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

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Liberating” Seeds in Other People’s Gardens Miss Willmott’s ghost, with its appropriately ghostly silver coloration, pops up here and there in some of the world’s best gardens.

She was also a hybridizer (notably of narcissus) and an influential member of the Royal Horticultural Society, one of the first women allowed a role in that august society. Also, as the flower stems remain upright after flowering, it provides good shelter and habitat for over-wintering insects. According to legend, the famous English plantswoman, Miss Ellen Willmott, secretly sprinkled these seeds in the gardens she visited. Helping these pollinators to thrive is hugely important for our eco-system as a whole and these seeds, in their striking packaging inspired by artwork from the Kew archives, will help to create the environment which they need to thrive, with varieties chosen to help a wide range of pollinating insects, including some night flowering plants to help moths which also play an important part in our gardens.

While Gertrude Jekyll, in her 1926 book Wood and Garden: Notes and Thoughts, Practical and Critical, of a Working Amateur , referred to Eryngium giganteum as a Silver Thistle of “ metallic texture… whitish and almost silvery . I was celebrating – the paperback of Miss Willmott’s Ghosts, published exactly a year after the hardback came out.

Needless to say, garden owners were surprised to find drifts of this the giant sea holly appearing a couple of years after her visits, and this is how the plant earned its popular name of Miss Willmott’s Ghost. Author, Sandra Lawrence, has been granted unparalleled access to her archives, and with it has uncovered the secrets behind this thorniness. After reading this book, I acquired some Miss Willmott's Ghost seeds that I'm hoping to grow in her honor.The plant’s commonly used name refers to Miss Willmott’s alleged habit – probably later in life when she was herself considered to be somewhat eccentric and prickly, of carrying seeds of it in her pockets, and scattering them around the gardens of her fellow horticulturists where they would later pop up uninvited - a ghostly reminder of her visit. With its luminous spiny collar of silvery-white bracts surrounding an egg-shaped flower head and tightly packed with flowers, initially pale green, then changing to steel-blue, Miss Willmott’s Ghost (Eryngium giganteum) is quite a catch and an asset to any garden! So named, as famous gardener, Miss Wilmott, used to walk around friends' gardens secretly scattering the seeds from her pocket.

IT was engagingly written and bought the whole story of victorian and edwardian horticulture to life for me. SPOILER ALERT Okay, if you haven’t read Miss Willmott’s Ghosts yet, avert your eyes – this post is Not For You. Apparently, its generally thought that in Falstaff's line in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor , where he runs off for an assignation with Mistress Ford ".At its heart, this is a book about Victorian and Edwardian Royal Courtiers, the upper crust and high society living. You’ll hear more on Miss Willmott (1858-1934) from me in the future but, briefly, she was a wealthy, multi-talented horticulturist, active in the Royal Horticultural Society in the late Victorian/Edwardian period. With the best range of heirloom seeds, rare plants and bulbs available, join us to learn how to create your own beautiful and productive garden for a sustainable future.

Please note: if Government advice or our staffing situation suddenly prevents us from dispatching, then rest assured that your plants will be reserved and cared for until such a time as we can dispatch again.

Eryngium giganteum Miss Willmott's Ghost is the giant of the genus, with large, 2½" cones of a blue so pale they appear white at a distance. Miss Willmott, so the story goes, liked to sprinkle seeds of a giant sea holly when visiting gardens. She also became increasing eccentric, even paranoid, booby-trapping her estate to deter thieves and carrying a pistol in her handbag at all times.

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