Gian tufnell

Gardening’s bad girl: the genius – and malice – of Ellen Willmott

In October 1897, the grandees of the Royal Horticultural Society gathered to bestow their highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, struck to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, to 60 of gardening’s greatest luminaries. For the first time, these included two women. One was Gertrude Jekyll, known by all as the Queen of Spades; the other was the 39-year-old Ellen Willmott. But Willmott did not turn up. This public snub was the beginning of her reputation as ‘gardening’s bad girl’, as Sandra Lawrence puts it, one that increased exponentially until it exploded in stories of daffodils being booby-trapped to deter bulb thieves. By trawling through innumerable newly discovered diaries and