lblanchard: (swannfountain)
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[This is one in an occasional series of postings related in some way to the alpine plant hunter Reginald Farrer. The series was originally 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 have my two ruinously expensive (by my book-buying standards) Farrer novels and a plan to get them digitized and up on the Internet Archive so others can enjoy them, metaphorically speaking, as he was not a successful novelist. I also have my ruinously expensive The Plant Introductions of Reginald Farrer by E.H.M. Cox, which I wanted for the twelve exquisite Farrer watercolors. I am sorely tempted to remove them and frame them, but I'll resist. Scan, print, and frame is probably the better course.

I've ordered far-less-pricey editions of two more Farrer texts -- Among the Hills: A Book of Joy in High Places and The Dolomites: King Laurin's Garden. My pdfs do not satisfy -- the reproduction of the illustrations is abysmal. I was also thrilled to find that most of the Farrer texts I don't have in hard copy are abundantly available in the $20 range.

I have pansies growing under lights, in their eggshell containers, and they're now showing true leaves. I found a few words about pansies in Farrer's magnum opus, The English Rock-Garden. These words, of course, are not about common garden pansies...

Herewith Farrer on pansies -- or, more accurately, violas:

Alpine seed, as a role, is either very prompt and profuse in coming up, as in all Columbines, Pinks, and Poppies, or else partial, spasmodic, slow, or difficult, as often in Primulas, Gentians, and mountain Pansies.

[Globularia cordifolia] is especially beautiful as a harmonising mist in that tissued carpet of the higher alps, where it supplies a neutral ground of softest blue-grey haze, for the golden crashes of Erysimum and Potentilla, the restless universal dance of the mountain-pansies in every shade from creamy-white to purple, and the Baring blues here and there of Gentiana verna, with the dropped indigo trumpets of G. latifolia among them in tones of sudden darkness.

V. alpina is one of the rarest and most important of all the mountain species, a most lovely thing, almost exactly intermediate between a violet and a pansy. It is a plant hardly ever to be seen in a catalogue, yet one of quite singular amphibious beauty in the family, and in cultivation perfectly easy to grow and keep in any good, light, rich soil, mixed with peat and limestone chips, with such various enrichments of sand, leaf-mould, loam, and old manure as the zeal of the cultivator may prompt, in a ledge or slope on which the sun falls freely in the later and modified half of his daily round, but which is also well secured against excessive aridness by pipes or care. Here it forms a delightful neat close tuffet of rounded, heart-shaped little leaves on long stalks (all springing from the one central crown), dark, smooth and glossy green, with broad rounded scalloping along their edge, and a few microscopic hairs in each scallop ; from the neck, among these, on stems of 2 or 3 inches in May, arises a profusion of very large violets, or rather small pansies, well above the neat and tidy clump of foliage, and, in themselves, of a rich and glorious purple, with blotches of violet darkness radiating into the petals from the rim of the white eye ; the two lengthily oval upper petals stand apart from each other, too, so that the flower gets the look of an alert and prick-eared little purple rabbit. It is indeed a most precious jewel, and in the garden of a vigour equal to its beauty, though it never throws any runners, and can only be multiplied from seed, or most careful division of the main crown ; in cultivation, like V. calcarata, it does not seem always and everywhere to be as lavish as it should of its imperial well-built blossoms, with their rounded and comfortable petals of exaggerated violet-design. They both, it seems, want to be ripened for flower by a perfectly dry resting-time in winter, followed by a soaking wet period of development when the snows are weeping themselves profusely away through the mountains of the world. The casual wanderer is not likely to come upon V. alpina ; it is a species of the far Eastern Alps, where, in the turf and sometimes even in the rocks of the limestone ranges, it replaces V. calcarata. It is lavishly abundant within its range ; occupying all the grass of the Styrian and lower Austrian limestones, in company with Campanula alpina, Dianthus alpinus, Primula clusiana, P. minima, P. auricula, and Androsace lactea ; it then has a patch of profusion in the Western Carpathians (on the Tatra and Mount Choc, &c), and after that has no further habitation on earth, except the caterpillar-curve of its profuse distribution along the high limestones of Transylvania. It has a charm distinct from all violets, and from all pansies, yet partaking of both, and doubling them all.

