lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-08-10 09:01 am

So exciting! New book on #reginaldfarrer !


This may not be exciting news to everyone, but it certainly is to me! A professor of art history at UTexas (Austin) has a study of Farrer, focusing on his Buddhism, to be released in January. Details here:

http://www.mhra.org.uk/news/sri-lanka-western-front-farrers-buddhism

And a link to the book blurb itself (from which I stole the cover illustration):

http://www.mhra.org.uk/publications/sicl-36

The Modern Culture of Reginald Farrer
Landscape, Literature and Buddhism
Michael Charlesworth

Less exciting, or at least not exciting in a good way, is the fact that this paperback carries a price tag of $99 (*gulp*). I will need to pitch all my spare change in a jar until January to afford it.

The blurb says that the book will consider, especially, three works: In Old Ceylon, which happens to be next up on my reading list; The Void of War, which I have in reprint; and the verse drama Vasanta the Beautiful, which I do not have but which is available in pdf from the Hathi Trust (which I may be able to read online in an annoying load-each-page separately fashion).

One hopes that Charlesworth will give at least a nod to Farrer's second novel, The Sundered Streams, which owed a lot to his brush with Buddhism just before or possibly during his conversion and includes a lengthy lecture from a Buddhist abbot visiting England.

Here's hoping that this will be the first pebble in an avalanche of Farrer-related doings in the run-up to the centenary of his death in 2020.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-07-11 10:51 am

Aquatic aerobics

It was actually kind of fun. Too bad they only have it at 8 am once a week. On the other hand, I found out that mask, fins, and snorkel are all permitted in the lap lanes at any time that the pool is open so yay! Roy may rejoin the Y...

Last night we had Trader Joe's lasagna for dinner. It says four servings -- hah! It's perfect for two. Unfortunately, two servings of the stuff packs a whopping 1900 mg of salt (and 750 calories, too, but that's okay because it's my big meal of the day, paired only with a green vegetable). I will be chugging water and doing sweaty things for a couple days to move that out of my system.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-06-26 09:07 am

So....ragwort (for [livejournal.com profile] poliphilo)

Since [livejournal.com profile] poliphilo posted about ragwort infesting one of his meadows and potentially poisoning the horses grazing there, I went searching for more information on the plant. First link Google offered me was to a page labeled "Ragwort -- Stinking Willie," which made me giggle.

But it's a rather pretty plant, and apparently pollinators love it, including one of my favorites, the Red Admiral butterfly. I saw one in my neighbor's back yard yesterday, while watering for her. I've recently been thinking about gradually shifting my front plantings over to more pollinator-friendly things, so the bit about ragwort was providential. I don't expect to have much livestock grazing on Christian Street, so it's safe, I think. And it's a lovely plant.

One of the commenters on Poliphilo's thread referenced the beautiful caterpillars of the cinnabar moth, which love to feast on the plant, and I stole a photo that came up in image search. Here it is for your enjoyment:

photo described above -- ragwort


Gosh, two posts in the same day!
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-05-22 01:21 pm

An unmimpish niece...

Whoa. One of the leading botanical illustrators in England is one Annie Farrer, something-something niece of Reginald Farrer.

http://www.ncbpt.org.uk/folly/exhibitions/exhibitions_2008/
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-05-22 12:43 pm

Mimpish Monday: Squinny Edelweiss and Purple Prose

First, the edelweiss (aka Leontopodium alpinum), blooming weakly in the alpine meadows of South Philly (elev. 36 ft). I think it's remarkable that it blooms at all...

Leontopodium alpinum (Edelweiss)

And now, the purple prose. This is from Farrer's second novel, The Sundered Streams, and is an example of why he's a lousy novelist but a fabulous prose stylist. First, the plot summary: Kingston, our protagonist, is married to a dull but dependable woman. He finds himself inexplicable drawn to her very odd cousin Isabel, who is living with them. Through a series of mischances Kingston and Isabel wind up stranded, alone, on a mountain top, where they discover their mutual conviction that their souls have been linked for all eternity. She demands that he run away with her; he refuses, citing the claims of duty and honor, and they are locked in a fierce emotional combat. Finally, they agree that nothing can be resolved that night; she retires to sleep in the primitive summit shelter and he remains outside to pace and fret.

