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Miss Willmott's Ghosts: the extraordinary life and gardens of a forgotten genius

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Eryngium giganteum, with the common name Miss Willmott's ghost, is a species of flowering plant in the family Apiaceae. Ellen Willmott (1858 – 1934) was an English heiress who became the leading plantswoman of her generation. This is a full retelling of the riches to rags life of Miss Willmott with some educated guesses as to her motives based on new evidence. I’ve known it for 30 years, from gardening around it at Ripponlea, but have never (inexpicably) grown it myself until now. The beginnings of this prickly myth can be traced back to her conspicuous absence at what should have been the pinnacle of her career: the Royal Horticultural Society's inaugural Victoria Medal of Honour Award ceremony, at which she was due to be one of only two female recipients.

An absolute classic cottage garden biennial with a brilliant architectural presence and will self-sow. As an influential member of the Royal Horticulture Society, Willmott was easily able to wangle invitations to the most splendid private gardens in Europe.One of the aspects of Miss Willmott’s Ghost that I’ve most enjoyed has been the contrast with neighbouring plants. Please take time to read our Privacy Policy which explains what data we collect and why, how we use it and other information relevant to the privacy of your data. The full title of this publication (dating from a time when a title explained exactly what it was about!

The ghostly coloring and the sculptural quality of this plant suggest placement in a position of prominence. This year there are no indications of emerging flower spikes, so I am hopeful they’ll bloom next year. The Kew Pollinators range of seeds from Thompson and Morgan has been specially created alongside the experts at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to attract and support a wide range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies and beetles, as well as a number of other important pollinating insects.Photograph: Susie White View image in fullscreen Sea hollies are actually umbellifers and very attractive to insects.

I read this as her gardens weee on my home town and I was curious as to how this respected horticulturalist and gardener had been forgotten. In fact, this book includes so many events and scenes that I have a new reading list of over 30 new plants, places and people featured in the book to last me a year at least. Miss Wilmott was a gardener who was reputed to secretly scatter Eryngyium giganteum seeds in gardens she visited. Eryngiums also feature in beautiful coloured plates of a wonderful book of the complete flora of France, Switzerland and Belgium (including most plants in Europe) published in 1913 by Gaston Bonnier. Ellen’s father was a wealthy lawyer, and she seemed able to persuade him to finance her various projects, too.

Inside the cat’s cradle of spiderweb is a darker shape, a fleecy rolled-up swaddle blanket studded with shiny petrol-blue fragments of bluebottle, the husk of a wasp. Over the next month, stems powered out of the ground and branched out, forming a plant of about 90cm by 90cm. This variety is also known as 'Miss Willmott's Ghost', after the nineteenth-century gardener, Ellen Willmott, who liked to secretly scatter seeds of the plant in other people's gardens.

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