A Violet Love Affair

Photography by Kindra Clineff

Why the romance? Certainly, violets are quaint. But it was the violets’ alluring and inimitable scent that won the hearts of the empresses and the French population. That scent is so delicately fleeting, it can only be detected by your nose for a few minutes before your sense of smell becomes numb to that particular aroma. Gathered into nosegays surrounded by a frill of violet leaves or sold as an accessory to be worn to the opera, the rage for fragrant violets continued into the early 20th century and spread to England and the United States. Young ladies were taught the etiquette of how to inhale a violet corsage properly with dainty little whiffs so the scent would not momentarily block their scent perception. But popularity proved to be the violets’ near demise. Hybridizers bred the flowers for long stems—making the blossoms easier to bunch for handheld bouquets. As they lengthened the stem, the fragrance diminished until it disappeared entirely as did the fragrant bloom’s popularity. By the 1970s, only specialty collectors still grew the true fragrant Viola odorata with its tiny flowers and heady scent.