Friday, 24 August 2018

Abkhazi Gardens and Miss Willmott’s ghost …




Extraordinary things you can happen upon … Miss Willmott’s ghost being one of them … it is actually Eryngium Giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ (per the RHS site) … isn’t it pretty … prickly, but pretty …

my iphone photo



The Ghost was on display at Abkhazi Gardens as a plant of interest with the note about Miss Willmott’s ghost – quite honestly wouldn’t you have been quizzy about this apparition let alone its owner …





A rough photo (in difficult light) of the
note appending the examples of the
3 plants on show at Abkhazi Gardens
Equally Ellen Willmott (1858 – 1934) is one of those real life characters of whom stories could be made … I’ve included some links … but aged 7 she found a cheque for one thousand pounds from her rich godmother … these sorts of cheques continued on, until in 1890, when she and her sister shared the inherited fortune (the equivalent of five million pounds each).


Both the Willmott parents were wealthy and doted on their daughters – Ellen’s sister, Ada sadly died, but Rose survived – marrying into the aristocratic Berkeley family, this branch lived at Spetchley Park, just outside Worcester … where Ellen extended her gardening influence …


… but back to the 7 year old Ellie and the family with a love of beautiful things … and an obvious candidate for a flourishing garden.  Her father moved them out to Warley Place, 24 miles commuting distance from Frederick Wilmott’s city life, bought another 22 acres over the road, built a cottage for the girls and life continued on!




Warley Place as painted by
Alfred Parsons

Ellie, a passionate horticulturist, who became an influential member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), was said to have cultivated more than 100,000 plants, sponsored expeditions to discover new species … and has more than 60 plants named after her.



She inherited the 33 acres of Warley Place after her father’s death in 1892, and bought two more properties in France and Italy … she loved her plants and her life … and was a prodigious spender.


Rosa Willmottiae -
Ellen was a rose fundi

Due to her total immersion in all realms of horticulture she was very influential at the RHS, became a member of the Linnaean Society of London … was accorded all kinds of awards by organisations in Britain, France and Italy.





She was highly talented playing the violin and piano … she owned a Stradivarius … Queen Alexandra (Edward VII’s wife) and various princesses visited Ellen and Warley for musical soirees or to view the estate  … yet ‘my plants and my gardens come before anything in life … when I can no longer plant, as it is too dark, I read or write about them’


Spetchley Park Hall
Rose’s husband’s property Spetchley Park, near Worcester, looks like a wonderful place to visit … Edward Elgar was a regular visitor … they are reviving the gardens to their historical and horticultural best



Ellen and Rose as children

… including the carriages, a melon yard, a horse pool, a root cellar and all the essentials of a modernised country mansion for the touristy visitors …




Sadly her own prodigious spending came home to roost – despite the fortunes – she had to sell her overseas properties, personal effects and then when the time came her death duties were settled by selling Warley Place.


Abkhazi Gardens - painted by Kmit,
see my post on Clearwater Studio


It had been neglected … and is now a nature reserve after the house had been demolished.  A sad end … but perhaps fitting to have a Silver Ghost appearing around the world in various gardens that Miss Willmott had wandered through quietly dropping seeds as she went.



The Essay:Miss Willmott’s Ghost … by Jane Brown appeared in The Independent in 1999 … about various gardeners …

Oxonian Gardener - article on Ellen Willmott

SpetchleyPark in Wikipedia

SpetchleyPark Gardens – the official website


Abkhazi Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia - my post 


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

38 comments:

Liz A. said...

She seems like she would have been lovely, but she didn't know how to budget. Not surprising for someone from her social class of that era.

Joanne said...

quite a ghostly tale and neat pics and research. Sad that the house is gone, but at least the gardens live on. I think if I were bequeathed a ton of acres, I would do my best to honor the gift. No doubt you would too.
Good post. Have an excellent weekend

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

You should write a tale about Miss Willmott’s ghost, Hilary; I mean some kind of Gothic tale...something with grave consequences, perhaps.

DMS said...

