Apr. 6th, 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.].

My "mimpish misery" arrived today: that is to say, the signed print of Abigail Rorer's take on Cypripedium tibeticum. Here it is, resting on the piano (note to self: must move the Flower Show Tour Guide ranger hats!). I have packed it up again after gloating over it a bit and will take it to the framers after consulting some experts on who's a good enough framer to be trusted with the print.

Bonus news: Abigail Rorer and I have been emailing back and forth since I ordered the print, and I have discovered that she is....a Flower Show judge! How exciting! Perhaps we'll be able to meet up next year.

Now that I have the Mimpish Misery, I'm beginning to toss my spare change in a jar and hope I have enough to buy the "squinnie" before the prints are sold out. Rorer told me that the term "squinnie" was used in the listing for Veronica alpina....but I think it was in a side remark about V. nivalis, which was later moved to its own entry.

Farrer doesn't have much time for a lot of the veronicas, referring to them all as "this vast and on the whole undistinguished race." V. alpina, the one Rorer chose for Mimpish Squinnies, leads the pack, but by no means ends it.

Here is a photo of V. alpina. I have not been able to locate a public domain photo of V. nivalis. You can see Rorer's take on V. alpina here: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html -- it's the third one down.

Veronica alpina (habitat: Tatry)
Date 19 June 2008
Source Own work
Author Jerzy OpioĊ‚a
Accessed April 6, 2016

V. alpina deserves prosecution for its false pretences. Under this name we expect something better than this peculiarly dingy small weed with its large hairy pairs of oval leaves on the weak creeping stems of 2 or 3 inches, that end in a parsimonious little parcel of diminutive flowers in a pale lymphatic shade of slaty-blue. (It is universal in the European Alps, and a special rarity in the Scotch ones.)
V. americana is a species near V. beccabunga and of no value at all.
V. bachofeni is a North American of no merit.
V. beccabunga stands for the common Brooklime, which there is no need to  introduce into the garden from every English streambed.
V. bellidioedes has all the faults of V. alpina in a rather more obvious  form, as the plant is larger in all its parts...the little blooms, packed  sparingly in a head at the top of a hairy and rather leafy stem of 4 or 5  inches, are of a dim and pallid dull blue.
V. laxa has no merit.
V. nivalis is another of the valueless little dirty sad-blue Squinnies,  after the fashion that this race seems to take, at least in Europe, when it  strays to alpine elevations.
V. officinalis is common enough in the open woods for the garden to be  spared its presence.

On the other hand, Farrer has some favorites among the veronicas:

V. canescens makes a great change from [V. cana, which Farrer describes  with no praise at all]. This is so minute and so dim that you never notice  that your piece of broken ground or your sandy bed has been overrun by tiny  pervasive shoots, set with pairs of microscopic glandular oval leaves of a  blunt invisible green, running flat across the surface here and there;  until in July you come round one day and find that whole space peppered  with single speedwell stars of delicate clear china blue, that have all the  look of having been scattered there from some overhanging spray of V.  chamaedrys. But this is V. canescens, suddenly sprung to light again, as  is its pleasant way, when you are quite sure you lost it in the winter, and  know too well that its own place knows it no more. For this lovely little New Zealander -- which now never lets you again forget its presence till  autumn has long been dark on the garden -- turns out not only an easy and  hardy plant, but has the happiest way of seeding itself about in the most  unexpected places here and there, where you would never yourself have  dreamed of putting it, nor of hoping to see it thrive in a carpet. It  lives at home in the dried margins of lakes and pools in both the Islands,  and up to 3000 feet in the mountains; its perfect adaptability to our  country is such a pleasant miracle that pieces of the mat should always be  secured and potted up in autumn, lest trust in the miracle should betray  you, as trust in miracles invariably does, if carried too far.

A decade before the publication of The English Rock-Garden, Farrer  published In A Yorkshire Garden, wherein he writes:

Eritrichium has his choice lair in the last of the third row of the frames;  it is shared by a quantity of Veronica canescens, which, being deciduous  and so inordinately minute, has such a way of disappearing, or being pecked  up, or dug over, or devoured -- or, anyhow, of disappearing, to make the  long sad story short -- that I have at last decided always to keep a  reserve of him here in safety, so as to be quite sure of having his beauty  every year. Nicholson's Supplement tells me, what I had suspected, that Veronica canescens, like so many of his kindred, pretty or plain, hails  from New Zealand. And like most New Zealanders that I know -- with the ever-glorious exception of Olearia haasti -- it may be said that in our climate they are often liable to be miffs if not mimps. They probably want  a colder winter; they certainly ask for a hotter summer. Notably is this  true of Ranunculus lyalli, whose culture I have finally taken the better  part of valour by abandoning. As well, I should imagine, of the hardly less glorious Ranunculus insignis, his golden counterpart. They clamour for a  summer of torrid heat, to be followed by a winter-temperature so far below  zero that one would not dare imagine that anything could survive it.
Therefore, of Veronica canescens I will say that you cannot prize or nurture  this adorable little treasure too minutely. I do not really believe he is  half-hardy -- in fact I am sure he is not; but in a very long, cold, dark  winter of much rain he is apt, being so tiny, to slip out of sight  underground sometimes, and there for ever stay, to your grief and woe. But  he seeds himself freely if you let him; and multiplies as readily as Arenaria balearica; so that no one has any reason or excuse for not  cultivating this delight as widely as he deserves. I well remember my first  sight of him at Backhouse's, years ago. On a bed of bare sand there lay  hundreds of thousands of bright-blue flowers -- no leaves -- no plant, it  seemed -- nothing. And that was Veronica canescens.

I don't have a nice image of Veronica canescens to share, either -- but I went down into the rabbit hole of taxonomy and discovered that, I think, it is another name for V. lilliputiana -- and this brought me to this delicious blog entry on the deliciously-named blog Theobrominated, by ?semi-retired? botanist Phil Garnock-Jones. Garnock-Jones has literally written the book on New Zealand veronicas, rescuing them from their mislabeled past as parahebes. No doubt blood was spilt among taxonomists over this, and I'm not sure it's a settled thing. I'm also more than a little wobbly on exactly what a parahebe is, and how it differs from a hebe.


I've written him asking permission to post one of his photos, but in the meantime a link to the blog entry should do nicely. Another delicious bonus, which brings us back full circle -- the next entry is about one of his other passions --bookbinding! And Abigail Rorer, botanical illustrator, sends her books to be bound by other artists. I think these two splendid people should be introduced, don't you?


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