Mar. 9th, 2016

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
Before I went into full Flower Show mode, I attended a full-day symposium on private presses and makers of books at Penn. It was a fine symposium, complemented by a splendid exhibition of books donated to Penn by Roger Wieck (curator of medieval mss at the Morgan Library in New York) and his partner Jean Fran├žois Vilain. There's an exhibition catalog, but that didn't stop me from creating a photo album with images and captions.

One of my favorites is by artist/illustrator Abigail Rorer. Rorer does a lot of botanical illustration and other illustrations of the natural world -- along with a totally kick-ass Dracula. But the one that caught my fancy is Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants (2007) .

Reginald Farrar was a self-taught expert on the rock garden and a writer of decided opinions and purple prose. His magnum opus, The English Rock-Garden, does not stint in his praise for the praiseworthy plants, nor in his opprobrium for the less worthy plants. Abigail Rorer has drawn the "worthless plants" with the precision of a field guide illustrator and then...amended them to reflect his judgment. Have an example: this is Cypripedium tibeticum, followed by Farrer's description -- which includes the deathless phrase "a mimpish misery" -- and finally a link to Rorer's version.

"C[ypripedium] tibeticum cannot have the same praise [as C. speciosum], although it is found in the same reckless profusion in the same situations, in the rough grassy slopes, among countless other plants on the high open ridges of Tibet. It is a small squat thing, rather like a malignant Tibetan toad in appearance (no less than in character) when it produces its single stumpy stolid flower of immense size, on a stem of some 3 or 4 inches. For this is an evil-looking, hoody sullenness, with broad straight segments and bulging lip, the whole being of whitish tone, but densely striped all over with lines of purple-black, while the bag is almost entirely of the same lurid tone. In cultivation, however, it avoids this condemnation by very rarely growing well enough to show those flowers at all. It has by no means answered the high expectations which its first appearance and the description of its habitat provided -- a mimpish misery, lingering on from year to year, and always sending up one barren shoot of foliage, but never mustering strength for anything more. It is quite likely, however, that it misses company; and that if, instead of setting it all by itself in special soil, as a precious treasure, we laid its roots in shallow light stuff, where they should have to battle their way about among other roots of fine Gentians and Dianthus and Arenaria and small Geranium, the plant would then begin to feel at home, and be stimulated into making an effort to thrive."
--Reginald Farrer, The English Rock-Garden (and scroll down to find this illustration)

I am restraining the spendthrift impulse: although the [very expensive] book, with a limited print run, has sold out, Rorer has some prints for sale, including the squat Tibetan toad. At $120, it's pretty far above my impulse purchase price, so I have been thinking about it for a week. I think the impulse is fading. But not the impulse to get better acquainted with the life and prose of Reginald Farrer. I picked up a used edition of The English Rock-Garden on for small money, and when the PHS Library reopens after the Flower Show (because the whole staff is working the show and the PHS office is closed for the duration) I will snag a biography of the man, whose life appears to have been as colorful as his opinions.

(I saw Jean-Fran├žois at a dinner meeting last night; we were seated next to each other and I told him I'd been chasing Mimpish Squinnies and found several folks on Google hoping for a trade edition. He was thoughtful and said he'd bring it up with Rorer.)


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