Jun. 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. You can see her work, including all fourteen mimpish squinnies, here: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html ]

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


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