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 engravings 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: ]

After wandering through the Tibetan border with Reginald Farrer, I return us to Abigail Rorer's fourteen mimpish squinnies. Today's mimpish squinnie is Tricyrtis hirta and this entry is from The English Rock-Garden, Vol. 2.

By Juni from Kyoto, Japan ( - image description page) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tricyrtis. — These strange plants have all the same resemblance, differing chiefly in their stature, so that one picture may suffice to express their almost inexpressible quaintness. From a short stock they send up more or less arching stems of a foot or two, embraced by dark hairy leaves, corrugated and oval-pointed, which from their axils almost all the way up emit large and evil flowers, very late in summer as a rule, or autumn, built on the scheme of a lily, but wried by perversity into an almost Aubrey-Beardsley freakishness of outline and heavy waxen texture and livid sombre colour of putrid pinks, freckled and spotted with dark purple till their name of Toad-lily is felt to be apt. They like the treatment of Trillium, and with the
Trilliums should be planted and there left undisturbed for ever, in a rather warm corner, however, that their flowers may develop betimes, for often they are nipped in the bud by autumn. T. hirta (T. japonica) is the best known ; but a better plant is T. macropoda, if only that it blooms earlier, in June and July, in rather closer sprays. Much smaller and quite dainty and charming in its sinister way is T. Hototogisu. Pronounce this " hototongeese," and think of it accordingly as meaning the nightingale of Japanese woodlands, a frail 6-inch stem or so, set rarely with heart-shaped leaves, and bearing several flowers only, in a loose spray, notable and noble for the delicate build of the plant.

By Schnobby (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For Abigail Rorer's treatment of this plant, click here:
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
For today's Mimpish Monday, we find Reginald Farrer close to the end of his expedition to Kansu and Tibet in 1914-15.

The Hastened End, pp. 274-276

Down the depths of the Dene we rode, and up the shingled miles of the confluent river, meeting, in the alder-coppice of the boulder-bed, with the abandoned antlers of an elk, left there till its lucky murderer should have time to come and reclaim them. Then up the mountain-side we still rode, and up to the Ma-chang, and up and up and up into the Alp, and over its bays and folds, till we actually attained on horseback to the mountain of black blocks above the Clear Lake.

It is a curious place, so loose a compilation of somber vast rocks that the turf between is springy with unfilled holes beneath, and there are deep caverns and hollows everywhere among the boulders, and water trickling and lurking, as if the whole hill were a sponge. As it indeed is, a slack-woven texture, full of pores and passages, lightly accumulated, and never settled down into solidity. Here we encamped; Bill in one tent, and I in another, and the staff in the big white one, lent us by the Viceroy of the Koko-Nor.

read more )

[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: ]
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
This is my horticultural triumph for the year -- actually, it's sheer dumb beginner's luck and a rogue seed that grew into a plant that decided to bloom in Year 1 instead of Year 2.

This would be Leontopodium alpinus, aka edelweiss, growing here in the mountains of South Philly (elev. 36 feet). It appears that every scornful word Reginald Farrer said about the reputed difficulty of growing the stuff is absolutely correct.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
I like this passage from The Rainbow Bridge, the second volume of Reginald Farrer's account of his 1914-1915 collecting trip to Northwest China/Tibet. Here, Farrer is writing about a vision of loveliness shared by his fellow traveler William Purdom. The two of them were moved by the beauty of the Harebell Poppy, Meconopsis quintuplinervia.

click to read purple prose and see purple-ish flowers )

[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: ]
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
Here's a photo of a Reginald Farrer watercolor. I don't think I've posted it before. It's one of twelve from E. H. M. Cox, The Plant Introductions of Reginald Farrer, currently sitting atop my file cabinet but going back to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society library today. Unsurprisingly, I now have images of the entire book, most taken with my iPhone. This is Cremanthodium delavayi. I love the way Farrer paints the landscape and the companion flowers -- the blue corydalis and the white I-don't-know-what. Click the image to embiggen.

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: ]

YAY! It's home -- my beautiful Cypripedium tibeticum -- all professionally framed and stuff. It will live on the mantel (as it is here).

This is the one that got me going when I saw it in the exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania library. Farrer describes the actual plant as "a small squat thing, rather like a malignant Tibetan toad in appearance." Rorer has riffed on that exquisitely.

