The sale of bunches like this one helped build the Toowoomba Mothers' Memorial after WWI
The Toowoomba Violet Rediscovered
In the city of Toowoomba stands the Mothers' Memorial, a tribute the sons who went to the First World War but did not return. To help fund construction of the monument, flowers of a beautiful fragrant violet widely grown in the region were gathered and sold, at threepence per bunch.
In 1932, Toowoomba declared the violet its official floral emblem, and now forms part of the city's coat-of-arms.
Toowoomba is the main service center for the Darling Downs, one of the nation's prime agricultural regions. Also known as "The Garden city", since 1949 it has staged the famous Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.
With such a proud horticultural history, it was sad that the violet which had been such an important part of that history, and which is a symbol of the city to this day, had been apparently lost.
Nobody knew for sure which (if any) of the assorted strains offered for sale as "Toowoomba Violet" over the years were the original variety. If it had survived somewhere, how could it be distinguished from the many other cultivars, not to mention sports and hybrids, now growing in the region?
Where was the true Toowoomba Violet?
In 2009, horticultural teachers at Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE, decided to bring back the violet. First, they asked locals to contribute candidate plants from their home gardens, which were then cultivated at the college. At flowering time, prominent Toowoomba gardener and flower arranger Joan Falvey was asked to identify the flower closest to the Toowoomba Violet she once knew.
The Toowoomba Violet
As it turned out, the Toowoomba Violet had been growing in a TAFE teacher's garden for years! Subsequently, the variety has been identified as Viola odorata 'Princess of Wales'.
Plants have been propagated at the college and sold locally through garden shows and campus plant sales, with some of the money benefiting the Toowoomba Hospice. However, numbers are still limited. Options for making the violet more widely available are currently being explored.
Thanks to the efforts of the TAFE teachers and students, Joan and other dedicated gardeners, the coat-of-arms won't be the only place to see Toowoomba Violets. The fragrant flower is certain to be gracing more gardens in Toowoomba and beyond in the years to come.
Acknowledgment: Thank-you to Mike Wells for contributing information and images used in this article. You can learn more about the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers at www.tcof.com.au