V. altaica is one of the great-great-grandmothers of our garden Pansies. It stands near V. calcarata, making looser, freer masses, with abundant noble pansies, continuing through the summer, of lilac, yellow, mauve, or purple, with a shorter spur than in V. calcarata, and shorter, broader leaves. It is a plant from the alps of Asia Minor and the Altai, as easy and hearty as its descendants suggest.

V. calcarata.—This is the alpine Pansy, veiling all the hills for miles and miles in hazy films of gold and lavender, and making a riot of colour in the fine turf of June  such as no pen nor brush can paint, of a hundred million pansies in every shade, from pure white through yellows of softness, subtlety, and violent gold, to tender lavender and on into the richest imperial violet, interrupted everywhere by the crashing azures of Gentiana verna, with the dropped dark indigo trumpets of G. latifolia coming into the chorus like deep solemn notes of music in the clangour of lilting colours, lightened with the tinkle of Potentillas, and softened by the dim-grey universal hum of Globularia, till the whole is an orchestra of glory fit only for the accompaniment of passing gods. Not always, however, for the passing man ; for one who writes with facile fluency about flowers, stood there upon a golden day in June, with his feet planted right and left on a Gentian a Pansy, and, looking out across that illimitable ocean of loveliness with a peevish eye, said, "I don't call this much of a display ! " So back he went to study carpet-bedding in Balham.

V. calcarata is abundant and universal in the high turf of all the Alps, until on the Eastern limestone its place is taken by the wholly different V. alpina. The Spurred Pansy runs and ramps through the herbage far and wide, with its frail and thready shoots, sending up here and there its tufts of little, oval, scalloped, smooth leaves, and the great flowers on their stems of 2 or 3 inches. So current is the habit of its growth, indeed, that it becomes most difficult to collect, never staying long enough in one place for us to be able to get well-rooted morsels off some choice variety ; and making it even hard work to get good pieces of the plant at all, unless you look out for some open shaly bank or crumbling slope of earth near the path-side, where the absence of rivals may have coaxed the Pansy into a concise and clumpy mood. In the course of its vast range, indeed, this evasive tendency of the Viola occasions much woe to its admirers, for few beauties vary more widely into forms and colours more delectable. There are comfortable, fat-faced forms, and thin, lean, angular ones ; some have the lower lip dropped and triangular and long as an embittered Puritan's ; others are flattened till they are as jolly as the jovialities reflected in a broadening mirror ; some are large and stately and ample, while others are little and thin and delicate and starry. In colour, too, they vary no less distractingly, for, apart from the general wide range of tones (in which at any moment you may come upon something special, either in clarity or intensity), you may also happen on strange beautiful thunder-and-lightning blends of citron and bronze and violet, or sometimes, though very rarely indeed, on one with pansies of a pure but muffled sad flesh-pink. None of these, when got, are inferior to the type in ease of cultivation ; V. calcarata is a marvel of vigour in any rich, open soil in which it can have a sufficiency of water. In some gardens it seems shy of flower—a fact that may account for the preposterous rarity in cultivation of this, one of the most brilliant of all alpines and one of the heartiest in growth ; but in others it forms sheeted masses of its green as lavishly besprent with its royal glowing pansies as if it were the commonest of bedding Violas. These admirable plants it  imitates, too, not only in the freedom of its growth, but also in the freedom with which it will strike from cuttings ; so that in a year or two, you could have whole edgings of some chosen and cherished variety. But these varieties, besides the pain their habit gives to the collector, are hardly less of a trial to the cultivator. For  botanists are perpetually subdividing them and giving them names, which the nurseryman seizes on at once, and sends their wearers out unannotated, as species, so that the zealots of Viola are for ever buying V. calcarata under unrecognisable and expensive epithets. One of the most important and oldest of these is V. Zoysii, which is no more than a thin-flowered yellow form of the type, with a deep notch in the lower petal. Other named but vague developments, all belonging to V. calcarata in major or minor habit, and all of them, accordingly, plants of the greatest beauty, are V. elongata, V. Eugeniae (these two being the same large development of the species), V. Corsica, V. aetnensis, and V. nebrodensis.

Viola alpina, from Wikimedia. Click image for citations

Viola calcarata, from Wikimedia. Click image for citations

Viola altaica, great-great-grandmother of the garden pansy. Click image for citations

Pansy, from one of the two packs of seeds I bought last spring and thus probably what I've got in my eggshells.
Planted last fall, it has bloomed intermittently all winter.
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