Ask any Toulousain about the emblems of the pink city and you can be sure that violets will make the list. Their enchanting fragrance and significant colour even inspired the city’s other nickname: the City of Violets.
The Toulousain violet is said to have been introduced to France by Napoléon III in the middle of the 19th century. It was in the north of Toulouse that this winter flower was cultivated, in Lalande or Launaguet’s market gardens. At first, market gardeners saw them as a way to create revenue besides vegetable production. After the establishment of the Violets and Onions Cooperative at the beginning of the 20th century, the violet started to become famous and was exported to Europe. Following a very harsh winter in 1956, however, the little purple flower suffered in popularity.
In 1985 the violet became officially protected thanks to a horticulturists’ association. From then on, the name ‘Violet of Toulouse’ was used officially for what was soon to become the symbol of the city. It became so successful that it was sold in England, Russia, Austria and Germany. In 1993, the association Terre de violettes gathered together manufacturers producing perfumes or liqueurs from violets in Toulouse. They launched the Fête de la violette, a key annual event in Toulouse, during which you can still see the Capitole covered with a carpet of purple flowers.
But what makes the violet of Toulouse so extraordinary? This flower, of between thirty and forty petals, has a white heart and is particularly perfumed. It belongs to the family of Parme violets. Toulousain violets are cultivated in greenhouses from November to March, and given particular care as they suffer easily from plant diseases. If you want to get a closer look, you can see violet plants in the Henri-Gaussens botanical garden from March to May.
Violets are not only found in bouquets. Many products are made from it, which are easy to find in Toulouse. You can find the violet in its popular crystal form and in liqueur, which is a tasty addition to champagne. Violet syrup or honey is also delicious. The Violette de Toulouse perfume, created in 1936 by Berdoues, is a must-try with its elegant pump bottle. The master perfumer also creates other products, such as soaps or little perfumed dolls.
In the language of flowers, violets represent peace, sweetness, modesty and shyness. Offering someone a violet is a way to declare your love in a discreet way, as the colour violet symbolises deep feelings. It’s no coincidence that the violet is traditionally the flower of lovers, offered by boys to their sweethearts. Additionally, Toulousain violets are known for their medicinal purposes. They aid breathing and calm headaches – because they contain aspirin!
For more information please visit www.toulouse-visit.com
By Nelly Lesage
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