Wow! I can't even imagine all that money now- or back then. Sounds like she had quite the green thumb. Amazing that so many plants are named after her. I love gardening and it would have been fascinating to meet her. Looks like a beautiful place to visit. :)
~Jess

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
Fascinating lady... though one wonders how on earth it is possible to spend out such a fortune! YAM xx

Jz said...

That really is pretty. Did you sneak out a fingertip and brush the flower?
Is it prickly to the touch as well as to sight? (Notice I'm assuming you did!)

J.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Liz - she seemed to be quite demanding ... probably because she had the money, and position - but it was in the era when men dominated ...

@ Joanne - yes it was a fun find - to see the specimen on display at Abkhazi Gardens. It is sad the house (Warley Place) has gone, but at least it didn't become a housing estate - near, but they managed to retain the land. She did honour the gifts ... but just was a prodigious spender and I suppose thought the inheritances simply couldn't run out. Yes I definitely would honour the inheritance ...

@ Mike - thanks, but my story telling isn't the greatest ... though with the grave aspect could be fun ... with perhaps a folly or two ... who knows?!

@ Jess - I know that sort of funding is definitely not in my league. But yes - obviously devoted to her gardening ... I gather her mother got both her daughters out there planting roses up, which she'd grown from seed, - which set the trend off.

I agree she would have been an amazing woman to meet ... though I'd have to brush up on my horticulture ... I suspect she wouldn't suffer fools gladly! I think both places would be interesting ... Spetchley Park being my first choice ... but her land (now the Reserve) must still be beautiful ...

@ Yam - well even to spend two fortunes ... but I guess 3 large garden estate properties ... and a wilful urge to buy plants wherever and whenever ... throw in a few servants and you have it ... well on the downward spiral ...

@ Jz - the sea holly is prickly ... I know it from Cornwall and Eastbourne, and I saw some when I was over in Vancouver outside City Hall ... so it's around!! I love it - so pretty ... lethal prickles wise. I didn't touch the specimen, but gave the Vancouver ones a once over! Yes it is prickly to touch and to look at ...

Lovely to see you all here and thanks for enjoying my Silver Ghost ... have good weekends - cheers Hilary

Elephant's Child said...

How fascinating. I suspect that an avid gardener would love to be a 'haunt' which appeared as a plant - prickly or not.
Thank you for the links too.

Hels said...

How super.. an Elgar connection. You are finding amazing links.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Miss Willmott's Ghost is also haunting the Botanic gardens in Cambridge right now. Even more spooky is that I'd never heard the name before yesterday and now I hear it again today.

Jo said...

In that day and age I am surprised her husband didn't have control of her money. Interesting woman. I must admit if I had seen that plant I would have thought it was a weed although it is quite pretty.

Kali Delamagente said...

Excellent story. "Prodigious spender"--a much nicer term than shopaholic or spend-thrift!

I love your spotlights, Hilary. I want to follow along as you travel, just follow. I think I'd be completely entertained.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC - yes I agree to know that you have plants named after you and that your name will continue on in the horticultural world must be heartening. To me it's a pretty plant ... pleasure to provide the links ...

@ Hels - yes Elgar was inspired to write parts of his Dream of Gerontius when we was amongst the pines growing in Spetchley Park. Just luck ... I follow what interests me and then put in the ones that could be of interest to others ... so thank you.

@ John - I gather she spent time in Cambridge - particularly working with Professor Michael Forrester on Irises ... for which she was also highly recognised.

Coincidences do occur don't they ... I'd never heard of Miss Willmott either - but a great person to read up about. Funny old world ... how these connections happen ...

I'm fond of the plant - re the connections with the seaside - Cornwall and Eastbourne ... and I saw them outside City Hall in Vancouver ... so interesting to know they're proliferating in Cambridge too ...

@ Jo - she never married, so had her own way. It is a delightful plant to see ... as it is 'so different' .. pale, silvery, blue too ...

@ Jacqui - thanks ... just glad you enjoyed my take on Miss Willmott and her ghostly spectre ... perhaps she was like the plant ... prickly, pretty and determined ...

You are so kind ... it'd be lovely to have your company ... often my wanderings are so local ... but it'd be great if you were there too ...

