The Farrer Medal takes its name from Reginald Farrer, an eccentric plant hunter, gardener and writer. Such is his influence, he is often referred to as the ‘Prince of alpine gardeners.’ Who better to name our esteemed prize after?
Find out more about the man behind the medal and his contribution to rock gardening.
Reginald Farrer was born in 1880. He grew up in the village of Clapham at the foot of Ingleborough Fell in the Yorkshire Dales. Even as a young child, Farrer loved flowers. By the time he was eight, he knew a school book of botany by heart! At 14, he rebuilt the rock garden at his parents’ home.
Later, he created a rock garden in an old kitchen garden where he started the Craven Nursery. It was here that he constructed his moraine: a scree with water running through it. It mostly consisted of rock and leafmould. Water percolated the lower section to keep the top section moist. Farrer claimed to have excellent results with Eritrichium nanum here. This moraine was to play an important role in the future construction of rock gardens.
Farrer went on to plant up a limestone ‘cliff’ skirting the bank of a lake in the grounds of his home. In the rockface, he planted every probable (and improbable!) alpine plant. Known for his eccentricity, he once loaded a shotgun with seeds from his travels and fired them into the cliff. It was certainly a creative style of planting! Unusual though the technique was, the resulting display was spectacular.
Home-schooled as a child, he went on to study at the University of Oxford. While he was there, he helped to make the rock garden at St. John’s College.
After graduating in 1902, Farrer embarked on his first major expedition. He travelled to Japan and Korea. He wrote about his experience in his book, The Garden of Asia: Impressions from Japan.
In 1907, he published My Rock-Garden. The book was a resounding success and has been reprinted many times. In 1908, he followed with Alpines and Bog-Plants. Subsequent titles were In a Yorkshire Garden, Among the Hills and The English Rock-Garden.
Farrer died in 1920 at the age of 40 while on a plant-hunting expedition in Burma.
In 1921, Clarence Elliot, who travelled to the Alps with Farrer, wrote: ‘As a writer of garden books he stood alone. He wrote, as a rule, from a peculiar angle of his own, giving queer human attributes to his plants, which somehow exactly described them.’
The AGS owes its existence in part to Farrer. In the December 1932 AGS Bulletin, nurseryman Walter Ingwersen wrote: ‘In no small way has his influence made the Alpine Garden Society possible… I believe that My Rock-Garden has made more converts to the charms of alpine plants and their cultivation in our gardens than any other book ever written. Farrer’s infectious enthusiasm spread like wildfire among the gardening public and we should owe him an enormous debt if he had never written another line on this subject. In its pages he gave the soundest advice on rock garden construction.’
Farrer did much to raise interest in rock gardening and it is an honour to name our highly-prized show medal after him.