May. 16th, 2016

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
[This is an occasional series of postings inspired by Abigail Rorer, Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants. Rorer's book includes prints of fourteen plants Farrer considered worthless-- an interesting hybrid of botanically accurate and...different. You can see her work, including all fourteen mimpish squinnies, here: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html ]

Reginald Farrer had a love-hate relationship with the temperamental gentian.

Gentiana.Take it all in all, perhaps Gentiana offers the rock- garden more glory than any other race, and more persistently denies it. To please Primula is possible, to cope with Campanula is even comfortable; but there is no jesting with a Gentian, except, indeed, when the Gentian does the jesting -- grows ample and splendid and hearty, only to gratify you at the end with dingy little flowers amid a mass of foliage so ill-pleasing that you feel indeed more mocked by such a success than if the plant has followed the example of its beautiful cousins and wholly refused to grow. All the more noble Gentians, indeed, may be said to be a kittle cattle, and hard to please; but when pleased, with what pleasure do they not repay the pleaser! Those all are children of pure mountain air and moisture, Oreads beyond all others impatient of the plain-lands; they have no down like Androsace to threaten danger and show dislike of wet; they are not living limpets of the rock, like the saxatile Campanulas and Primulas. But their hunger is always for the air of the hills, and even more, for that persistent aura of moisture in the clear atmosphere which the sunlight draws from the steaming flanks of the mountains when the high snows are gone or going, throughout the growing period of the Gentians on their slopes.

Abigail Rorer chose G. brevidens as one of her fourteen mimpish squinnies, and no wonder. Farrer dismisses the species in one disparaging sentence:

G. brevidens is a floppet of the worst -- a vast leafy great weakly rubbish with tight heads of little and insignificant bluish starts in August, ridiculous at the end of those stalwart stem and wide wrappings of oval slack-textured foliage. (Siberia)


Little wonder, then, that the flowers of Rorer's G. brevidens hide their faces with their hands, ashamed to show their countenance. The species has changed its name since Farrer's time, too, now being known as Gentiana tibetica King ex Hook.f., or Himalayan gentian.

Farrer's favorite gentian, Gentiana Farreri -- what a surprise )

We have here, on the coastal pine barrens from New Jersey south to Georgia, a rare and endangered gentian that is clearly not an alpine, but that has a beauty that might very well have made Reginald Farrer exclaim and fall prone -- Gentiana autumnalis. But that is outside the scope of this post.

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