The Founder of Six Hills
November 3, 1881
Today is the birthday of the English garden writer, plant explorer, renowned nurseryman, alpine specialist, and a founding member of the Alpine Garden Society, Clarence Elliott.
Clarence had a remarkable career, and he cast an enormous shadow from his legendary nursery in Stevenage called Six Hills. If Six Hills has a familiar ring to it, you might be familiar with the popular and prevalent landscape plant and stalwart of most garden borders cultivated at Six Hills: the Nepeta Six Hills Giant. Or, perhaps you were thinking of the Penstemon Six Hills - another Clarence offspring. And many gardeners have forgotten that the Mrs. Popple Fuschia - was actually a nod to the Popples - a couple who lived near Six Hills. One day Clarence spied Mrs. Popple’s gorgeous hardy Fuschia. After taking some cuttings, Clarence ultimately won an RHS Show Award of Merit for the Mrs. Popple Fuschia in 1934. Nearly a century later, gardeners still grow this beloved starter Fuschia in their gardens today.
When Clarence wasn’t scouring his neighborhood (or the world in general) for new plants, he was busy mentoring other horticultural greats like Will Ingwerson and EK Balls. The great Graham Stuart Thomas worked at Six Hills for 24 years.
A gardener’s gardener, Clarence even invented a little garden tool he dubbed The Widger. Somehow Vita Sackville-West ended up with a Widger, and she wrote that it was “the neatest, slimmest, and cheapest of all gadgets to carry in the pocket.” Vita continued:
"[Clarence] invented the Widger, its name, and the verb "to widge", which, although not exactly onomatopoeic, suggests very successfully the action of prising up—you widge up a weed, or widge up a caked bit of soil for the purpose of aerating it—all very necessary operations which before the arrival of the Widger were sometimes awkward to perform. This small sleek object, four inches long, slides into the pocket, no more cumbersome than a pencil, and may be put to many uses. Screwdriver, toothpick, letter-opener, Widger, it fulfills all functions throughout the day… it is the perfect gadget.”