Aug. 22nd, 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 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: ]

Last Monday was my birthday, so I treated myself to a mimpery-free Monday.

Eryngium giganteum
By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I am puzzled by the inclusion of this species in Rorer's book, since Farrer has nothing bad to say about that particular species -- although there are others that incur his ire. Do hop over to the link I shared above to see Rorer's bristling Eryngium, whose foliage includes "the tusk of a sword-fish." Here is the entry from Farrer's The English Rock-Garden:

Setting aside the giant species, best fitted for the border, and adequately described in any catalogue of such things; setting aside also the terrible species from America which are best fitted for the hot and stony wild garden (where their tropical-looking foliage, like the tusk of a sword-fish, may have its splendours, and not be disgraced by the ensuing dingy heads of blossom enclosed in a cup of pointed bracts like some Protea or an Artichoke gone mad) -- it is important for the rock-garden to know which species will best suit its style, and, more important still in one case, which is which. For beautiful E. amethystinum is often sent out under the name of the much more beautiful and much rarer E. alpinum. But the two are very easily known apart. Look down from above upon the hard sugar-loaf of blossom enclosed in its wide-spreading frill of steely blue: if that cup be handsomely but thinly starry, with long spiny bracts rather broad and stiff and solid, and owning a toothing here and there, then the species is E. amethystinum. But now what a change. Look down upon the next: here the frill is double, treble, quadruple, and each bract is toothed again and again into long thorny-looking spines of its own, until the whole effect is that of a blue lacy collar of richness unparalleled. This is the only, the unsurpassable E. alpinum, a plant of the mid-alpine limestones, scattered locally here and there along the mountain chains, nowhere in any great quantity, though common enough in the small limited stations where it occurs. But in nature, accordingly, it is a prize of such preciousness that it should neither be dug nor picked-even if its root did not forbid the one crime, and the hope of seed dehort from the other. It is indeed a superb and uncanny splendour of some foot or 18 inures high, blooming through the later fullness of summer, and, like all its kind, perfectly happy in the rock-garden in any very deep loam. No other, following, can compete with this, except its peer, E. giganteum, of nearly a yard high, from the Caucasus, with much the same frill, but here of an ivory-white so ghostly-clear that the plant is called Elves' Bones. For the rock-garden, too, is fitted rare and lovely E. spinalba from the Southern European ranges, about 18 inches high, firmly spinous, with stems and frill of a silvery pale grey-blue fading into white. But for places of choice, even in the very foreground of the rock-work, there are two species of front rank to match. Of these E. prostratum, in our gardens, forms a quite small central rosette of thin oblong green leaves, sparingly toothed and wholly unarmed, from which lie out upon the earth in a star all round short prostrate stems of 3 or 4 inches, with flowers and frills of a beautiful blue. This is sometimes treated with tenderness, and felt to be impermanent, if not a biennial, even when grown in good rich ground on sunny exposures. In point of fact, this is a bog plant from Texas, and in damp places should make a running carpet, rooting as it goes, along all its ground-hugging branches. Quite different from this is the last Eryngium with which it is at present necessary for the rock-garden to concern itself (though there are many others to supply a full collection). For in the high dry open places, between 8000 and 11,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada of the Old World, dwells E. glaciale, the neatest, finest, and most unfriendly of little thorny tuffets, armed in copious spikes of silvery grey, deepening towards shades of blue, with fish-bone spines of ivory glinting as its stems of 3 or 4: inches unfold towards the frill and the flower. This, indeed, is thankful for open very deep soil in the fullest sun and with perfect drainage, where it grows on happily into a clump, and may be raised from seed, having, like all its kind, a root so heroic and profound as utterly to discourage division or removal. It blooms in summer.

Perhaps Farrer has bad things to say about E. giganteum elsewhere. Or perhaps, having once before aroused the ire of the formidable Miss Willmott by calling her own rock garden too violent for his taste, he was reluctant to cross her again. She was, in addition to being formidable, a recklessly extravagant buyer of plants. And, I suspect, a good part of Farrer's motive in his writing was to stimulate demand for alpine plants -- a demand that he would be happy to see supplied either by him or by the seedsmen and nurserymen for whom he was prospecting in the East.

more photos below the cut )


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