Ellen Ann Willmott

(1858—1934) horticulturist

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(1858–1934), English gardener and plantswoman who gardened at Warley Place (Essex) which in the 17th century had belonged to John Evelyn. In the garden's heyday she employed 85 gardeners and grew 100,000 different plants, one of the greatest plant collections in the world. As Dr W. T. Stearn wrote: ‘For certain genera, such as Epimedium, Hedera, Iris, Narcissus and Rosa, she acquired almost every variety that cash or persuasion could obtain.’ She also gardened in France at Tresserve (Haute-Savoie), and on the Italian Riviera at Boccanegra close to Ventimiglia. She supported E. H. Wilson's early plant hunting expeditions (Ceratostigma willmottianum, Lilium davidii var. willmottiae, and Rosa willmottiae are Wilson introductions named after her). Her two-volume 25-part book The Genus Rosa (1910–14), with illustrations by Alfred Parsons, was a publishing catastrophe. The pretty but spiky and invasive biennial Eryngium giganteum is known as ‘Miss Willmott's ghost’ because of her supposed habit of surreptitiously distributing its seed in gardens she was visiting. She wrote of herself, ‘Plants and gardens come before anything else during the day, and after dark I read and write about them.’ She received the Victoria Medal of Honour in the first year it was awarded, 1897—the only other woman to receive it in the same year was Gertrude Jekyll who described her as ‘the greatest of the living woman gardeners’. Of her garden at Warley Place only traces survive from her time—some sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) and a colony of Crocus vernus subsp. albiflorus which may even date from Evelyn's time.

From The Oxford Companion to the Garden in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Lifestyle, Home, and Garden.

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