Tune in to Gardeners World on BBC 2 this Friday at 8pm to see an insight into the fascinating life of the Victorian plantswoman, Ellen Willmott. I'm excited to have a connection with one of her gardens - which you can visit this April for a great day out!
Ellen was one of only two women, the other being Gertrude Jekyll, to receive the RHS' Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897. In 1904 she became one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London.
Around her works, Ellen's home at Warley Place (Essex) was said to be a rich oasis where she is thought to have cultivated more than 100,000 different plant species and cultivars! The garden included a conservatory, glasshouses, an irrigation system, a rock garden partly designed as an alpine gorge, a boating lake and a glass-covered cave for ferns. Ellen is reported to have planted tens of thousands of bulbs to form naturalistic drifts when they flowered.
Ellen was the elder sister of Rose Willmott who, in 1891, married into the Berkeley family. Since 1605, the family had lived at Spetchley Park (Worcestershire) and still continue to do so to this day. Following this period, Rose (herself a keen gardener) alongside Ellen, have been attributed with making key changes around the estates gardens which can still be seen; From the use of the Fountain Gardens where Rose grew and bred daffodils, to the layout of the huge herbaceous borders which surround the Kitchen Garden.
In 1925 Spetchley became one of the first gardens in the country to open its gates to visitors under the National Garden Scheme. Steeped in history, on Churchill's death, 12 acorns that he had collected from his favourite oak at Blenheim were distributed to places he had a connection with. One arrived at Spetchley and you can visit the oak in 2024 growing on the Long Walk opposite the Cedar.
What I find so exciting about this feature is that one of my large planters now resides within the original walled kitchen garden, revised by Ellen & Rose. It's always an honour to supply historic gardens, particularly when they have such a rich history and ties with British horticulture.
You should earmark April the 28th in your diary for it is the date of the annual Spetchley Park Specialist Plant Fair. Always a well-attended event, the gardens and grounds are sublime. Hopefully I'll see you there!