Miss Willmott’s Ghosts
Ellen Ann Willmott was a remarkable woman whose achievements in horticulture, botany, landscape architecture, photography and more, should have made her one of the most well-known trailblazers of her age. Yet, both posthumously and within her lifetime, she instead became known as a bitter, cantankerous and eccentric miser, her reputation has been forever stained by the image of her maliciously seeding other people’s gardens with thorns. The beginnings of this prickly myth can be traced back to her conspicuous absence at what should have been the pinnacle of her career: the Royal Horticultural Society’s inaugural Victoria Medal of Honour Award ceremony, at which she was due to be of only two female recipients.
Universally interpreted as the rudest of snubs, nobody has ever stopped to question why Ellen wasn’t there, of if she was really as difficult and mean as she has been portrayed ever since. Sandra Lawrence has been granted unparalleled access to her archives, and with it has uncovered the secrets behind this thorniness. Lawrence shares a story that has it all: gossip, sisters, rivalry, squandered inheritance, forbidden love, bad marriages and, at the heart of it all, trailblazing talent.