In other mimpery, one of my Leontopodium alpinum, aka edelweiss, appears to be putting up a flower stalk. This isn't supposed to happen. They're perennials that bloom the second year. But I'll take it, especially since it may allow me to post about the plant straggling upwards to the limited sunshine and putting up one squinny star, just as Reginald Farrer would.

lblanchard: (swannfountain) being a holiday and all.

I am finishing up my editing of Flower Show pictures -- finally! -- and leave you with a miniature rock garden of flowering plants, including several primulas. Come to think of it, primulas were a favorite plant of Reginald Farrer, so there's a touch of Farreriana, after all.

It is surrounded by a lot of bling, as well as a diagram and captioning for the varieties of wee plants contained therein:

1 - Primula x 'wharfdale butterfly'
2 - Arabis sturii
3 - Primula x 'hemswell blush'
4 - Primula allionii 'joan hughes'
5 - Dionysia aretioides
6 - Saxifraga longifolia
7 - Primula allionii 'anna griffith'
8 - Primula allionii 'maurice dryden'
9 - Sempervivum arachnoideum 'rubrum'
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
Mimpish Monday has come early this week on account of I hit save instead of just letting LJ autosave my draft until tomorrow)

[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: ]

Had he lived, Reginald Farrer would no doubt have written a travel book or books as engaging as On the Eaves of the World and The Rainbow Bridge about his two-year expedition to Burma. But he did not live, dying on October 17, 1920 at the age of 40 after a short illness. However, he did leave behind a series of dispatches to The Gardeners' Chronicle, which were published from June 1919 to some time after his death. The publication received a large packet of dispatches that Farrer prepared for mailing before his death, and which they doled out through 1921 and 1922.

Farrer was accompanied, for the first year, but the young E. H. M. Cox, who published an account, Farrer's Last Journey, in 1926. Much of it was cobbled together from these dispatches as well as from letters Farrer sent back to Cox and other correspondents. Cox, alas, is not the storyteller Farrer was.

The Gardeners' Chronicle isn't the easiest thing to read in pdf (if you don't believe me, check the first page here). And the OCR is a hopeless muddle, so I am transcribing them as time permits. Here's the first -- more botany and less drama in these, but they're still glorious.

click here for the first dispatch )
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: ]

I was leafing through E.H.M. Cox, The Plant Introductions of Reginald Farrer, yesterday, and a familiar name caught my eye. Here's the entry for Belamcanda punctata Moench. Hey, I know that plant, says I -- it's the blackberry lily. A little googling reassured me that there's only one species in this genus and I have photographed it in the wilds of Virginia my very own self!

From the book:

        "Very Moracoid in appearance." F. 758
        This difficult Iris-like plant was raised at Highdown and flowered. It has red flowers and is
        more attractive as a curiosity than as a garden plant. It is difficult to keep alive.

Not in the Blue Ridge, it isn't. It has naturalized there, and I photographed it a couple years ago in an unmown meadow at the entrance to the Fox Hollow Trail. Behold my photos!

Also, it has now been reclassified based on molecular DNA evidence, and this "Iris-like plant" is now named Iris domestica. It was more widely known as Belamcanda chinensis before that, and is a plant of many names: Other synonyms are Epidendrum domesticum L., Vanilla domestica (L.) Druce, Gemmingia chinensis (L.) Kuntze, Ixia chinensis L., Morea chinensis, and Pardanthus chinensis Ker Gawl.

Clearly, Reginald Farrer thought it had virtue as a garden plant -- otherwise, he would not have collected the seed on his Kansu expedition and sent it home. On the strength of that, I pronounce it not mimpish and not a squinny.
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: ]

I’m continuing to read The Rainbow Bridge, Farrer’s posthumously published account of his 1915 trip to Kansu and Tibet with Bill Purdom and assorted Chinese and Tibetan staff. Primula farreriana makes a cameo appearance toward the end, but this is mostly about the loss of a trowel and the malefactions of his staff. There’s a lot of mock tragedy and high hilarity in this account.

But, to start, here’s a sketch of “My Primula,” as Farrer calls it, from his own hand. It is not in any way a squinny, nor is it mimpish, so Rorer made no engraving of it.

published in The Rainbow Bridge

So that the ultimate disaster befell me unperceived, and when, at last, after very long weariful toilings round the fell, I came back to the crest of the pass, it was to discover that my faithful trowel had somewhere eluded my vigilance, and now lay lost, like a Slaughtered Saint's Bones, somewhere on these enormous Alpine mountains cold.