And there the narrative stops dead.

For four full octavo pages, the crisis and fulcrum of the plot hangs in the balance -- while Farrer paints a word picture of the impending dawn atop the peak that I believe to be a stand-in for his native Ingleborough. But such a word picture. One can almost forget, midway through this, that two tortured souls are trying to find a way forward out of an impasse.

The purple prose, let me show it you )

At this point, Isabel joins him. The crisis has passed, and they both acknowledge the claims of duty and honor and the dull but dependable wife.

[livejournal.com profile] pameladean, I tweeted some pages of execrable dialog from this book earlier. Interestingly, that is the voice Kingston uses when talking to his wife -- that stilted, superficial, early 20th century public school voice of the English gentry. When he speaks to Isabel, it's wholly other -- more genuine, more impassioned. I could wish he had had a stern editor to trim and prune a work that had a germ of an idea, badly handled by someone who's much better at describing landscapes and flowers than at plumbing the human heart.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-05-19 01:18 pm

The Living Book at The Library Company



What happens when a bunch of conservators get together and propose an exhibition at a special collections library? This exhibition at The Library Company of Philadelphia, "The Living Book," is a charming and provocative answer to this question. If you love books, this is an exhibition for you.

A half-day symposium yesterday also was a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind. It was livestreamed on YouTube, where you can share in the bibliophiliac goodness.

The symposium and its three speakers are described here -- you can also navigate for additional information on the exhibition (including a short video showing off some of the treasures):

http://thelivingbook.librarycompany.org/events/

The YouTube record of the event, with lots of compelling images onscreen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nvo7RRPsPR0

14:45 Welcome and introduction (James Green, Librarian)
21:40 Ten Moments in the Stacks: A Curator's View (Mark Dimunation, Library of Congress)
1:25:40 Book Theater: The History of the Tunnel Book (Alice Austin, Library Company)
2:17 Hungry Bibliophiles: An Experiment in Utilitarian Bookmaking (Russell Maret)
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-05-01 09:25 am

What a surprise! (Selenicereus anthonyanus)

Some years ago I swapped someone some cuttings of Nopalxochia for cuttings of the ric rac cactus, Selenicereus anthonyanus, because I liked the leaves/stems. Last week I thought about getting rid of the plant because it has ugly aerial roots, its stems reach out like tentacles to grab me when I walk by, and it hasn't bloomed. I think the plant read my mind and decided to earn its keep.

Walking by it yesterday afternoon, I saw this:


Well, hello there, says I. I wonder when you'll bloom and for how long. So I looked it up. Blooms at night, it said. Only one night, it said. Very fragrant, it said. So before going to bed last night, I thought I'd check on it. Well, hello there!





They said it was fragrant. I associate that term with a pleasant odor. Pungent is how I would describe the smell -- strong and sharp and verging on repellent to my taste -- the way old stems of parsley, cut and bruised, might smell if parsley were poisonous and caustic. But that should help it to get the job done in the wild during its one-night bloom -- I could smell it two rooms away and I'm a mere human. And it certainly has lady parts like a landing strip. No way Mr. Pollinator will miss that on its way to the nectar!

A pity I have nothing to pollinate it with, thinks I to myself. But wait! Didn't I read that they'll hybridize with disocactus? And isn't Nopalxochia a disocactus? And don't I have one solitary bloom on the backup Nopalxochia in the second-floor bathroom?

Do I need another hybridizing experiment? On the other hand, what are the chances I will have both these plants in flower at the same time again in my lifetime?

It was the work of a minute to scamper downstairs, pinch off a generous pinch of anthers, scamper back upstairs, and smear them around the lady parts. Time will tell whether I have anything. It being a cactus, it will probably take a year for the fruit to mature if this arranged marriage takes. The ovary is about the size of a big fat supermarket grape as it is -- this ought to be huge, if it takes.

This morning the flower has closed up and the smell is gone. Now I wait.


(In other windowsill and back garden news: I found a new flower stalk emerging on my H. striatum. And when I went a-weeding in my two large annual herb pots out back, I found two, count 'em, TWO forgotten juvenile hippeastrums emerging. They overwintered! In single digit temperatures! O frabjous day!)
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-04-06 01:38 pm
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My gorgeous new book, let me show it to you...

