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Sonja and Her Violets

Sonja-now-and-thenLeft: Sonja at 82.  Right: Sonja at 17 on the front page of the Washington Star Magazine.

The hat color might have changed, but her beautiful smile and her love of African Violets remain the same. My mother, Sonja Behnke Festerling, has always had a special place in her heart for violets. Last week, before the big snow storm, I brought her to the garden center and the first place she went was to check out ‘her’ violets. She loves the different colors and is always checking to make sure they are doing okay. Yes, my mom talks to the violets. At her home, she has some of the most beautiful violets you could ever imagine. Some over 35 years old bloom and bloom for her. For me, seeing Mom’s eyes light up as she picks up each differently colored violet and tell me just what is so special about “this one” or “that one” makes my day. I like to think it makes her day also.

When thinking about it, plants, like music, hold a special place in our memories. We hear a song and we go back in time and recall what we were doing or whom we were with. With plants, the same holds true. We see a flower or tree and we remember.  We remember when we planted that tree and our kids that climbed on it (and fell out of it). For mom, she sees a violet and she is taken back to her childhood and the special bond she and my grandmother formed over these special plants. Memories are a wonderful thing and they make the heart happy when they can bring a smile to those around you while a story is shared. Take the time and listen to the stories even if they are repeated over and over again. It only means that they held a very special meaning to the one sharing them.

There is so much history with Behnke’s and African Violets. My grandmother, Rose Behnke wrote our pamphlet African Violet Do’s and Don’ts that we still hand out today. We used to propagate the violets and she actually hybridized many different ones. Many years ago, mom wrote this article about how we came to start selling the violets. Enjoy reading it while you’re home snowbound (or maybe you have dug out by now) and consider sharing your own memories of the plants around your home.


Stephanie Fleming, Behnke’s Vice President

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.

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