This was a crushing blow. I have a cult for my collecting trowels, and set my pride in never losing them. I had brought four to China ; two had been lost, indeed (for shame !), in the first week at Siku, but these calamities had braced me to such a constancy of caution that both the remaining trowels had hitherto survived all the vicissitudes of travel. And now it was by my own remissness that the culminating crime had been committed. In itself this was a culmination : if treasures ARE to be broken or lost or spoiled, let this, at all events, happen through someone else, as then one can at least save something out of the wreckage by showing oneself magnanimous, and mitigating the matter : whereas if oneself is alone responsible, the irretrievable disaster is complicated by an irretrievable loss of self-respect. Even damns are too dim to illuminate the darkness of one's wrath when oneself is the object. So that it was in a mood of penitential depression that at length I found myself nearing the col.

Suddenly there was a crash overhead, a succession of dull thuds and a huge square black boulder like a gravestone came crashing and bounding down upon me from the arête overhead, in a series of widening kangaroo leaps that gashed and tore the hard flank of the fell as if it had been cheese. As I stood and pondered the matter, another followed and another : clearly the promise of that solar rainbow was being fulfilled, and my last day was upon me, at the hands of the high angry Gods of these hills. But really people who lose trowels, what else can they either deserve or expect ? In a philosophic pessimism I proceeded across the danger stretch and the unctuous rich black gashes in the flesh of the fell. No more evil, however, overtook me till I came to the col. For now I found that Mafu's jealous domineeringness had refused to let the Wa-wa put the teaping into my saddle-bag at starting. And so there were I, and the arête, and all of us, as irremediably dry as any epitome of Herbert Spencer. Without my bottle of tea, how were the crusts and the sausage to go down ? Crossly I chumped and choked : they wouldn't and didn't. Even more than for the trowel I wailed for my tea-ping : while Bill gave Mafu another rough side of his tongue for such a further instance of neglect, and Mafu went more and more blank with rage at such a stripping of his "face" before Go-go and Mâ.

However, this concatenation of calamities inspired me with such a salutary vigour of rage, that, after assimilating the unmoistened sausage, I plucked up heart to go back all along those fells again, on a vague roving quest for the trowel. It might be lying anywhere indeed on those mountainsides : but the sausage gradually suffused me with inspiration as to one particular spot in the last of my Primula gullies where it might very possibly be. However, when, at long last, I got there, no sign of it could be seen, though all around the silt was untidy with the ruddy scatteration it had made of the rich fat earth. But, though I kicked and sifted the debris up and down, I could find no trowel, and was returning disconsolate and downcast, when there, sprawling loose at my feet upon the open moorland, far from any plants on which it could have been employed, the steely gleam of its blade caught my eye. It must have inexplicably fallen from my pocket : which blunted the acutest edge of my self-reproach. All the same, I beat myself with it severely, to inculcate caution : and then returned, in a high radiance of relief, round to the col again, to where Bill was now photographing a large group of my Primula, looking very made-up, and bedded-out, and artificial as, indeed, it always does, though (thanks to its habit of always growing in colonies of nicely-disposed single crowns or clumps, instead of in a confusion of masses and tufts all close together) quite as much when wild in a stretch of scree, as when carefully arranged to have its portrait taken.

I believe this may be the very photograph of P. farreriana that Purdom was taking in this passage:

From The English Rock-Garden, vol. II

And finally, here is the type specimen, from the Natural History Museum, London. (The notes appear to be in Farrer's hand.)

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
I now have in my possession (temporarily) an extremely battered and partially disbound copy of E. H. M. Cox, Reginald Farrer's Last Journey, on loan from an undisclosed source. Since it's lacking structural integrity, it lies perfectly flat. There's no pdf version available, so I'm inclined to make one myself.

Check out this image (click to embiggen):

I took it with my iPhone. I need to mess with the lighting (I just shoved it under the grow-lights, which was suboptimal). I cut the pages apart [that is to say, the images of the pages -- I did not disbind the book any further!] and converted them to pdf, and ran OCR on it. It missed a big chunk on the bottom of the left-hand page, which I think has something to do with the light levels, so I'll play some more. It will make a fine addition to my library, even if it's not a professional-quality pdf.

