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On African Violets and Messy Growth

You can still make beautiful things in imperfect places.

I come from a family of green thumbs. My parents keep a greenhouse, two porches, and a room full of indoor/outdoor plants; my Nana’s greenhouse, gardens, and orchards were constantly producing something edible and/or beautiful; and I have foggy toddler memories of wandering through my Great Mama’s flower gardens, which seemed to me like fantasy lands in bloom.

Last fall, my Dad gave me an African violet plant he grew from cuttings. He keeps many of these plants all over the house and his office, and I’ve always admired them. My Mom says “he babies those plants,” and it shows.

The one he gave me is actually two plants in a single pot: one blooms pink and the other purple; one has flat leaves and the other crinkly. Most growers of African violets will say they look best as a single plant—one color, one variety, trimmed to one rosette of leaves in a small pot.

But I love the way my plant looks. It’s gnarly, it’s adventurous, and it certainly doesn’t follow the rules.

In my townhouse, bright windowsills are limited, and I have none facing the directions that African violets are known to favor (north and east). Instead, my plant sits on a side table near a window facing south, where I keep the shades awkwardly raised in hopes it will soak up what light is available.

I haven’t ever separated the plant to keep it healthy, as is recommended to remove “suckers” that supposedly create a less-than-ideal shape. Mine has leaves growing in all sorts of directions; the plant crowns definitely don’t face upward, but instead push out from each other at 45-degree angles.

Oh, and I should mention the constant coat of fur and slobber from a Shepherd-mix who loves playing Scary Guard Dog at that particular window.

At first I was worried this plant wouldn’t survive. I have a few houseplants of my own, but none as finicky as the notoriously difficult African violet. I was positive it would need more space, light, and care than I could provide in my current environment.

It didn’t take long for this plant to prove me wrong! (I love being proven wrong by nature.) I realized as I was removing some droopy leaves the other day that this plant is thriving despite its circumstances—creating something beautiful even though conditions are less than ideal.

What a metaphor for us creative types to learn from! How can we keep growing, developing, and making things when the environment isn’t quite right? Just follow my violet’s example.

Light, space, and dirt

There will be times when the light coming into our lives is limited, either by outside circumstances or shades we’re putting up on purpose. Is it possible to continue creating by harnessing what little light we receive to fuel as much growth as possible? We can do this by becoming more attuned to creative inspiration, and soaking up little bits of this light anywhere we can find them.

There will be times when we feel desperately crowded—smothered even—by people and situations. If the alternative is complete separation, is there a way to blossom in such congestion? Even leaves of creative work growing in wonky directions are better than ceasing to grow at all.

And of course, there will be those messy, messy times when we feel coated with dirt and dust, maybe even dripping with doggy drool (or people drool?). All I know here is that my violet hasn’t complained once. It just keeps putting out leaves in silly places, trying everything it can to make itself bigger and better and healthier.

Would it be more beautiful if it were dust-free and perfectly round? Maybe. But then it wouldn’t be living in my house. In order for me to truly own it, I have to truly accept its imperfections.


Your creative work is the same. Could your process be simpler, shinier, or free from deformity? Sure.

But would it be yours? Of course not. All those things that feel like imperfections are the personal hallmarks that make your creations beautiful. Those are the things that make the work yours, and that is truly the most important part of what you’re creating.

None of us live in fairy-tale land where the flowers are always flawlessly in bloom (despite what we may remember from toddler-hood). There will always be some clouds trying to block your light, and dogs will always slobber.

Create anyway. Write the book that’s in your head. Publish the blog posts you’ve been composing in your soul. I know it’s scary to put those thoughts into words, certain that the physical translation will never match the beauty you imagine. Do it anyway.

The world deserves what you’re trying to create – perfect or not. If you can get past the fact that imperfection comes standard, I think you’ll see that beautiful things can still grow in messy places.

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