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In focus: Miss Willmott's published photographs

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

'The Garden House'. Plate 37 from 'Warley Garden in Spring and Summer' by Ellen Willmott, 1909


Anyone that reads my blogs will know that Miss Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) of Warley Place in Essex is my horticultural heroine - her published photography being the subject of my garden history masters dissertation a few years ago. And, as I generally write about the late Victorian/Edwardian period, Willmott often manages to pop up in many of my posts relating to all sorts of different horticultural subjects (...often still much to my surprise I might add!), such was her importance in the horticultural world of the time.

Willmott, recently honoured with a 'blue plaque' which will reside in her garden at Warley Place in Essex, is described on it as an "Outstanding horticulturalist, photographer and musician, whose expertise and passion for plants inspired this and many other gardens". Willmott was, quite rightly, regarded as one of the finest gardeners of her day by the people that mattered in the world of horticulture. Her garden at Warley Place was planted with beautiful and often rare plants in accord with the emerging new ideas about more 'natural' gardens and it was, according to Judith Tankard (who writes extensively about Gertrude Jekyll), one of the most important gardens of the era together with Jekyll's own garden at Munstead Wood and William Robinson's at Gravetye Manor (and you may have seen the recent special edition of Gardeners World about Robinson and his garden).

Blue plaque celebrating Ellen Willmott, unveiled at her garden, Warley Place, on 19th August 2022 - to coincide with her birthday

However, whereas reference and gardening books will tell you about Jekyll and Robinson, you'll have to search harder to find mention of Willmott, although Sandra Lawrence's new biography, Miss Willmott's Ghosts, published in May this year, is generating renewed interest in this extraordinary woman.

Willmott's gardening prowess was certainly held in high regard by both Robinson and Jekyll - two horticultural heavyweights of the time: writing in The Garden in 1907, Robinson (1838-1935) described her as "foremost among women in practical horticulture" and "a conscientious and painstaking botanist", while Jekyll (1843-1932) famously called her "the greatest of living women-gardeners".

Portrait of Miss Ellen Willmott by Signora Mantovani Gutti

Willmott's mentor, and friend, the Swiss alpine specialist, Henri Correvon (1854-1939), writing in 1911, also said of her that "the cause of gardening claims all her ability, erudition, fortune and talents". And he certainly knew a thing or two about the amount of money she spent on plants having admonished her, on more than one occasion, about wasting money unnecessarily buying expensive alpine plants in bulk from his Geneva nursery, rather than using a supplier somewhat closer to home!

This month, I'm having a detailed look (so a longer read than usual) at Willmott's published photographs in the horticultural press and gardening books, where they were often used to illustrate the increasingly popular new style of naturalistic planting, as championed by her friends Jekyll and Robinson.

The mechanics of photographs in the horticultural press

But first, a note about how photographs were used to illustrate publications during this period. Photographs did not appear in gardening literature until the 1880’s, and at first were rather unsatisfactory ‘engravings from photographs’ - often looking like line drawings, and being dependent upon the skill of the individual engraver (see, for example, her photograph of St. Catherine's Court further on in this post). However, the quality improved when the far superior ‘half-tone process’ was introduced - a photomechanical process by which the tones of a photographic image were represented by tiny dots of variable size, leading for the first time to the commercial viability of reproducing 'photographs' alongside words on the printed page. ‘Half-tone’ was indeed considered to be the major factor in the explosion of popular illustrated newspapers and magazines at the beginning of the 20th century [see my blog Photography as applied to flowers: Mr Stevens' prize picture for more information about the improvements in printed images, including the Woodburytype process].

Researching photographs in publications from this time can be difficult. For example, trying to work out who took the photographs can be a tricky business, and some detective work is often required. Photographers are very often unattributed, and the strict copyright rules of today certainly didn't apply in the late Victorian/Edwardian period. Also, the 'half-tone' blocks were expensive to produce which may explain why some photographs were reproduced in the press multiple times, over a period of years in some cases. So it’s not easy to know when photographs were actually taken - or often even where. Many of Willmott’s published photographs are perfect examples of this ‘recycling’ of images.

