Hearing for the first time that there are gardens in the Alps, our irresistible impulse is to exclaim, 'Of course there are! the Alps are one vast and glorious garden!' And when at length we fully realize what is meant: that artificial gardens really do exist in the Alps - gardens, too, for Alpine plants - we feel the immediate appropriateness of crying, 'Coals to Newcastle!' Alpine gardens in the plains are understandable, explicable, delightful, filling a void and supplying a want; but Alpine gardens in the Alps themselves! - wherein is their rhyme and reason? Why should Man ape Nature when and where she is so ample, so supreme? Is it not idle, is it not even impertinent, for him to thrust his 'spurious imitations' into the very home and kingdom of what he presumes to imitate? Is it not what Thoreau would have called another egregious attempt on Man's part 'to plant his hoof among the stars'? Gardening, in some of its ways, may be an art which 'doth mend Nature,' but it is hard to believe that one of these ways is in meddling with the Alpine flora in its splendid, perfect home; even the 'universal mind' of Shakespeare could scarcely have had the Alps and their flowers in view when he spoke as he did of gardening!
But what at first sight seems such an anomaly is, in point of fact, a most pertinent and important undertaking. For although 'Les Alpes nous gardent encore Sur quelques sommets preserves, Des jardins que le monde ignore Et que Dieu seul a cultives' although Nature's own gardens abound in the Alps, this was not enough. Man, with his blind eye turned towards to-morrow, had for long been exercising his sweet, unfettered will, working sad havoc amongst the Alpine vegetation. Some means had to be devised to save him from himself, to correct or circumvent his wrong-headedness, to give some sight to his blind eye, and so to stave off as far as possible any further and final designs he might have upon the remnants of those varieties he had so nearly exterminated. Something had to be done, too, to try and counteract the designs which Nature herself seems to have upon the existence of certain species. A timely helping hand had, therefore, to be extended, and preserves had to be organized where menaced plants could find a refuge and live and multiply in comparative security.
Hence, the wisdom of Shakespeare is once more demonstrated, and gardening, even Alpine gardening, 'doth mend Nature.' Nor is human nature excluded from the mending. 'The garden is a potent maker of character,' and the influence of these particular gardens and of the societies governing them is already felt in the notable increase of intelligent appreciation and careful interest for the 'scented miracles' of the Alps. 'Coals to Newcastle' these gardens may be to some extent; but just as, by all accounts, there will come a time when Newcastle will be glad of coals from anywhere, so the Alps and lovers of Alpine circumstance, and even the world in general, will some day thank these gardens and the men whose foresight and perseverance have led to the creation of them at so right a moment.
Human labour is rewarded largely by additional labour. Man's activity obliges him to be incessantly and increasingly active. Since the dawn-days of his intelligence, when he commenced to cease accepting things as they were, and started to impose himself and his ideas upon Nature and prove himself in very deed her 'insurgent son' - since those dim and dawning days he has meddled and muddled to such an extent that, do what he now may, he is inextricably compromised. To make life possible, to enjoy a modicum of peace and to reap a modicum of beauty, he must, with less and less muddle, continue to meddle. Complications of his own contriving will beset him and undo him if he cease from strenuous meddling. Having put his hand to the plough, there can be no question of him loosing his hold or of turning back. On and on must he plough, furrow after furrow, in every direction, in every sort of ground, ever deeper, ever further afield, and with no limit yet in sight to all he has still to plough. Verily, 'The Eden of modern progress is a kitchen-garden!' - ay, more than that: a 'French' kitchen-garden - a garden of 'intensive culture'! A diagnosis of man's position shows that it is not unlike that of 'Poor Mrs. Somebody,' who 'swallowed a fly.' One thing leads to another; one remedy calls for a further remedy, usually upon a scale of rising importance, until contingencies which at one time would have appeared hair-brained and impossible are towering over him, live and threatening facts, rendering his condition positively and compulsorily heroic.
In short, and in a time-worn phrase, man has upset the balance of Nature. And all his efforts to restore this balance only bring him fresh problems to solve, and lead him deeper and deeper into the labyrinthine ways of cause and effect and the maze-like mysteries of the unity of all things. By, for instance, introducing rabbits where by rights there was no provision for rabbits, or by planting the Water - Hyacinthe in rivers not organized for its right reception, or by exterminating hawks and stoats where there was good and useful room for these, he brings about his ears undreamed of and unpleasant complications the fighting of which keeps him anxiously, nervously alert. Already, too, there are whispers of what untoward effect wireless telegraphy may have upon the weather; and it seems not unreasonable to wonder what changes may not be gradually wrought in the habits of birds and beasts when man comes to fly as easily as he walks.
Saxifrage, Saponaria, The Sulphur Anemone, And The Alpine Eglantine, With The Aiguille Du Tour And Glacier Des Grands. July.
But perhaps it is his improvidence which costs him the most dear. Incalculable trouble is saved by economy; but economy bespeaks a careful foresight, and it is rather among man's primary instincts to live largely for the moment, soothing himself with a muddle-headed reading of "Sufficient for the day------" All over the globe his haphazard destruction of the forests has involved him in painful experiences, the end of which still lies with the future. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more plainly felt and seen than in some parts of Switzerland, where the consequent erosion of the mountain-sides has brought about many a disastrous landslip, to say nothing of the deleterious effect upon the climate and the fertility of the soil. Possibly, the extermination of mountain flowers is a less serious matter - that is to say, from a material or practical and utilitarian point of view. Possibly, it may be a matter more of sentiment than of anything else.