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My Mom’s African Violets

African Violet Chanticleer
African Violet Chanticleer
I have not written much about what my mother, Sonja Behnke Festerling, has been dealing with for the last few years. Many of you that know me personally already know she has been battling that dreadful disease, Alzheimer’s. However, I know many of you also have loved ones going through this, so maybe it is time to share a little. Perhaps now, as we get closer to November, a month to say what we are thankful for, I will start a little early.


I am thankful my mom still smiles. She still laughs and sings and knows who we are. And she still loves her African Violets. I took this picture today when I stopped in. They are all in full bloom and look fabulous. She keeps them in her bathroom on a special shelf her husband put in for her when they built their new home in 2008.


Over the years, I have often asked her husband, Joe Festerling (he used to grow Behnke’s violets with mom back in the ’70s & ’80s), if he is taking care of them. He always says no, and I believe him. So I ask Mom what is she doing to keep them going? She just smiles. Sometimes I swear she has not watered them for weeks, but still, they burst out in blooms. I know they have not seen any fertilizer since 2007. I sometimes think maybe I should give them some water, but I am afraid to mess with whatever system she has.


Mom did an African Violet clinic at Behnke’s a few times, and she would always bring this violet, Chanticleer with her. At this point, I would say it is over 40 years old. It has been divided and re-potted many times. Mom always loved and took excellent care of this plant, along with the other violets. They have repaid her by understanding that sometimes they get forgotten as her memory fades in and out. I feel maybe plants, like animals, know when we need them. One thing is for sure, my grandmother’s African Violet Care Sheet has gone out the window.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Stefanie and thank you for this lovely reflection. As a present, my mother gave me medium purple African Violet years ago – maybe 1997? Maybe earlier? I have re-potted them twice. I made the mistake of cutting off all the dead flowers about a year ago and nothing bloomed for months. Then out of the blue-lol- they rebounded and started blooming again. That’s when I went and bought some African Violet soil mix figurinh they had been in the same soil for 20 years – and re-potted them in the same pot They look amazing – in partial sun all day.

    I have a whole bunch of my mother’s plants including a ming aralia that I pulled as an air cutting for her from an office plant sometime in 1992. That and the monstera, the snake plant and the Christmas cacti are all members of our family, as surely as any pets. My mom passed away in 1999, so I appreciate these reminders of her in my life.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! So many things around us are welcomed reminders of our love ones. I am so glad you have these wonderful plants as members of your family.

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