Willmott's photography

According to the first Willmott biography, Miss Willmott of Warley Place: Her Life and Her Gardens, written in 1980 by Audrey Le Lievre, Willmott began experimenting with photography during the early 1890's and, like everything else she turned her hand to, went at it full throttle quickly mastering its intricacies and setting up her own dark room at Warley Place. The introduction of the Kodak box camera with roll-film in 1891 had made photography less cumbersome, although she also continued to use a large format camera - walking the garden looking for good pictures with, it's said, a footman in full uniform trailing behind carrying the heavy photographic plates!

One of Miss Willmott's cameras

Willmott published only two books during her lifetime: one, her famed book on roses, The Genus Rosa, and the other a book of her own photographs containing images of the gardens at Warley Place titled Warley Garden in Spring and Summer, published in 1909.

What prompted her to publish it is not clear, but it was this book that first drew my attention in her photography, particularly as Le Lievre's biography doesn't even scratch the surface on the subject of Willmott's photographic activities.

'Warley Garden in Spring and Summer', by Ellen Willmott, 1909

What is known however, is that Willmott had previously rejected offers to write about her garden, having famously written to a friend: “As you know, my plants and my gardens come before anything in life for me, and all my time is given up to working in one garden or another…”. (Willmott owned not only Warley Place, but also homes and gardens in Tresserve in France and Boccanegra on the Italian Riviera). So the publication of anything from Willmott about her famed garden at Warley Place was indeed an event, especially as it was not open to the public apart from the occasional opening for charity.

But rather than writing about her garden, Willmott created instead what has been described as a "grand photograph album" featuring plant portraits, flower borders, views of pools and marginal plants, and various aspects of her famed spring planting. And, as one of Willmott’s grandest schemes, her alpine garden (presuming planted-up with a lot of expensive alpines from Correvon's Geneva nursery...) features in no less than 10 of the book’s photographs. However, as I wrote about Willmott's book in December last year in a post entitled A Christmas Present for 1909, I'll not go into any great detail about it here, but will concentrate on Willmott's published photographs in the horticultural press and in other authors' books.

'The Orchard Garden'. Plate 22 from 'Warley Garden in Spring and Summer' by Ellen Willmott, 1909

What particularly interests me is her prodigious volume of published photographs in the horticultural press. As pointed out in my post The UK Horticultural Press: 1840's - 1920's, the UK horticultural press is a fantastic and still much under-used resource for garden historians or, in fact, anyone with a general interest in gardens and plants of the past (see Note). Dr David Marsh of The Gardens Trust has even described The Gardeners' Chronicle as "the best source for everyday life in the gardening world in the 19th and early 20th centuries", although Willmott's horticultural activities are better covered in the more upmarket The Garden magazine.

While researching Willmott's photographs for my dissertation, it became clear from the pages of the horticultural press - particularly the weekly magazine, The Garden, that between the years 1900 and 1907 her photographs epitomized the new, and increasingly popular, planting ideas. Encouraged by Jekyll and Robinson in their many books and articles, this more 'natural' style consisted of loose, informal arrangements of herbaceous bulbs, plants and flowers that Robinson called ‘old English’ garden plants, such as pansies, wild roses, irises, foxgloves, cranesbills, clematis and honeysuckles (which, of course, is how many of us arrange our gardens now).

Willmott's photograph below for example, published in The Garden in 1904, was accompanied by an unattributed article titled 'Grouping of Hardy Flowers' which described the simple grouping of hardy plants in the picture as being "more beautiful from the way in which the plants creep over the stones in the pathway". This way of planting is something we probably don't even consciously think about today: using plants to soften the lines of hard landscaping, we just do it. But at the time it was a far cry from the formal flower beds and carpet bedding of only a short time before, and is just a small example of how the use of plants was changing rapidly.