This is Farrer being colloquial; Cox is quoting a personal letter from him. Check out the final paragraph, about leeches -- pure comedy gold.

(I am now officially obsessed with this project.)
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: ]

I've been rummaging around in the Bioheritage Diversity Library and have found much Farrerian goodness in the form of his dispatches from his final expedition to Burma and, delightfully, his reports to the Royal Horticultural Society from his 1914-1915 expedition to Gansu and Tibet. He speaks in very different ways in his deliciously colloquial general garden guides and plantsman's travel books, his slightlly more formal formal reports to the Gardener's Chronicle, and his much more formal reports to the RHS, but the voice is unmistakably his own in all three, and his disdain for this primula and its squinny stars is pronounced throughout.

Veitch has some rather uninteresting species, Veitchi, vittata, reflexa, poorish Capitatas and Sieboldis, and a hideous black-brown one, called I think tangutica.
--My Rock-Garden (1907), p. 184

Primula No. 18 (F194) is P. tangutica, one of the few really frightful Primulas – so ugly that only under protest have I sent any seed at all, though it abounds with P. gemmifera in the highest earth-fans of the Tibetan Alps, in habit like a small untidy P. Maximowiczii, with Maximowiczii’s variable flowers reduced to wispy starved little ragged stars of dull chocolate brownish black [but I think P. tangutica is P. Maximowiczii and no more].
--"Report of Work in 1914 in Kansu and Tibet" (Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society of London, 1916-1917)

And the Primula was clearly only going to be P. tangutica, an entirely contemptible plant, rank and robustious in growth, mean and squinny in flower, muddy and morbid in the dull chocolates and greens of its colouring, even when you get the very best forms, where the livid greenish-yellow of the starved-looking star stands out in good contrast to the mahogany-crimson of the tube.
--The Rainbow Bridge (1921, published posthumously), p. 166

P. tangutica I believe to be not specifically distinct from P. Maximowiczii, of which typically ugly plant it is typically the ugliest development. In a thousand diversities of dowdiness both the (supposed) species grow together over the huge grass-downs of Northern Tibet, among P. Woodwardii, P. Purdomii, and a fine yellow Nivalid. At its very best the tall lax tiers of blossom in P. tangutica resemble inferior and lunatic hyacinths of green, varnished with mahogany on the outside and rimmed round their rays with pale citron; at their average they are in varying shades of dull chocolate, and at their worst sink to a dirty blackness.
--The English Rock-Garden (1917), Vol. II, page 189

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
Yesterday I was going through the Gardener's Chronicle (published from the 1840s to the 1960s) online. The Biodiversity Heritage Library has all the issues with Reginald Farrer's dispatches from his last trip, plus his obituary and several other tributes. I downloaded pages and assembled into one huge illegible pdf. I am now keyboarding it, one dispatch at a time, so that I can finally settle down and read it.

But while I was going through it I found three pictures of chrysanthemums that perfectly fit Farrer's description of show chrysanthemums as "moulting mops dipped in stale lobster sauce." I've posted them on the Elsenets, but here they are again.

There are other wonders to be found in the Gardener's Chronicle. Here's a link to the online version if you want to rummage.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
For Memorial Day, something more somber, from Reginald Farrer's letters from Ypres during World War I, plus an iconic verse. And a poppy, not the red poppy of Flanders, but  the Celestial poppy of the China-Tibet border:

Meconopsis pratti, the Celestial Poppy, watercolor by Reginald Farrer
Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library
Collection of Dr. and Mrs. John Farrer

"From time to time, there come by the quiet processions of the dead — limp-looking, helpless dead, mummied tightly up in their dark grey blankets ready for burial, and looking so heartbreakingly small : — poor little emptied things, hardly more than half the size of the full ones who are swinging them down the street."

--R. J. Farrer, The Void of War

"They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

--Robert Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
A friend on the Elsenets was going on about an online utility called Dreamscope. What the heck, says I, and I ran G. farreri through with one of the filters.

Kind of pretty, isn't it? Although I'm not at all sure Reginald Farrer would approve...

