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Ellen Ann Willmott

Ellen Ann Willmott (1858–1934) was a prominent British horticulturist and plant collector known for her contributions to the field of gardening and her extensive work with rare and exotic plants. Born on August 19, 1858, in Heston, Middlesex, England, the eldest of three girls, daughters of Frederick Willmott (1825-1892), Ellen came from a wealthy family with a deep interest in horticulture.

Willmott developed a passion for gardening at a young age and was largely self-taught in the field. It was here that she developed her gardening skills. After her sister's marriage in 1891, Ellen lived in Warley on her own, having inherted large sums. She bought the château at Tresserve, near Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1890, and Boccanegra near Ventimiglia in 1905. In these gardens she indulged in acclimatising, propagating, and cultivating plants under different conditions.

She inherited Warley Place, a large estate in Essex, from her father in 1892, and it became the canvas for her botanical endeavors. The estate served as a living laboratory where she experimented with new plants and created one of the most extensive gardens in the early 20th century.

Ellen Willmott was a prolific plant collector, traveling extensively to various parts of the world to acquire new and rare species. Her expeditions took her to countries such as China, Japan, and the United States, and she was known for bringing back numerous plant specimens that had never been seen before in England. Willmott collaborated with renowned botanists of her time, including Sir William Thiselton-Dyer and Augustine Henry.

In addition to her work as a collector, Willmott was an avid writer. She published several books and articles on horticulture, sharing her knowledge and experiences. Her notable works include "The Genus Rosa," a comprehensive study of the rose genus, and "The World of Flowers," which delved into the cultivation of various ornamental plants.

One of Willmott's significant contributions to horticulture was her involvement in the creation of the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Wisley Garden in Surrey. She donated a considerable number of plants to the garden, enhancing its diversity and establishing it as a leading center for horticultural research. She was elected to the narcissus (later narcissus and tulip) committee (1897), the floral committee (group B) (1930), and the lily committee (1933). She was among the first sixty recipients (only two of them women) of the Victoria medal of honour (1897); one of the first three trustees of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley (1903); and one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society (1905). The Société d'acclimatation de France awarded her the grande médaille Geoffroi St Hilaire in 1912, while in 1924 she received the Dean Hole medal from the National Rose Society.

Her published works include: The Genus Rosa (1910-1914).

She sometimes advised on garden design and planting, notably on Anne Hathaway's Cottage garden at Stratford upon Avon in the early-1920s.

Despite her achievements, Ellen Willmott faced financial difficulties later in life, and Warley Place fell into disrepair. In 1932, the estate was sold, and Willmott moved to Villa Boccanegra in Italy, where she continued her gardening pursuits until her death on September 27, 1934.

Ellen Willmott's legacy endures through the plants she introduced to England, her writings, and her impact on horticultural institutions. Her dedication to exploring and documenting the world of plants contributed significantly to the enrichment of botanical knowledge during her time.


  1. Lee, A. (2011). Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens. National Library Australia.
  2. Desmond, R. (1994). Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists, Including Plant Collectors, Flower Painters and Garden Designers. CRC Press.
  3. Harris, S. (2012). Ellen Willmott: The Audacious Recluse. Pimpernel Press.

Lièvre, Audrey le, ‘Willmott, Ellen Ann (1858–1934)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) < > [accessed 27 August 2007]

To learn more about her, please click here to go to the Historical Profile article: https://www.parksandgardens.or...

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