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…