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: ]

We left the talented Mr. Farrer among his gentians, some of which he loved, many of which he did not. G. farreri is his favorite gentian. The passage I had seen quoted and excerpted turns out not to be from On the Eaves of the World at all, but rather from his final work, The Rainbow Bridge, published posthumously in 1921. There is a different tone to this work -- not surprising, given that he was writing it in the closing days of the First World War, after touring and writing about three ghastly fronts in The Void of War: Letters from Three Fronts.. Both his preface and his colophon in The Rainbow Bridge speak explicitly of a sense of beauty snatched from the lowering darkness, and that sense permeates much of the book implicitly. Although he did not fight, Farrer appears to have become one of that group that Tom Shippey refers to as "traumatized authors."

"Let us go, then, for a while out of storm into calm, out of the clamour of guns into the radiant stillness that fills the remote heart of Asia. For, after all, the guns may roar for their time, and lay a world in ruins round us ; but now the irises are blooming again at the Halls of Heaven," writes Farrer in his preface to The Rainbow Bridge, on May 19, 1918, before the guns stopped. Here is Farrer at possibly his most rhapsodic, clearly aware that the discovery of this plant is probably the high water mark of his collecting career, and still filled with wonder at the happy accident that resulted in his lost plant coming home after all.


click for description of the discovery of G. farreri )

The Rainbow Bridge, pp. 281-285; p. 292
[Note: genus and species names were not italicized in this edition]

And hardly had I started when, in the fine turf that crowned the top of a sloping boulder, there stared at me a new Gentian, a Gentian that instantly obliterates all others of its race, and sinks even G. Verna and G. Gentianella into a common depth of dullness. When the first awe was over, I gave tongue for Bill [William Purdom], and together, in reverend silence, we contemplated that marvel of luminous loveliness. Not the faintest hope possessed me that this glaring miracle could be a new species. Had not Przewalsky crossed this range ? How then could he possibly have missed a splendor so assaulting as this ? I forgot the chances of the season, and the complete and abject insignificance of Gentiana Farreri when not in flower. For Gentiana Farreri it indeed is, first seen as a Gentian-promise on the crown of Mother Hubbard, and even now, in its overwhelming beauty, attributed by my pessimistic modesty to G. Przewalskyi.

The collector's dream is to have some illustrious plant to bear his name immortal through the gardens of future generations, long after he himself shall have become dust of their paths. Mere beauty will not do it ; for the plant may fail and fade in cultivation, and his name be no more known, except to the learned, as attached to a dead dry sliver on the sheets of a herbarium. To become vividly immortal in the Valhalla of gardeners, one must own a species as vigorous as it is glorious, a thing capable of becoming, and remaining, a household word among English enthusiasts, such a constant friend, for example, as Gentiana Gentianella or Primula auricula. And how few of our new Chinese importations will probably do this ! Already Professor Balfour had refused me several of my Primulas, as being, despite their loveliness, of a temper so tricky as evidently not to be long for this world in English gardens, and therefore not fitted permanently to bear aloft my name in them....

But Gentiana Farreri is of a very different kidney, and bids fair to be as solid a permanency as G. Gentianella itself. It is perfectly hardy, and what is very remarkable in any Gentian but miraculously so in a Gentian so miraculously beautiful it is perfectly vigorous and easy to deal with in any reasonable conditions of culture in a cool place not parched or water-logged. Here, indeed, it forms masses many times the size of any clump you will see on its own alps ; and already special pilgrimages go to Edinburgh in August and September, to see those jungles of my Gentian, a yard through, with some three hundred gigantic trumpets opening at once. Shall I add that, in addition to growing so freely, and flowering so lavishly in so late and dull a moment of the year, this preposterously good-tempered exception to the rule of its race keeps its glory open, rain or shine, can be struck from cuttings as copiously as a Viola, and layered along its shoots as complacently as any carnation.

And its beauty! Nothing could I foretell of its temper and future history that day, as I stood rapt in contemplation before the actual plant, the last and greatest event of my second season, and well worth the whole two years' expedition anyhow, merely to have seen it. A fine frail tuft like grass radiating some half a dozen fine flapping stems that is G. Farreri, quite inconspicuous and obscure in all the high lawns of the Da-Tung, even down into the Dene as low as Wolvesden House. Until it flowers ; and every day in early September brings a fresh crashing explosion of colour in the fold of the lawns. For each of those weakly stems concludes in one enormous upturned trumpet, more gorgeous than anything attained by G. Gentianella, but in the same general style and form. But the outline is different, with a more subtle swell to the chalice, and that is freaked outside in heavy lines of black-purple that divide long Vandykes of dim periwinkle blue with panels of Nankeen buff between ; inside the tube and throat are white, but the mouth and the wide bold flanges are of so luminous and intense a light azure that one blossom of it will blaze out at you among the grass on the other side of the valley. In no other plant, except perhaps, Ipomoea Learii, or Nemophila, do I know such a shattering acuteness of colour : it is like a clear sky soon after sunrise, shrill and translucent, as if it had a light inside. It literally burns in the alpine turf like an electric jewel, an incandescent turquoise.