Thanks so much to you all ... have good weekends - cheers Hilary

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I've never seen that plant at any of the gardens I've visited, but like Jo said, if I'd seen it, I might've thought it was a very pretty weed. Then again, I suppose flowering weeds are only considered weeds because they're growing where we don't want them...

Not sure I could spend that much money if I tried. (I'm a teensy bit cheap... um, frugal. I meant frugal...)

Have a super weekend. Cheers!

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

What a lovely life Miss Ellen Willmott had and how wonderful that she cultivated beauty and spread the seeds around so the future could enjoy them.

Inger said...

She sounds like an interesting woman who did what she thought was important in her life. And the Silver Ghost is beautiful, I've never heard of it before. Thanks for this interesting post.

Anabel Marsh said...

Fascinating story! What a character.

Sue Bursztynski said...

What a woman! Sounds like she didn’t waste her money, anyway,even if she did end up over-spending, if it was on plants. I guess if you were brought up with money, you wouldn’t learn to be careful of it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Susan - I'm not sure I'd have noticed one either, but they're always around our seaside gardens - well Cornwall and Sussex ... so I know sea holly ... often blue coloured, not silver as the ghostly Miss Willmott, but it was the name that caught my eye. Yup - weeds are flowers in the wrong space ... unless they're not weeds, but are plants happily growing.

I guess if you've got the money you'd be spending ... I think!! I know I would be ...

@ Arlene - she seems to have flourished until her sister died in 1922, then life started going down hill ... too much to worry about at 64 ... and I guess she didn't know who to turn to - very sad. But she was quite clever dropping seeds wherever she went - the plant inspectors would be all over her now!!

@ Inger - she certainly got herself totally involved in all things - her own gardens, the RHS, the Linnean Society, Cambridge botanical gardens, her sister's extensive property ... the purchase of Wisley for the RHS's new botanical garden. I've heard of the genus and known about Eryngiums (probably eryngiumae or equivalent!) from Cornwall and Eastbourne ... very glad you enjoyed the post ...

@ Anabel - I'm so glad these things come to light as I explore around ...

@ Sue - yes she certainly didn't appear to waste it - though a French horticulturalist suggested she could do just as well buying her plants locally in England, rather than shipping them over from France - so she must have been a bit of a spendthrift.

Obviously once her parents had died, and she had no-one around after Rose had moved across country, then died ... the money, after WW1, and then the depression I guess there wasn't so much ...

Thanks for your comments and being engaged with Miss Willmott's life - interesting times too ... cheers Hilary

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

She did enjoy herself and live a thrilling life, it appears. I'd be interested in seeing the nature reserve, along with some Ghosts (plant form only).

Cheers, Hillary.
I hope you're enjoying the weekend.

Lynda Dietz said...

The Silver Ghost is beautiful in an almost-unreal way.

I can't imagine devoting all my time to horticulture, but I certainly enjoy looking at the results of her life's passion.

Rhodesia said...

What an interesting post and I love the ghost. That is a cracking shot with your iPhone. Hope all is well, have a good week. Diane

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Robyn - she certainly did what she wanted ... I suspect she became rather selfish ... and wouldn't accept or ask for advice ... she seemed rather dominant with a lot of money that ruled, until her life changed, as happens with old age - and the sign of the times - after WW1 and the Depression presumably losing some of her fortune through the investments held.

@ Lynda - I love those sea-hollies ... and so this totally drew my attention - then to find the story of the ghost was just so much fun, then her story, having never heard of her. I haven't ever spent a lot of time gardening ... I guess if I had the money (lots of it) then I'd be quite happy - because there are so many openings ... my back patch wouldn't count!!

@ Diane - thanks it was a quick shot ... so I'm so pleased it came out so well. The ghost story just adds to the whole thing ...

Thanks to you three - good to see you ... and enjoy this last August in 2018 - cheers Hilary

Andrea Ostapovitch said...

People can be so very interesting! I'm afraid my interests are far too diversified to ever make a mark in one particular area. But I do think it would be wonderful to be completely obsessed with something.

Have a great week,
Andrea

Sandra Cox said...

The Ghost is a perfect namesake for someone who sounds like a fascinating individual. I can't begin to imagine tearing through that much money.

Kelly Steel said...

She sounds interesting and fascinating!

