Rosa Ellen Willmott

‘Ellen Willmott’, Hybrid Tea, Archer, 1936

Ellen Willmott’s (1858-1934) career as an amateur horticulturist spanned one of the Golden Ages of British horticulture. Born into a wealthy family she started gardening with her mother when the family moved into Warley Place, Essex, in 1875. Her independent income allowed her to sponsor many important plant collectors and field trips around the world including Ernest Henry (Chinese) Wilson who named Corylopsis willmottiae and Rosa willmottieae for her.

At her own expense she published one of the most important 20th century rose studies, The Genus Rosa, in two volumes between 1910 and 1914 with color illustrations painted by Alfred Parsons. The originals are still in the possession of the Royal Horticultural Society Library, London.

An extravagant and influential gardener she was a contemporary and friend of Gertrude Jekyll. Her gardens at Warley Place and in the south of France were famous in their day. Never married she was known for her independent mind and in later life became a little odd and cantankerous. She was accused of shop-lifting and took to carrying a loaded revolver in her handbag. She also booby-trapped her daffodil fields to deter bulb thieves. At one time she had over 100 gardeners in her employ but she died penniless and her great gardens were sold to pay her debts. There is a story that she and her father had been heavily invested in German railroad stocks and she paid no attention to that fact until World War I was well under way and the stock was rendered worthless by the war with Germany.

Fortune's Double Yellow

‘Fortune’s Double Yellow’, by Alfred Parsons from The Genus Rosa

(Originally posted December 18, 2008)