Number one: the African violet
The plant pictured here is my all-time favourite African violet: I love the colour combination and the candy-stripe look.
African violets, or Saintpaulias as they are properly known, are easy plants to grow, making them extremely popular plants - you can buy them just about everywhere, from garden centres to petrol stations.
Unfortunately, they also have a reputation as being hard to grow, and I frequently wince when I see tortured-looking clumps of miserable looking Saintpaulias on a windowsill in someone's house. Follow these few top tips - either with a newly bought plant or to rescue a poorly specimen - and you should find your violet will flower almost all year round.
Tip 1: watering
The most common mistake with this plant is overwatering. Remember, its leaves are fleshy and hairy, meaning it is adapted to dry conditions that it finds in its native homelands in East Africa. Only water the plant when the soil is bone dry, and it won't harm if you even wait until the leaves start wilting: cut back even further on watering during the winter months to encourage the plant to rest. The second key point is that the leaves hate being splashed with water, so add water from below and allow the plant to suck up what it needs - but don't let the pot stand in water. Books also counsel against using really cold water, so I usually pour on the remains of a long-abandoned bedside water glass that's reached room temperature.
Top 2: suckers
People often end up with unsightly humps of non-flowering Saintpaulias because they allow baby plants that grow from the base to grow unchecked. Given time these will compete for space with the adult plant and result in an unattractive clump. Instead, check regularly for baby plants by gently lifting up the leaves: if you see any, cut them away with a penknife, taking care not to damage the stem of the adult plant. If you are careful and they come away, you can try potting them up and propagating them as a new plant. If that sounds like too much work, just add the excess leaves to your composter. Remove damaged outer leaves: if this leaves you with a "stalky" plant, you should repot it, covering the stem with soil to the point where the first leaves spring.
Tip 3: sunlight
They light bright light but not direct sunlight - a west- or east-facing windowsill is ideal. It will survive but not thrive in deep shade. They will tolerate most domestic conditions temperature-wise, but if you like the central heating at full blast, they'll probably benefit from being sat on a dish filled with moist gravel to increase humidity levels.
Tip 4: dusty leaves
If your plant's leaves become dusty, or infested with whitefly or aphids, it's easiest to remove the problem with an old makeup brush, dragged in the direction that the leaf's hairs go.
There's more info from African violet experts here, or add your own tips below ...