Entry E

Pantone 18-3838

With a sense of playful irony, I suggested they call her Corina Violet, this nameless baby born in a pandemic. A pretty name for a harsh moment. My garden is laced with violets and I spot them lining the path through the woodland that hugs the river on my solitary, daily walk.

Issac Newton named violet as one of the seven colours of the spectrum. It sits between blue and ultraviolet – the last of the visible colours. To carry such a distinction seems a bold responsibility for the shrinking violet. The plant name came first, from Latin by way of Old French, the adjectival use isn’t recorded until the 14th century when it was used to describe diamonds.

With time to spend in my lockdown garden, I stop and look at the flowers of the common dog violet; they are little gems. Five densely-coloured, overlapping petals arranged so that the bottommost points slightly downward, a perfect landing site for the orange-tip butterflies that grace my April garden. Violets provide larval food for several fritillary butterflies, including the rare pearl-bordered fritillary, with its beaded white-trimmed wings.

Dog violets attract bees, especially queen bumble bees during the process of establishing nests. Researchers have proven bees’ proclivity for Pantone colour 18-3838, the perfect distillation of violet – 7.5% sunshine yellow, 31.5% transparent white, the remainder dark blue. The yellow comes as a surprise.

The colour is associated with looking forward, with imagination and the mysteries of the unex- plored universe. It’s a colour of creativity, counterculture and sensitivity. Chosen with these connections in mind as the colour of the year for 2018, they are qualities I would happily bestow upon a newborn.

Each of the top four flower petals have three parallel stripes of darker purple that act as landing guides for passing pollinators, while the base petal has seven almost black lines, runway indicators, drawing insects into a cave of whiteness flanked by stamen that hang like tiny bottlebrushes. These stroke the backs of visitors as they enter the grotto who, in turn, deposit pollen on the tip of the orange stigma as they nuzzle down to gather enticing nectar.

The violet has a demure habit, poking its head above the low-lying, heart-shaped foliage on the a florist’s wire of a stem, usually keeping to the shade; a flower easily overlooked. Maybe this is why the violet is cleistogamous, meaning it can self-propagate from unopened, self-pollinating flowers; they also have a second flowering in the autumn. Perfection in a flower, you might think, but violets are not very fertile and often propagate through root spread. A belt and braces approach.

Dog violets are unscented so should not be confused with the sweet violet or the Palma violet, remembered by those of us of a certain age for the eponymous sweets that came as little, pale purple discs with a dip in the centre for the tongue to explore, intensely sweet, they left a fragrance, rather than a taste in the mouth. I remember too the crystallised violet flowers that the topped water-iced cupcakes at tea parties.

It comes to me that Shakespeare likened Hamlet’s love for Ophelia to a violet, saying ‘that it’s quick to bloom but quick to die’, so maybe Corina Violet, in spite of my affection for this little flower, is not the name to suggest for the unnamed granddaughter after all. Especially when frailty and love in the time of corona, is on all our minds.

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2 Replies to “Entry E”

  1. E for me-beauty,poetic,historical,vividly visual and so informative all mixed together.

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