Monthly Archives: March 2009

People Behind the Seed

Who is Miss Willmott?


One of our Heirloom varieties, Sea Holly, is named after a lady named Miss Willmott. Now what does a person need to do to get their name on a flower variety?

Miss Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) was an English gardener and writer who dwindled away a fortune largely owing to her gardening obsession. When she outgrew her 50 acres in Essex, she bought a French chateau and an Italian villa to plant up, at one point employing over 80 gardeners! Imperious and autocratic, she would blow her stack over the presence of a single weed in the garden or the discovery that the bloom time of one of her plants had been imprecisely documented.

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)

Sea Holly, Miss Willmott’s Ghost, Eryngium giganteum is presumed to have gotten its name from Willmott’s habit of carrying seeds of her favorite garden flowers in her packets and, when visting friends, would secretly scatter them about. This silvery blue, spiked perennial flower was one of her favorites to scatter.

You may or may not wish to follow in Miss Willmott’s footsteps, but I bet many of you can identify with at least one of her “eccentric” garden behaviors!