This section is from the book "Sub-Alpine Plants Or Flowers Of The Swiss Woods And Meadows", by H. Stuart Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Sub-Alpine Plants: Or, Flowers of the Swiss Woods and Meadows.
Botanic gardens are increasing in numbers in the Alps, just as rock gardens are becoming more and more numerous in the British Isles. The most recent of the Swiss Alpine gardens is that at Rigi Scheidegg, at about 5400 feet, which was opened by Professor Carl Schroeter, of Zurich, in July, 1909, and of which Dr. Bachman, of the Lucerne Gymnasium, is the Director. The German-Swiss have taken the lead from Monsieur H. Correvon and his Geneva friends in starting these interesting and useful mountain gardens.
Monsieur Correvon was the President of the Association for the Protection of Plants, founded in Geneva in 1883 to struggle against the destruction of the Alpine flora; but in 1908 the Association was amalgamated with the Swiss League for the Protection of Natural Beauty, which corresponds in many respects to our Selborne Society.
It is wall-culture that the Swiss understand perhaps better than most people; and Monsieur Correvon, at Chene Bourg, near Geneva, has a low wall which is a perfect paradise of interesting and rare saxatile flowers in early summer. We have also seen the famous wall at Valleyres, at the foot of the Jura, in Canton Vaud, which Boissier made in 1856, and where he cultivated some of the best Saxifrages and rock Primulas, including a very fine patch of Saxifraga Kotschyi from Asia Minor. They are still thriving, for his son-in-law, Monsieur William Barbey, has taken the same interest in the plants, and does all he can to cherish and extend the work started by his illustrious relative.
The town of Geneva has planted many wall-plants on what remains of the old fortifications, and these are doing well. Some of the mountain railway companies have also decorated the walls bordering their railways with rock-plants, which tend greatly to brighten the scene in spring and early summer.
The oldest of the gardens in the Swiss Alps is the Linnaea, on a hillock which dominates the quaint village of Bourg St. Pierre, the last village on the road to the great St. Bernard Hospice. It was founded in 1889, with Professor Chodat of Geneva as President of the International Committee, and with Monsieur Correvon as Director. Lord Avebury, the President of the Selborne Society, the late Professor Romanes, Miss Willmott, and other well-known English scientists have always taken a keen interest in the garden, and it was with their help that the ground was bought in 1888.
1 Some of these notes are based upon articles by the author already published (sometimes anonymously) in the Gardeners' Chronicle.
The garden now comprises about three thousand kinds of plants, of which the majority seem well established. It is on granite, and over two hundred of the granite-loving plants growing naturally in the district have been left to their own devices on the rocky prominence which overlooks the picturesque but dirty village of St. Pierre at a height of about 5500 feet.
Bourg St. Pierre is about fifteen miles on the great St. Bernard route from Martigny in the Rhone Valley to the beautiful city of Aosta in Piedmont, a total distance of forty-five miles. Visitors to the famous Hospice (8100 ft.) who are interested in flowers should spend an hour at the Linnaea garden en route; and if they have the time they will do well to stay the night at the little Hotel du Combin just beyond the garden, which modest hostelry will be found clean though primitive. The village of St. Pierre contains relics of more important days, like Lanslebourg, at the foot of the Mont Cenis, with which the history of the famous Pass is bound up. The church is very ancient, and in the churchyard wall is a Roman milestone of the younger Constantine. As early as the ninth century the original Hospice was here. In May, 1800, Napoleon's visit to the village with 30,000 men on his way across the Great St. Bernard is commemorated by the name of the older inn, "Au Dejeuner de Napoleon," the room which he occupied being worthy of a visit.
The flora is interesting all the way from Martigny to the top of the grand St. Bernard Pass, and in the lower part of Val d'Entre-mont, above Sembrancher, where the picturesque Val de Bagnes joins the main valley on the east, the botanist will find various plants usually characteristic of a warmer climate together with Alpine species which have descended from the neighbouring mountains. Thus the yellow Ononis Natrix and bright pink 0. rotundi-folia, the very handsome purple Vicia onobrychioides (common in the Pyrenees), Caucalis grandiflora, the deep yellow Euphrasia lutea and Campanula bononiensis (of chestnut groves in the Maritime Alps) may be found side by side with Scutellaria alpina, Sempervivum montanum and S. arachnoideum, Poa alpina, Juniperus Sabina, etc. At Sembrancher the celebrated botanist, L. J. Murith,1 was born in 1742. He was a Canon of the St. Bernard Hospice, and a correspondent of de Saussure. He was the first to ascend Mont Velan, that ice-clad peak which forms such a beautiful object from the Jardin de la Linnaea or from the lovely Valsorey just beyond.
Murith's name is commemorated in Saxifraga Murithiana, a form of S. oppositifolia which grows in the Western Alps and Pyrenees. The Botanical Society of the Valais also bears his name.
1 In 1810 Murith published a Guide du Botaniste qui voyage dans le Valais.
On entering the Linnaea garden from the road on the north side, several shady, winding paths lead up the steep hillside which is clothed with the tall mauve spikes of Mulgedium alpinum, the rosy heads of Adenostyles, with leaves like Coltsfoot, the nodding blossoms of Cortusa Mathioli, and those of the lemon-yellow Primula Sikkimensis. The red-brown Gentian (G. purpurea), and its speckled yellow relative, G. punctata, grow naturally on this slope, and so do the handsome purple madder Liliurn Martagon, the steel-blue Eryngium alpinum and the great white Achillea macrophylla with deeply cut leaves. Then on the bit of natural cliff above are such plants as Saxifraga Cotyledon, whose great panicles of white blossom, eighteen inches in length, festoon the black, weather-worn cliffs on the Italian side of the Simplon, just above the village of Iselle.