This is my new Reginald Farrer book. Is it not a glorious piece of Edwardian whatchamacallit?






The "coloured" plates appear to be exactly that -- black-and-white photos that have been painted. The book contains plenty of Farrer's frolicsome prose. Once I'm off the Maritime Alps, I will dip into this one for a change.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-03-08 10:49 am
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All Flower Show, all the time (except for the hippeastrum parade)

Too busy learning and photographing to think of anything except my day job and what's for dinner. Here, have a photo of flowery goodness under construction (whee!)



I took this on Monday. The members' preview will be Friday. Those things up in the air are 3,874 clusters of roses, rice flowers, and silver daisies (all kiln-dried) suspended on 16 miles of parachute cord.

Best to follow me on Facebook if you want more flowery goodness these days. I post as Laura Blanchard (how original) and my Flower Show posts are all public.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-02-27 04:50 pm
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Mimpish Monday: Viola alpina and friends (and common garden pansy)

[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: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html ]

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...images and Farrerian prose after the jump )
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-02-09 03:58 pm
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Hippeastrum pollination fail, I think

H. striatum pod stopped growing a couple days ago. This morning I thought I noticed that it was deflating. However, the hippeastrum that cross-bred with it so successfully last year has two buds showing, whee!
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2017-01-26 11:02 pm
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Hippeastrum update (for [livejournal.com profile] pondhopper)

The market pack in the front holds six seedlings from the seeds [livejournal.com profile] pondhopper sent me. The market pack in the back holds six seedlings from last year's cross of one of my 2006 seedlings with H. striatum.



Both groups of seedlings have plants that have already put out offsets -- outside my experience with seedlings that are well under a year old, but that just goes to show you. What it goes to show you I don't know.

In other hippeastrum news, the self-pollination I performed on H. striatum a little over a week ago is looking successful. But I recall that my last attempt aborted at 10-12 days so I'm not getting my hopes up yet. If it is successful, [livejournal.com profile] pondhopper gets the lion's share.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-12-31 04:01 pm
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Mimpish Monday-plus-six*: Farewell to Mimpish Squinnies

[This is one in what has now become an almost-weekly 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 have finished posting about the fourteen plants Abigail Rorer illustrated in Mimpish Squinnies. As a fitting end to a year's Farrerian posting (and, I think, the end to posting about him with such clockwork regularity), I give you Reginald Farrer as visualized by Rorer:



Rorer based this print on a photograph of Farrer in his "Buddhist robes," probably the set of Japanese Chinese court robes he bought on his first trip to Asia shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. He must have been a sight, an almost-dwarfish figure parading around a small Yorkshire village in this garb -- which he was wont to put on when giving lantern slide presentations about his travels to the local children. His rather hidebound parents were surely scandalized by this exhibition of heathen eccentricity and also by his very public announcements that he had converted to Buddhism.

I believe that Farrer made four trips to Asia in total -- the first to China and Japan; the second to Ceylon; the third to the Tibetan marches, and the fourth to the Burma uplands. They were the source material for the travelogues that brought him a reputation as a man of belles-lettres -- a reputation that eluded him as a novelist and playwright, despite his great strivings in that direction.

And there let us leave him, pleased as punch by his robes, his Buddhist faith, and his abiding love for the alpine flora of Asia. At least, let us leave him until the passion of his prose draws me back to share the tidbits I find, but not necessarily every week and not necessarily on Monday.

A very happy new year to you all.




*I was pretty sick on Monday this week, and am not yet recovered, the cold now manifesting itself as pinkeye.
lblanchard: (Default)
2016-12-22 06:26 pm

Meet The Squirt, a potential foster fail

Or, the cat who pulled my heartstrings on the Solstice.

Guy about eight blocks south of me posted on the neighborhood Facebook group. Feral mama living in backyard next door took off with two of her three kittens, leaving this one behind. Abandoned kitten had benn outside all day and night, cold and hungry and scared and crying. The guy is violently allergic.

Something inside of me said kitten plus Christmas equals compelling reason to step up. So I did and he delivered the little bundle of terror last evening.