Nilanjana Bose said...

How cool to have flowers named after oneself!

She sounds like a fascinating personality. And not many interesting people were/are much good at budgets from what i hear/read :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Now *that's* a master gardener! Her plants make for a lovely legacy.

David Gascoigne said...

There is a touch of sadnesss perhaps in the house not surviving, but I am sure that Miss Willmott would have wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of the property becoming a nature reserve. Sure beats a parking lot!

Sherry Ellis said...

What a fascinating story! I would like to visit the Abkhazi Gardens. They're on my list.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Andrea - yes I too have diversified interests ... as a child she worked with her mother acquiring that passion, and in those days this is what you did ... and broadened her horizons that way - and with that money ... it'd be relatively easy to not to worry about things and just spend ...

@ Sandra - yes the name is brilliant isn't it; yet as you say to think of spending that amount of money is bit beyond the pale of thought ...

@ Kelly - I was delighted to find out about her ... and the other links ...

@ Nila - sixty plants is some number isn't it - her name will live on. You're right about the budgeting I'm sure - but that amount of money is such a huge amount ... I bet she never thought it'd run out. She was pretty demanding by the sound of it ... not surprising really ...

@ Elizabeth - she certainly seemed to know her stuff and her plants and was constantly learning from others; but 'her ghost' and other plants live on through her name ...

@ David - it is sad isn't it ... and there are comments in the articles that she could have done more to save Warley - yet when one is in the thick of life ... these things don't 'spring to mind'. But as you say the silver lining is at least a Nature Reserve ... and not a parking lot.

@ Sherry - delighted to know Abkhazi Gardens is on your list to visit ... you'll love it

Thanks so much to you all - I'm glad I've given her some extra life here ... and I'll remember her ... the sun has returned after the fires - so that's a blessing, we have fresh air again ... cheers Hilary

Deborah Barker said...

One of those stories that makes one wonder...a fortune...so much land...another era and another life indeed. Beautiful plant and love the thought of Miss Wilmott scattering seeds where'ere she trod. (Surely not allowed today). :-) XX

Vallypee said...

What a shame that the property was neglected. It sounds as if she was so passionate about her gardens, that would have made her very sad. Still, spending too much meant she must have enjoyed most of her life in any event. A lovely pace! I wish I liked gardening more!

Nas said...

This is an interesting post about her. I wonder what if she had used some common sense? What would have happened to her property then.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Deborah - I was fascinated to find out about her - exactly another life indeed, and the time period was so different. Nope - definitely don't go around dropping seeds everywhere ... that would definitely not be acceptable. Certainly her life has given us food for thought ...

@ Val - I suspect life got on top of her ... WW1, then her sister dying, then the 1920s with the Depression following on - yes pre WW1 I'm sure life was rosy and she was fulfilled. Perhaps if that was what we did ... we'd enjoy it - just there's other things going on.

@ Nas - I suspect she probably never needed that ... but always had advice from other gardeners ... then the War and the Depression came - and her money had vanished ... she lived in it til the end ... in poverty - not easy for her ... but she couldn't get away from her plants - the passion held her ... not good, I know ...

Cheers to you three - we do need common sense don't we and know we need to keep a handle on life ... thanks for being here - Hilary

B Pradeep Nair said...

Hi Hilary,
Thanks a lot for sharing this interesting story. Horticulture, violin and piano - what a fabulous combination of tastes. But sad such a fabulous creation was neglected, and she herself had very troubled times at the end. You have ended the post with a very nice positive twist.
- Pradeep | bpradeepnair.blogspot.com

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Pradeep - it is a fascinating story isn't it ... as you say a violin, a piano, a fortune and plenty of horticulture. Life took over ... and times changed - pre WW1 to the Depression ... lots happened and I'm sure with consideration she'd have made amends and helped herself.

But I suspect she'd be so happy with this positive twist to her life ... forever appearing in gardens around the world as Eryngium Giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ - thanks so much for your lovely comment - cheers Hilary

Rhonda Albom said...

It seems Ellen Willmott lead a privileged life. I gather those 1000 pound cheques foretold what was to come. The gardens sound lovely although I don't believe I have seen a silver ghost before.