ANNAPOLIS -- If complaining constituents and bungling bureaucrats get to be too much for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, he can always turn to his African violets for a little relaxation.

A few steps from the governor's formal office on the second floor of the State House is an inner office where shelves of African violets fill the windows in an array of pinks, purples, whites and greens.

"Aren't they something?" Schaefer said as he showed off his collection to some recent visitors, pointing to an unusual specimen here and there and displaying a tiny miniature African violet in an equally tiny plastic pot.

More than 40 violets are crowded into trays of sand in his inner office, and 13 more soak up the sun in an adjoining room. Then there are the two dozen violets in his Baltimore row house, he said, not to mention the collection at the governor's mansion.

Why African violets?

"They are very relaxing, and I love flowers," Schaefer said.

The governor has been raising African violets for six or eight years, belongs to a club and gets a monthly magazine about his favorite flower.

Still, he does not consider himself an expert.

He does not bother with the special grow lights that he said are necessary to raise show violets, the kind where the leaves spread out in a saucer-like shape.

On the governor's African violets, leaves and blossoms alike grow up toward the natural light filtering in through the windows.

African violets aren't the only plants the governor enjoys.

He has a variety of green plants in his State House office, and an extensive cactus collection is installed in the governor's mansion.

But the African violets are his favorites.

"I love them all. I like all my babies," he said.