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Roy E. Coombs - Violets:  The History & Cultivation of Scented Violets
First Published 1981 by Croom Helm Ltd.
Second Edition, B.T. Batsford, Publisher. Second Edition (2003)
ISBN: 071348831 X

Reviewed by Gary W. Sherwin

Picture of Book and Link to

Picture of Book and Link to

            If you want to know anything about cultivated violets, this is The Definitive Reference.  

           Violets, The History & Cultivation of Scented Violets combines the technique and grace of beautiful, hand painted illustrations with the fine detail of numerous, clear, close-up photographs to create an ambience that honors the botanical, historical heritage of color plate volumes, and satisfies the modernist demand for photographic detail.  Mr. Coombs, former President of the International Violet Association, is a world-known violet expert and grower.  For this expanded second edition of his previously released 1981 first edition, he  has joined forces with Yvonne Matthews, a talented illustrator and photographer.  Matthews is is a violet expert in her own right.  She is holder of the UK, National Violet Collection, and Honorary Life Member of the International Violet Association.  They have combined their original work with extensive research of available violet literature to create a valuable reference work. 

            The book's 142 pages, (actually 152, not including the Introduction and Acknowledgements) are divided into twelve sections, plus two indexes:

CONTENTS Page     Pages   


1 A History of Violet Cultivation 11 9
     Violet History Since 1980 20 3    
2 Scented Single Violets (hardy) 23 30 2 Ink Drawings
3 Scented Double Violets (hardy) 53 8
4 Scented Semi-Double Violets (hardy) 61 4
Water Color Plates 9 75 Water Colors
Color Photo Plates 22 42 Color Photos
Black & White Photo Plates 1 2 Black & White Photos
5 Scented Parma Violets (tender) 65 12
6 Some Viola Species (mostly hardy) 77 6 2 Ink Drawings
7 Violet Hybridizers 83 12
8 Early Violet Farms and Nurseries 95 4
9 Cultivation 99 11
Bibliography 111 22
Appendix 133 2
Societies and Stocklist 135 3
Cultivar and Species Index 138 4
General Index 142 2

Total Pages


There are nine information filled chapters plus an extensive Bibliography and an Appendix, containing clarifications and abbreviations.  The Societies and Stocklists section has a brief historical description of the stage upon which sprung, both The American Violet Society and The Violet Society.  The Violet Stocklists contains a who's who of world class violet family supporting nurseries and greenhouses.

Picture of Book and Link to

Picture of Book and Link to

            When I first opened Violets, The History and Cultivation of Scented Violets, I began to read it as a narrative. I found the historical section to be a fascinating read but stalled when I tried to continue through the various type sections.  That is when I realized that I was not holding a "novel-style" work but rather a reference book.  When I stopped and took stock of the contents from a reference resource perspective, I became excited at the wealth of information available.  The author and illustrator have created a benchmark work that every violet enthusiast should own.  I have only two small criticisms of the work.  First, it would have been helpful for the excellent plate selection to have been sequentially numbered and indexed, both with an additional index and with references in the descriptive sections. Secondly, the cultivation section deserves a direct read, like the historical section.  It should be up front, immediately following the history, where it is easy to find, rather than deeply hidden near the end of the book.  But then, there is a table of contents, isn't there?

             To reiterate, if you like to study and grow violets, you should buy this book and devour the historical and cultivation sections.  Then, you should explore the type sections and decide what you are going to add to your collection.  Finally, you should peruse the Stocklist and contact one of the greenhouses or nurseries to purchase new specimens to your collection.

Well done Roy and Yvonne!

© Gary W. Sherwin 2004

Gary W. Sherwin is current President of The American Violet Society.

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