She is terrified if you approach her, and either cringes into a corner or streaks away. But if you can grab her by the scruff of the neck, she is happy to get skritchies. She purrs like crazy and eats like a starving thing (which of course she is...)

We plan to enroll her in a fostering program, which will pay for neutering and medical care (e.g., shots, etc) and will help with placement in a permanent home. Which may end up being ours, for which the culture has coined the technical term "foster fail."




We're pretty sure she's female. The Scamp wants nothing to do with her. Just as well, because we don't know whether she has any of those awful diseases.



(Apologies if any of these photos are huge...using the app on my phone and I don't know how to controlthe image size.)
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-12-19 07:55 am
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Mimpish Monday: Horminum pyrenaicum

[This is one in what has now become an almost-weekly 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 ]

The year is winding down, and I am running out of mimpish squinnies to share -- at least, the ones imagined so exquisitely by Abigail Rorer.


Horminum pyrenaicum, Abigail Rorer


Horminum pyrenaicum. -- The time is gone by now for Horminum pyrenaicum. In former days it was the one thing over which books of gardening and catalogues alike waxed really lyrical ; and in catalogues, indeed, the name endures to this hour, in spite of the fact that the poor gardener, that patient worm, has long since turned, and declared that if ever there were an undistinguished dowdy weed it is this -- a coarse and rampant thing, forming large rosetted tufts of dark sullen-looking scalloped oval foliage, leaden and dull, from which rise spikes of some 8 inches with dull and leaden little flowers of an uninspired purple like those of some very indifferent Salvia. It is predominantly a plant of the Pyrenees and then of the Eastern ranges; it is interesting to note that even Mr. Stuart Thompson has only met it on the Stelvio, whereas in the Dolomites, that paradise to whioh the Stelvio is the dreary gate, you cannot take a walk in any direction without trampling leagues of Horminum, a typical limestone species, indeed, that fills the upper alpine turf with its wads and masses of vulgar leafage.

In cultivation the plant is worth the trouble it gives, which is none. It likes lime, and there is no more to be said for it. Occasionally rather more ample forms are to be found, and once I got a white one that was really pretty, with a fine hem of purple round its lip, but on the whole this dowdy thing is best left to catalogues, which never fail to include it, and proclaim its charms vociferously -- perhaps, as Mr. Stuart Thompson rather cruelly but justly suggests, because it is almost the only large alpine Labiate that could possibly, by the utmost stretch of even a catalogue's courtesy, be said to have any charms to proclaim. In this case it is indeed a one-eyed king in a blind kingdom.


From Wikipedia: "Horminum is a genus of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae, comprising a single species, Horminum pyrenaicum. Common names include Dragonmouth and Pyrenean Dead-nettle. " Despite its unlovely names, I think it's rather a charming plant. Certainly the flowers are by no means as boxy and featureless as Rorer's print suggests.

It grows to 45 cm in height and flowers in July/August.


By manfred.sause@volloeko.de - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9057423



By Hectonichus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28643142



Horminum pyrenaicum
From: La flore et la pomone françaises, ou histoire et figures en couleur, des fleurs et des fruits de France ou naturalisés sur le sol français by Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire. Paris, the author, 1832, volume 5 (plate 464).
http://www.meemelink.com/prints%20pages/18715.Labiatae%20-%20Horminum%20pyrenaicum.htm
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-12-12 09:27 am
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Mimpish Monday: Sedum album

[This is one in what has now become an almost-weekly 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 don't understand why Reginald Farrer is so cranky about sedums. Maybe they're not the showiest plants on the planet, but they're cheerful and undemanding, and the one he has singled out for censure strikes me as fine filler plant for handling spaces that would otherwise be magnets for pernicious weeds with long tenacious taproots.

Farrer himself acknowledges the contradiction, pronouncing Sedum album both "really valuable" "and perfectly pestiferous" in the same sentence. This is the sedum Rorer has chosen to illustrate in Mimpish Squinnies.