The Rainbow Bridge, illustration facing p. 282

Do you wonder if I stood spell-bound ? Do you wonder if my heart also sank to my boots in despair ? For how was I to get this glory home ? A plant that only blooms in the beginning of September when will it seed ? The only possible chance that I could see lay in transporting living clumps ; for we clearly could not go on waiting in Wolvesden for the seed to ripen. Nor was there anyone we could trust to collect it after we had gone. And yet to miss this would be to miss the apex of my whole expedition, a thing that ranked already with my Isopyrum and even above it for the uniqueness of its colour. So I did transport the living clumps ; with what awe and attendance you may judge.

And the Trans-Siberian journey killed them all. My disappointment cut so deep that I put it behind me, and resolutely banished the memory of that Gentian from my heart. Months passed, and the War submerged me in work, and London engulphed me, and the garden ceased to exist, except as a remote memory. But in August of that year (1916) a little package reached me from the Botanic Garden at Edinburgh. Would I give the history of the enclosed Gentian ? I tore open the box, and there, large and lovely and luminous as ever, was the lost Da-Tung Gentian, which I had dismissed all hope of ever seeing again.

Do you ask how the miracle was wrought ? I hope you do, for I intend to tell you. Can you remember how in 1914, over the high lawns of Thundercrown and the Ardjeri Alps, I collected the elusive seed of Gentiana hexaphylla on Thundercrown, with my own hands, and vicariously, by the servants, on the fells of Ardjeri ? And do you also remember that some of the packets brought down by the servants seemed to show a different form, to be larger and thicker and darker in the pod than any of G. hexaphylla's ? So different, indeed, did they seem to me that I ultimately sent them, as a precautionary measure, under different numbers, as F315A , and F473. And these germs it was that in due course revealed the despaired-of G. Farreri to the amazed eyes of Edinburgh. On so frail a thread, and across so complete an intervening gulf of gloom, was accomplished the introduction to our gardens of so pre-eminent a plant. In any Comtist calendar, that reckons only the really important things for human happiness (rather than the mere deaths of Sovereigns, and passing of Bills that make no difference, and conclusions of peaces made of pie crust), large and red will be the letters that mark the August day which first revealed my Gentiana to cultivation.

After this vision of beauty you will easily figure to yourself how easily I sailed across the undulations of the Alps, and towered lightly to the ridge of Crest Royal, illuminated and drawn on, as I climbed, by occasional flares of the Gentian, just beginning in the turf of the hill-side. On Crest Royal there was the Little Queen to be got, and the sweet pink Erysimum ; for long I agonized vainly for the latter, and at last saw the clustered spectacles of its seed heads at my very feet, and away down the sunny slope. Broken-backed by the minuteness of my search for the Primula, I straightened out to descend the scree on the other side, in which a flannel-leaved Saussurea was the only sign of life, with elongated domes of straw-coloured fluff and wool in a dense web like crystallized wadding. In the big dish below the Harebell Poppy was now in the pleasantest state of seed, all the pods fat and just dehiscent, not yet dried out, nor dashed by storms. I spent a very happy hour or two snapping off their jolly plumpnesses till I was bulged as a barrel in all my pockets. And so, over the rim of the dish at last, and down the enormous descent of the rib-ridge into Wolvesden again. And at the very bottom, in a lawn of the Dene, what should once more blaze upon my sight but my own Gentian ? And so ended the crucial and final expedition of my second year. Poor Bill was tired and depressed with the monotony of our matter, but I, who had feared crossluck up there, alike with the weather and the seeds, now concluded the book of Wolvesden in a climax of radiance, so to have been spared by the former, and so triumphantly to have conquered the latter....

