an entire room. They are tender plants and can’t survive the cold like regular violets, but they thrive in a cool place.” Tasha picked up a pink luster tea cup, while reaching for a slice of poppy seed cake.
Tasha barely heated her parlor, only lighting a fire when we sometimes ate dinner in that room, so it offered the temperatures of early spring. Tucked on an east facing windowsill, the location provided for ample sunlight, yet sheltered them from any bright afternoons.
“Parma violets were first grown in Italy,” Tasha said. “Sometime in the late nineteenth century, they were brought to England where they were madly popular in small bouquets.”
“I understand why, they remind me of my small, English violets that bloom in early April on my farm. I love to bury my nose in the plants and fill my lungs with their perfume. On a sunny afternoon, the scent of violets floats from that corner of my garden.”
“Yes,” Tasha said as she poked at the fire and tossed on two birch logs. Their bark blazed, sending sparks up the back of the fireplace. At her feet, her corgi, Owen, waited for crumbs or for his mistress to offer him a bit of cake. Always ready to talk gardening, Tasha continued, drawing from her years of cultivating plants.
“When the violets were imported to New York City, they became the rage. Young ladies liked to wear a cluster on their shirtwaist or slip them into a wedding bouquets. I suppose when plant breeders created larger violets, people fell for the showier blossoms.”
“And ignored the lack of scent,” I added. When discussing seed catalogs, Tasha and I admitted to reading through a plant’s description, searching for and selecting those varieties that could claim, “highly fragrant”.
I poured each of us another cup of tea and leaned back in the settle, listening to a canary trill. The warmth of the fire flushed our cheeks while visions of next year materialized in our minds. Upon arriving home, I wrote out my order and soon, Parma violets perfumed my kitchen with the fragrance of an April afternoon.