Sedum album, from Mimpish Squinnies


Sedum.—This vast race, as a whole, is curiously uninteresting : as is felt even by catalogues, that do their best, yet can't say much, and take refuge in an inextricable welter of synonyms and pseudonyms. Nearly all Sedums are of easy culture in open poor places — often far too easy in cultivation, and yet more deplorably easy of propagation. The race is much too large and dim for us here minutely to discriminate. There are, however, several main types, alike of habit and growth, with species that may be taken as typical. In the first place there is the fleshy-stocked section, with erect leafy stems and flowers usually rather dingy ; this may be exemplified in S. Rhodiola, and easily grows in any light and deep soil. Then there are the smaller sheeting rock-plants of low massing habit, such as S. acre and S. album ; the trailing green mat- or carpet-forming section, with starry radiating heads of flower, that may be seen exemplified by S. spurium in every cottage garden ; another group of the same habit, but with rounded and glaucous foliage ; and finally the type that forms loose masses of shoots, beset with numbers of narrow leaves, fleshy and round in section, with stems of 8 inches or so, and uncurling heads of branched blossom that open out like the tail of a scorpion. The type of this is S. rupestre from our cottage walls. In these later days a large number of species has been sent in from Mexico, with more, it is said, to follow. The hardiness of these in most English gardens is open to the very gravest doubt, and it will be understood that here I do no more than quote the vendor's description, such as it is, with a note that the word Mexico spells danger, and that the names are unverified. --The English Rock-Garden

S. album is a typical weed of the race —- really valuable, and yet perfectly pestiferous in its powers of propagation ; so that, within a year of receiving two squashed sprigs in a letter, you will be casting it out of your garden by cartloads, and yet never seeming to see any signs of clearance. Every fragment grows with fearful rapidity, forming matted masses of stems beset with innumerable minute sausage-like grey-green leaves ; the flower-stems rise up in profusion in June to a height of 6 inches or so, and uncoil the typical radiating heads of the group, beset with white stars. It serves as the picture of many, and is as hard to be got rid of as love or lime.




By Frank Vincentz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2945575





By Smartse - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7167403




S. album sounds wonderful to me, and if it will only tolerate some shade I may insinuate it between the pathway pavers in our small back garden.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-12-05 08:03 am
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Mimpish Monday: wherein Reginald Farrer and Bill Purdom become field surgeons

We last left our intrepid explorers engaged in a comic-opera defense of the walled city of Siku. Meanwhile, the Chinese were responding to the depredations of the Tibetans and the brigands with a punitive military force, which dispatched the troublesome foes at the cost of some casualties. These were brought to Siku some few days after that defense, and the presumed medical expertise of Purdom and Farrer earnestly besought. One case required heroics.


The heroic field surgeon Bill Purdom, seen here in Chinese coolie garb somewhat later in time,
part of a subterfuge to gain access to a region where Europeans were forbidden


read the harrowing tale )
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-11-30 11:36 am

The Internet Archive needs our help

The Internet Archive is spooked by the U.S. election and is moving its backup to Canada.

I value the Internet Archive and use it for the millions of digitized books in the public domain that it has aggregated, including many of the works of Reginald Farrer. I do not use, but also value, its Wayback Machine and political ad archives, keeping certain actors from sending their inconvenient truths down the memory hole.

Some of the triumphalist rhetoric and ominous posturing from the campaign is really unnerving, and I don't blame Brewster Kahle for pushing the panic button. He has emailed Internet Archive members and donors and has also outlined his case in a blog post:

https://blog.archive.org/2016/11/29/help-us-keep-the-archive-free-accessible-and-private/

The Internet Archive began assembling its materials decades before state libraries and other guardians of our cultural heritage got around to it. It needs to continue to offer unfettered unmediated access and replication is the way to do it. I've made my contribution and urge others to consider it as well.

This post is public if it's something you'd like to share.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-11-28 09:20 am
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Mimpish Monday: wherein Reginald Farrer and Bill Purdom defend a walled city

I've been re-reading On the Eaves of the World, Reginald Farrer's most lighthearted travelogue / botanizing report from his expeditions to the far east. This one was written before World War I had sobered him up a bit.


Farrer's map, with all his made-up names. Click to embiggen


Farrer begins by talking about the delicacy of negotiating with Chinese officialdom and the adventures of assembling a staff. Then he and Bill Purdom (a man who so deeply loved China and its flora that he agreed to go with Farrer on nothing more than the assurance that his expenses would be paid) assembled a ragtag staff and headed out to the remote province of Kanshu on the Tibetan marches. It's hard to follow Farrer's itinerary because he insists on re-naming things according to how he hears the Chinese, or how a feature appears to him -- don't try to find the peak "Thundercrown" on any map.


