This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
In a handsome book of some 360 pages, abounding with many illustrations and much pleasant reading, Mr Robinson gives us a valuable work on Alpine flowers. Such a book was greatly needed, and it appears at an opportune time, just when so many of the lovely flowers, of which the book treats, are surely rising into a most deserved popularity. One thing is quite certain, that in the future of popular gardening, Alpine flowers will play an important part, to the great advantage of practical horticulture.
This is the best book Mr Robinson has yet written, and we welcome it as a standard work on Alpine flowers. It is divided into two parts, the first of which treats, in the first place, of the culture of Alpine flowers in the rock-garden, in beds, and in pots; and, in the second place, of a " Little Tour in the Alps," made by Mr Robinson in search of information respecting the flowers of which he writes. The practical cultivator will derive many valuable hints from the first, while the general reader, as well as the practical horticulturist, will thoroughly enjoy the second. The second part is occupied with descriptions of a large number of species and varieties of Alpine flowers, many of them written in a very pleasant manner, and rarely descending to the ordinary level of any details in which such descriptive notes are usually written. Such is a bare outline of the work, which is supplemented by descriptive lists of Alpine and Rock plants, etc, and a copious index.
In a well-written introduction of ten pages, Mr Robinson puts in an eloquent plea for a better appreciation, and a more extended culture, of Alpine flowers. The author asks, "What are Alpine plants? The word Alpine is here used in an arbitrary sense to define the vegetation that grows naturally on the most elevated regions of the earth - on all very high mountain-chains, whether they spring from hot tropical plains or green northern pastures. Above the cultivated land these flowers begin to occur on the fringes of the stately woods; they are seen in multitudes in the vast and delightful pastures with which many great mountain-chains are robed, enamelling their soft verdure with innumerable dyes, and where neither grass nor loose herbage can exist - where feeble world-heat and world-force are quenched and discomfited on their own ground by mightier powers - where mountains are crumbled into ghastly slopes of shattered rock by contending throbbings of heat and cold, and where the very water becomes hard and relentless as stone, yet bears and moves thousands of tons of rock as easily as the Gulf Stream carries a seed - even there they modestly, but brilliantly and bravely, spring from Nature's ruined battle-ground, as if the mother of earth-life had sent up her sweetest and loveliest children to plead with the fell spirits of destruction".
"Alpine plants fringe the vast fields of snow and ice of the high hills, and at great elevations have often scarcely time to flower and ripen a few seeds before they are again imbedded; while sometimes, if the previous year's snow has been very heavy, and the present year's sun is weak, numbers of these may remain beneath the surface for more than a year. Enormous areas of ground, inhabited by Alpine plants, are every year covered by a deep bed of snow. Where the tall tree or shrub cannot exist from the intense cold, a deep soft mass of downy snow settles upon these minute plants, like a great cloud-borne quilt, under which they rest untortured by the alternation of frost and biting wind, with moist, balmy, and spring-like days".
And it is about these flowers, flourishing amid such apparently inhospitable influences, that the author discourses, with a genial regard for them; and this selfsame regard he infuses into his readers, as they follow him along the pleasant pages of his book. We hope, ere long, to return to the book, and give some passages from it, together with some of the illustrations so profusely dotted about it.