Ellen Ann Willmott is no longer as famous as Gertrude Jekyll, yet . . .
“Ellen Willmott soon made a name for herself in horticulture, and helped to finance expeditions to acquire new plants. Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria visited her, and her garden became famous throughout Britain and beyond. She was one of two women awarded the RHS Medal of Honour in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, 1897. The other was Gertrude Jekyll.” This from the Warleyplace.org.uk website which has brief information about EAW and the ongoing work at the estate which was sold after her death in 1934.
Ellen Willmott gave her name to several plants, including Miss Willmott’s Ghost, a sea holly more properly known as Eryngium giagantium. She was much given to secretly dropping the seeds of this silvery, thistle-like plant in her friend’s gardens when she came to visit.
Not all her friends were happy to find this ghostly reminder of her previous visit when they bloomed in their carefully planned borders the following summer. Was she generous or mischievous? Hmmmmmmm.
By the time she died in 1934 she was penniless. “Her descent into bankruptcy never interfered with her purchase of any rare plant she coveted. Once, detainted for shoplifting, Willmott called upon her friend the Queen to intercede. The department store, after a yearlong hullabaloo, had to apologize for it’s “error.” As her fortune faded, Willmott became increasingly paranoid, toting a revolver in her handag, booby trapping her home against intruders, and having her daffodil display trip-wired so that air guns would blast anyone attempting to filch a few.
(Taken from Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Eccentric Ethusiast, Plants & Garden News, Val 17, Number 3, Fall 2002, by Ilene Sternberg)”
I have no Miss Willmott’s Ghost in my garden, but last year, when my friend Jerry Sternstein was giving me a tour of his 60 lilacs, he pulled up a root of the single white Miss Willmott. She is now thriving in my garden, surrounded by daffodils. I don’t expect her to bloom this year, but I am cultivating patience.