Breakings-up are dreadful ; I will not dwell on my farewells to that golden place, where my Gentian was now in the full of its splendour beside the stone-shoots up the lawns across the beck, so unsufferably beautiful that even now my memory staggers in the thought of it, as I saw it that last morning, and said good-bye to it (as I feared, for ever) in the nippy sparkle of that virginal air, filled with strange haunting autumnal fragrances, chill and delicious and sad.

The Rainbow Bridge has been digitized and is available from The Internet Archive:

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
I took Cypripedium tibeticum, Abigail Rorer's variant, to one of the best framers in Philadelphia today. It will only cost me slightly more than I paid for the print to have it framed properly. I think this will begin and end my career as a connoisseur of fine art prints -- it hurts my soul to spend that much money, but it would hurt my soul even more not to do the print justice. Hereafter I will admire other people's prints and not engage in such mad extravagance.

Also...LiveJournal hiccupped today, just long enough to make me panic about not having backup for my mimpish squinnies series. It sent me scurrying off to Dreamwidth to fix that little thing.
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: ]

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.
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: ]

Aquilegia, looks like 'McKana's Giant' to me, from the Garden Club of Philadelphia pocket garden
entry, "The Shoshone Circle of Life," in the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

Reginald Farrer was, in the main, very taken with Aquilegia, the columbine, although there were some he found miffy or mimpish as noted below. He warns, however, of their promiscuity.

From My Rock-Garden (1907):

Now that Ranunculus has been dealt with, Aquilegia clearly takes the next place, and for beauty might have had the first. The Columbines are a glorious proud family. But I wish they kept their pedigree in better order. More confusion, more inextricable and awful, reigns among Aquilegias than among any other race of alpines, until we reach Campanula and the Aeizoon Saxifrages. The Columbines seed with plebeian fecundity, and cross with one another to such an extent that there is no keeping a strain pure if there be any other kind of Columbine living within a ten-mile radius. Therefore it is always a speculation to buy seed, and a very risky speculation too, unless the seller is a man you know and trust. Even so, poor soul, neither he nor you can tell what may come of it. Again and again I have got seed of innumerable rare, valuable, interesting sorts ; and you should see the dingy weeds that have resulted. Then I was told that olympica and longi-cakarata never lost their purity, so that seed from them could be relied upon. Eagerly I bought some ; it germinated, like all Columbine seed, so thickly that one didn't know how to deal with it. However, the babies were potted up reverently, with an immense outlay in time and pots, and nice, carefully mixed soil. And, when they flowered, they were all very inferior forms of vulgaris ! For this reason then I shall not be able to tell you of any genuine experiences with these two species, with leptoceras, with arctica, with many another promising, exciting Columbine that one reads about and faithfully buys seed of, hoping against hope until the flowers have actually opened. Nor are grown plants always safe ; for some gardeners have dwarf consciences ; and I have seen a rather poor purple variety of vulgaris being shown at the Temple Show as A. alpina.

The Columbines, as a race, belong to the lower, lighter scrub of Alpine woods all along the great mountain chains of the northern world. In cultivation the rarer ones are confessedly a little difficult. The essential is to give them perfect, quick drainage, and then a soil both rich and light. They dislike, too, being battered by winds and weather while they are coming up. The best that we can do is to remember how they lodge and dodge behind bushes on their native hills when they can, and give them some such similar protection in the garden.

