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A House Full of Flowers

Nancy Kast with violet 'Buckeye Country Girl'.

When Nancy Kast does something, she does it 100 thousand per cent. So even though she has only been raising African violets for five years and other plants in the Gesneriad family for three years, the other members of the Tampa African Violet Society said this was the lady to show how lovely these plants can be

Nancy and her husband Jerry, who have been married since 1952 and most often do things together, travel from Dade City to the society meetings, go to as many as six shows around the country every year, and are grooming many plants for the Tampa African Violet Society's 31st AVSA show and sale. It will be at the Farm Bureau on the corner of Hwy 60 & Mulrennan Road in Valrico and opens Saturday Feb. 24 from 11 until 5 and Sunday 10-4. Sale plants and supplies will be available from 9 a.m. Feb. 24. Admission and parking are free to the public. "We have a great time and meet a great bunch of people," says Jerry.

The Kasts have gorgeous plants in every room of the house starting from the front door. As one moves from wonder to wonder, Nancy happily answers all questions, spells out the names, lovingly plucks any faded flowers, and says, "And then there's more."

These Smithiana species and hybrids have bloom spikes that look almost like foxgloves.

They did not use the bathtub in the larger bathroom, so it now holds plants. The small bath is the isolation ward where she keeps any new plants until she is sure they have no diseases or insects that could spread to the rest.

"I plan to have three stalks of flowers in bloom three weeks before the show (when these photos were taken) and then there should be six stalks blooming when the date comes," she says. She spends hours every day that she can working with them. It is stress release for her and she enjoys it to the fullest.

Like most of the members of this group, all of her plants are on automatic watering and feeding. But the reservoirs have to be filled. Jerry Kast starts in on that every morning. (He has a reverse osmosis machine in the garage to clear the city water and keeps a good supply on hand in empty milk jugs.)

With 500 violets and 1400 other plants it is amazing the way they fit into the decor along with a fine collection of dolls and antiques. Every room could be a magazine photo. The shelves are mostly under flourescent lights that make this a very bright house even on a dreary day.

There are perhaps more plants on the back porch than anywhere else, but even there they are interspersed with comfortable chairs and tables. Some of these plants grow in natural light.

African violet 'Sockeye' is an unusual color of deep rose.

"The plants on that rack are from seed I got from Brazil," Nancy says. They are about a year and a half old and look quite mature. For anyone who thinks these plants take great patience, that is true, but what one can accomplish in so few years is quite amazing. Few plants get a chance to grow old here because the Kasts take many of the larger ones to the sales. But sometimes Nancy comes home with as many as 75 new starts. "I like the unusual ones that are a real challenge to grow," she says. She is in charge of the plant sale for a big show in Miami in over July 4 weekend.

For the Valrico show they will make as many as three trips to take in all their plants. Then they will be on hand for some of the time to share their knowledge and their passion.

The best time to get there to buy plants is first thing Saturday morning, but the show doesn't open until the judging is finished, closer to noon. Don't miss it.

The larger of these plants on the back porch each have their own reservoir with a wick to bring up the water. The smaller plants are on trays covered with fleece that does the same job.

The bathtub in their large bathroom is put to a better use.

Now's the time to...

  • Go on the internet and treat yourself to a slide show of all the different varieties of African violets and Gesneriads. Nancy Kast recommends www.gesneriads.ca but there are others as well.
  • Nancy Kasts spends time most evenings exchanging email with other growers. "I am a question asker," she says. It is a good way to learn more and more.
  • You can buy containers made especially to set under your plants as water reservoirs, but you can also recycle grocery containers. One member of the TAVS said they went through the store and selected the best containers and then ate whatever was in them.