Today is the birthday of Ellen Ann Willmott, an English horticulturalist, who was born in 1858.
Ellen was the oldest in her family of three daughters. In 1875, her parents moved to Warley Place, which was set on 33 acres of land in Essex. Ellen lived there for the rest of her life.
All of the Willmott’s were gardeners, and they often gardened as a family. They created an alpine garden complete with a gorge and rockery. This was something that Ellen’s father allowed her to do to commemorate her 21st birthday.
When her godmother died, she received some pretty significant money. When her father died, Warley Place went to her. Ellen planted to her heart's content, and given the size of the property, it’s no wonder that she hired over 100 gardeners to help her tend it.
Ellen was no shrinking violet. She had a reputation for firing any gardener who allowed a weed to grow in her beds. And, she only hired men. There’s a famous quote from her that is often cited, “Women would be a disaster in the border.”
It was a good thing that Ellen had so much money because she sure liked to spend it. She had three homes: one in France, Warley Place, and another in Italy.
Ellen also paid for plant hunting expeditions. Since she paid for them, the plants that were discovered on those expeditions were often named in her honor. And, Ellen hired some pretty impressive people to do her plant collecting. For example, Ellen even sponsored Ernest Henry Wilson.
When Ellen received the Victoria Medal of Honor in 1897, she was honored alongside Gertrude Jekyll.
In the end, Ellen died penniless and heartbroken. Warley Place became a nature preserve.