A. alpina (the true alpina) is unquestionably the most beautiful plant of the European Alps. When after long search I first sighted it among the brushwood on the Vorder Wellhorn, I gave a loud cry and fell prone. The loveliness of it simply takes you between the eyes and knocks you dizzy. The flowers, dancing high on airy stems, are of enormous size, most exquisitely, daintily balanced, and of a soft, melting blue quite impossible to describe a colour deep yet gentle, brilliant yet modest, perfectly clear and yet not flaunting. Sometimes the centre is white, but even this cannot increase the beauty of the blossom. A. alpina pervades the Alpine woods, always rare, but rather less so as you get towards the southern and eastern ranges. I believe that the Wellhorn is almost its only Oberland habitat, but I have seen it peering pleasantly at me from many copses on the eastern slope of the Arolla valley. In cultivation it wants a moderate amount of care probably more in the South of England than in this Alpine air and climate of Craven but is by no means to be reckoned among the most difficult species. Collected seed from the Alps is safe ; but the true species is by no means easy to get hold of, even in gardens whose catalogues boldly advertise it. As for A. pyrenaica, this is virtually a tiny form of alpina. Haerikeana and einseleana have been sent me by trustworthy people, and seem to answer, afar off, to their description. All I can say is, I don't care for them. I see in them little distinctness or superiority for gardening purposes. A. coerulea is perhaps the queen of the family, and I will not tire any one with hunting out epithets for this glorious plant, with its great delicate pale blue flowers, long-spurred, carried erect, with a centre of creamy white. Coerulea gives a pink form (and a white of which I have seed), and some lovely hybrids with Chrysantha, but is, itself, of no very brilliant constitution, if the truth is to be told. It is miffy, a little hard to reckon with and not always to be counted on for two successive seasons. But sound seed of it can easily be got ; and the plant is a thousand times worth growing, even if it has to be treated as a biennial. There is a quaint spurless form, like a wee Clematis, called stellata ; but this, though charming, quite pales before coerulea itself.

A. coerulia, North American Rock Garden Society, Delaware Valley Chapter display, "Grand
Teton Inspiration," Philadelphia Flower Show, March 10, 2016

A. glandulosa, the Siberian Columbine, is another gorgeous great blue creature with white centre. He carries his flowers half-pendent, and is rather less fairylike and more solidly splendid than coerulea. And, like coerulea, he has a bad reputation indeed, a worse one than the Rocky Mountain Columbine. At Forres, in Scotland, in Mr. Wiseman's garden, he grows and ramps about amazingly in a moist, cool, peaty soil, most creamy and delicious to the touch. But in dry southerly gardens he is very emphatically what a woman I know calls a 'Mimp.' You may say of him, as the shortsighted say of human life

' here to-day and gone tomorrow.'

With me he grows well ; and now I have a bed full of seedlings which seem wonderfully vigorous. From them I hope great things ; seedlings being so much more vigorous than bought plants, as from their birth they are busy adapting themselves to the place they grow in, instead of, like a poor bought plant, making vain efforts to take up the broken strand of life, and forget the place they came from.

A.flabellata is a queer, charming little Japanese, small in growth, with bright pale green leaves and fat, waxy flowers, either creamy white or pale blue with white centre. It blooms very early, and takes kindly to any cool garden soil. Another Japanese plant, from Saghalin and Hokkaido, is the spurless, dark A. ecalcarata. My stock looks very thriving and brilliant, but, until it flowers, I had better say no more, lest Nemesis hear me rashly boasting, and I find that all my ecalcaratas are really vulgaris. A. chrysaniha, the common golden-spurred Columbine, needs neither recommendation nor description. This and its numerous hybrids are goodtempered, delightful, and lovely plants for any garden, and for almost any part of it. Nor can I leave out the rare native plant, the single deep blue A. vulgaris, which peeps, here and there, from our Craven copses under the cliffs. The other forms, pink and purple and so forth, are not worth a place in the choice rock-garden ; and as for the double forms, horresco referens, they are ineffably frightful, denying every single beauty in which the Columbines are pre-eminent lightness, daintiness, form, and colour, and carriage. A. vulgaris nivea is not far, on the other hand, from being the loveliest of all white Columbines, and A . vulgaris wittmaniana is one of the parents of A. Stuarti. A. Stuarti has for its other parent glandulosa, and the result is a singularly beautiful little Columbine, as large as glandulosa in the flower, but rather smaller in growth. In habit and disposition it comes intermediate. It is more trustworthy and healthy than glandulosa, but less so than vulgaris. Lovely and vigorous as it is, for my own part I still prefer glandulosa, the species, to any raised garden-hybrid except Helenae

It has been some time since I grew any columbine. I recently discovered a cache of seeds, labeled "White Columbine for Laura," in my sister's handwriting, that's been in my freezer for a long time (given that my sister has been dead for almost five years). Perhaps I will sow them in June. I have always been partial to the dwarf A. flabellata 'nana alba' but the last time I grew it the "dwarves" were three feet all, possibly short for Thorin Oakinshield but awfully tall for a columbine. 
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
I have just realized that I never posted a link to the Adobe Acrobat version of Farrer's essay on Austen that I created after receiving it in the mail. So here's the link, and here's a small image of the introductory paragraph:


lblanchard: (Default)

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