View from "above the pink temple" outside Siku


Farrer also switches back and forth between an account of his travels and rhapsodizing about the plants. He had previously described the walled city of "Siku" (eventually I'll find the modern equivalent but so far Google has failed me), which was governed by the civil authority of Great Lord Jang and the military authority of Great Man Pung: both, in his eyes, Gilbert and Sullivan-esque figures of comic officialdom. After an interval there, it was off to botanize. Farrer rhapsodizes about the wonderful plants he and Bill encountered on the descent back to Siku, where they were plunged into preparations for war -- the territory was being terrorized by famed brigand Pai-Lang, the White Wolf, whose troops were expected any day. But now I'll let Farrer take over the narrative himself:

Farrer and Purdom save the city )
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
2016-11-21 08:39 am
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Mimpish Monday: Aconitum napellus

[This is one in what has now become an almost-weekly 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'm nearing the end of the canonical mimpish squinnies; this is the antepenultimate Rorer image. Unlike some of the others, Aconitum napellus is a very dangerous plant that richly deserves Farrer's ire and Rorer's unsettling treatment of it.



Though Aconitum need not necessariIy have any place in the rock-garden, on however large a scale it may be built, and though the race is sinister and evil in its poisonous sombre splendour almost beyond any other that we have, yet, for the guidance of those who find nothing but nude names in lists, I may briefly go through the best species that may be used to adorn remoter corners of the large rock-garden, in any soil that is deep and rich and cool, whether in sun or shade, though shade best fits the gloomy tone of their magnificence.

Napellus, our own dismal Monkshood, now wild, or at all events now widely established along the stream sides of the West, and so persistent in its malign attendance upon man that it even climbs high into the Alps, and there forms dense jungles round the highest chalets, in the hope that some day somebody may eat of its poisoned root and die. Napellus has innumerable forms, not necessarily to be named, unless it be to single out the varieties carneum and roseum for special warning, these alluring epithets covering, in reality, colours of a dim and unwholesome dinginess. The blue and white bicolor form is good, however, and so is the dark-blue form called Spark's variety. Eminens is a much taller development.- All forms bloom in high summer, through July and August. --The English Rock-Garden


Aconitum napellus is a handsome plant:


By Bernd Haynold - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=237028


But beware! It's a killer. From Wikipedia:

Like other species in the genus, A. napellus contains several poisonous compounds, including enough cardiac poison that it was used on spears and arrows for hunting and battle in ancient times. A. napellus has a long history of use as a poison, with cases going back thousands of years. During the ancient Roman period of European history, the plant was often used to eliminate criminals and enemies, and by the end of the period it was banned and anyone growing A. napellus could have been legally sentenced to death. Aconites have been used more recently in murder plots; they contain the chemical alkaloids aconitine, mesaconitine, hypaconitine and jesaconitine, which are highly toxic.

Marked symptoms may appear almost immediately, usually not later than one hour, and "with large doses death is almost instantaneous." Death usually occurs within two to six hours in fatal poisoning (20 to 40 mL of tincture may prove fatal). The initial signs are gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe poisonings pronounced motor weakness occurs and cutaneous sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Cardiovascular features include hypotension, sinus bradycardia, and ventricular arrhythmias. Other features may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. The main causes of death are ventricular arrhythmias and asystole, paralysis of the heart or of the respiratory center. The only post-mortem signs are those of asphyxia.

Poisoning may also occur following picking the leaves without wearing gloves; the aconitine toxin is absorbed easily through the skin. In this event, there will be no gastrointestinal effects. Tingling will start at the point of absorption and extend up the arm to the shoulder, after which the heart will start to be affected. The tingling will be followed by unpleasant numbness. Treatment is similar to poisoning caused by oral ingestion and even handling the plant without gloves has been reported to result in multi-organ failure and death.


Farrer lists many others among the Aconitum, and is quite complimentary to several. I understand,though, that all the Aconites are toxic to one degree or another.