Miss Willmott’s Lawnmowers

While Ellen Willmott is most famous for her William Robinson-esque ‘Wild Gardens’ she also owned acres and acres of formal lawns and paths. I was enjoying some rather fuzzy images of her butler James Robinson playing with some of her 13 dogs on the lawn outside Warley Place the other day… …and started wondering how…

Villa Boccanegra

Ventimiglia, Italy. Confession: Writing Miss Willmott’s Ghosts during covid meant that everything I knew about Villa Boccanegra at the time came from many, many photos, and long zoom talks with the garden’s keeper Ursula Piacenza and her friend and neighbour Carolyn Hanbury. On Monday I finally got to visit Ellen’s only extant garden and was…

Thank God for Tea

Over the past few days I’ve been reminded of Ellen Willmott’s relationship with the Royal family, and especially Queen Alexandra. Of course I failed to photograph Ellen’s personal invitation to King Edward VII’s funeral, but despite her famous no-show at the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour shindig a decade earlier, there is no way on…

An intimate souvenir

I often marvel at the strange range of objects that have, against the odds, managed to survive down the years since Ellen Willmott’s death, when so many ‘important’ pieces have been lost. Even the humblest survivors can speak, however, and often reveal some intriguing things. One of the oddest possessions that has actually lasted may…

Munstead Wood and Warley Place

Late in 1932, Ellen Willmott got a gut feeling that she needed to visit her old friend Gertrude Jekyll. She was just in time; a few weeks later, Jekyll passed away. We found the order of service to her funeral a couple of weeks ago, which Willmott attended in December with an extremely elderly William…

Potentilla Nepalensis ‘Miss Willmott’

Nick Stanley, holder of the Ellen Willmott National Plant Collection, has a theory about the plants named for her. Nick suggests that anything named ‘Ellen Willmott’ was named by a close friend; anything called ‘Miss Willmott’ was more formal; an honour from someone who admired her but was, perhaps, a little more ‘awed’. Of course it’s…

Foxgloves: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

…at Warley Place, anyway. Most people love Warley for its drifts of daffodils. After all, Daffs mean Prizes – Miss Willmott won RHS medals a-go-go for hers. She even boobytrapped the best ones against bulb thieves. There must still be a few prize specimens in there, it’s a whole bunch of yellow lovely and I…

A Year at Warley Part V: Things that just fetch up…

Garden archaeology doesn’t come much more exciting than finding something pretty much every time you dig. I’ve been visiting Warley Place for thirty-odd years and every time I go something new has been uncovered by the dedicated team of volunteers. Sometimes it’s a bit of brick wall, sometimes a cobbled path. It might be yet another underground…

A Year at Warley Place, Part IV: Daffodils

Miss Willmott had a thing for daffs. No, really, she was crazy about them. On joining the male-dominated Royal Horticultural Society she promptly invaded the all-male Narcissus Committee and won gold medals in four consecutive years. Warley Place would have been sunshine-yellow with prize hybrids, named for her sister and brother in law, and a much-missed sister…

A Year at Warley Place, Pt III: The Ruins

Part three in my year’s exploration of the extraordinary ruined garden at Warley Place, Brentwood, Essex, looks at what’s left of the house and spectacular gardens. Last time saw a potted history of how Edwardian Plantswoman Ellen Willmott’s cossetted baby became so very ruined and overgrown. This time we’ll take a quick hike around what a dedicated team…

A Year at Warley Place Pt. II: The Story

Warley Place, one of the most exciting gardens of early 20th Century England, has been a ruin since World War II. Ellen Willmott, doyenne of the Edwardian gardening scene, was right up there with Gertrude Jekyll (literally, she and Jekyll were the only two women to receive the RHS’s inaugural Victoria Medal in 1897) but for…

A Year at Warley Place, Part I: Snowdrops

I have often written about my love for Warley Place, the once-famous garden of Edwardian plantswoman Ellen Willmott. The Essex garden, visited by royalty and bigwigs of the gardening world, was lost before the second world war, but was rescued in the nick of time and is now maintained by volunteers as a stunningly gorgeous wildlife sanctuary. I…