Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
7:40 AM 8th September 2020

Miss Willmott's Ghost Finds Itself In Gardens Of Unsuspecting Friends

A collection of plant varieties named after, or associated with, 20th century English horticulturalist Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) has been awarded National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage.

The new collection, which is located in a private garden celebrates the life, times and work of Ellen Willmott. An influential member of the Royal Horticultural Society, Ellen Willmott is said to have cultivated over 100,000 plants during her career, and to date has over 40 plant varieties named after her or her home in Essex.

Eryngium giganteum - Silver Ghost - credit Kathy Pike
Eryngium giganteum - Silver Ghost - credit Kathy Pike
Ellen Willmott was not only renowned for her gardening prowess, but also for the myths and eccentricities that surrounded her later years. It’s believed she secretly planted Eryngium giganteum – a huge spikey plant also known as ‘Miss Willmott’s ghost’ – in the gardens of unsuspecting friends and fellow gardeners.

The new collection embraces this curious tale, and so far comprises 14 cultivars all relating to Ellen Willmott or Warley Place (her home).

Nick Stanley, the owner of this quirky collection, hopes to one day spread the seeds of various cultivars to different gardens too, echoing the myth of Ellen Willmott – except this time, the owners will be in agreement!

Eryngium zabelii - credit B & K PikeEryngium zabelii - credit B & K Pike
Eryngium alpinum - credit B & K PikeEryngium alpinum - credit B & K Pike

Vicki Cooke, Conservation Manager at Plant Heritage explains:
“The extensive research undertaken really piqued our interest in this collection; whilst Nick and colleagues were looking for long-lost varieties of daffodils, Ellen Willmott’s home (Warley Place) and gardens were rediscovered. Nick investigated further, finding letters written by Willmott and some of her plant notebooks too. This fascinating piece of horticultural history could have easily been lost, but now, thanks to Nick and his growing collection of Ellen Willmott and Warley Place related plants, her life and legacy will live on.”

National Plant Collections accredited in the North:

A spikey yet striking Eryngium collection in North Yorkshire, showing that there is more to this genus than the ghost of Miss Willmott. The collection of Eryngium species have been developed in Yorkshire by Brian and Kathy Pike.

50 Athyrium filix-femina (ferns) in Lancashire are a collection from Ian Unsworth. Native to the UK they have been selected into a wide range of forms over many years.

Athyrium kalothrix - credit Ian UnsworthAthyrium kalothrix - credit Ian Unsworth
Athyrium filix femina PlumosuAthyrium filix femina Plumosu

Plant Heritage has over 650+ National Plant Collections all across the country, from mighty oaks to miniature orchids. To find a collection near to you, and to see if they’re open for socially-distanced visits or are offering virtual tours instead, visit:

Plant Heritage is the only national charity working to ensure that cultivated plants are cared for and nurtured, so that future generations can enjoy rare plants as much as Plant Heritage currently do. This is made possible via its National Plant Collection Scheme, Plant Guardians, local groups and members.