There was a time that Valentine's Day was celebrated with a gift of violets...not roses, but tender, aromatic violets. And, Rhinebeck was the Violet Capital of the World. At the dawn of the 20th century, Rhinebeck growers shipped millions of blossoms to markets near and far to celebrate Valentine's Day and Easter. More than 300 greenhouses in Dutchess County towns like Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Milan and Poughkeepsie filled the desire for these sweet smelling flower with names like Parma, Conte DiBrassa and the Double Marie Louise. Legend has it that Saint Valentine, while in prison, used ink from crushed violets to write love-letters for other inmates. Violets also stand for constancy and faithfulness, so it was adopted as the symbol of Napoleon in exile, who promised to return in the spring with the violets.
You can learn more about these delightful blooms in our popular documentary, Sweet Violets. Watch the YouTube trailer and read more about the film at our website: willowmixedmedia.org.
Perhaps the last patch of cultivated viola odorata on the east coast of the United States is at Battenfelds' Greenhouse in Milan. Call ahead (845) 758-8018, to see if the grower has any bunched Frey's Fragrant violets available to celebrate Valentine's Day in style.