'A Stone Pathway in Flower Garden showing the Beauty of Simple Grouping. From a photograph by Miss Willmott.' From 'The Garden', 16 July, 1904. No formal beds or straight lines here

Over 70 photographs by Willmott appeared in The Garden during this period, and in 1902 photographs by her appeared every month from January through to September. However, photographs by her had first appeared in the horticultural press back in the early 1890's (detailed below in 'Willmott's photography'), with 1895 being a particular highlight when 18 were published in The Garden throughout that year. And, since my initial research back in 2010/2011, I've discovered many more Willmott photographs in various other books and journals.

The very first published photograph attributed to Willmott however appears in The Garden in 1893, some years before she became well-known in the horticultural world. Which is probably why this image, of St. Catherine’s Court (home to family friends), is attributed to ”Miss A.E. Wilmot, Warley Place, Essex” - the magazine getting her initials the wrong way round and mis-spelling her surname.

To my knowledge, this is Willmott's first published photograph. Its caption reads: ‘St. Catherine’s Court, near Bath. Engraved for The Garden from a photograph sent by Miss A.E.Wilmot, Warley Place, Essex’ . Published in 'The Garden', 30th December 1893

But before I get into anymore detail of Willmott's output in the press, I'll talk about her photographs that appear in gardening books - as the two are inextricably linked.

Willmott's photographs in gardening books

As already mentioned, it's often not an easy task trying to attribute the photographer in publications from this period. In books, for example, an author may mention the photographer in the preface or introduction (often while thanking them) without attributing individual photographs or, sometimes, the photographer is not mentioned at all. Fortunately, many horticultural and gardening books of the early 1900's were published by the Country Life Library (including many of Jekyll's books), and images from their stock of photographic plates and blocks were often used multiple times in different publications.

Sometimes this can help. In one publication the photographer may not be attributed whereas, in another, they are. And as Country Life absorbed The Garden magazine in the early 1900's, it presumably also inherited its large photographic archive. [For more detail on the importance of Country Life to photographs of Edwardian gardens in particular, see my post Country Life: The Garden Historians' "bible"]

The book most often mentioned by modern writers in relation to Willmott, and her photography, is Jekyll's Children and Gardens published in 1908 (written specifically for children), probably because it contains her famous quote describing Willmott as being "the greatest of living women-gardeners". Willmott is attributed as the photographer of The Old Play-house (below), but only in Jekyll's text which reads that the “pretty lady in the picture is a German Princess. She has brought out her work to the old play-house, and is trying to think herself a child again, remembering all the happy hours she spent here a few years ago. The picture is done by my friend Miss Willmott, the greatest of living women-gardeners, and given me by her for your book”.

'The Old Play-House' by Ellen Willmott, from Gertrude Jekyll's 'Children and Gardens', 1908

The so-called princess in the photograph is actually well-known author, Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941). Her best known books probably being Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898) and The Enchanted April (1922). Von Armin, actually born in Australia but spending most of her life in England, became a Countess (a princess being a more easily understood term for children I presume) upon marrying a German Count and moving to live at his family estate in Pomerania (now in Poland - the first mentioned book being about the garden she created there). She later divorced him and moved back to England, where she later remarried. I've found no evidence that Willmott travelled to Pomerania to take the photograph, but von Arnim did visit Jekyll at her home, Munstead Wood (I believe Willmott also visited, although I'm unsure of the dates).

Willmott's photographs in books by Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson

Probably the most famous books to feature Willmott's photographs are by Robinson and Jekyll. Several of Willmott’s photographs appear in later editions of Robinson’s influential work, The English Flower Garden (first published 1883) and in Alpine Flowers for Gardens (first published 1870). Willmott is mentioned in the preface of both as providing photographs, and some individual ones are actually attributed - as is the one below from The English Flower Garden.

'Effect of native Ferns in foreground. From a photograph by Miss Willmott' in William Robinson's 'The English Flower Garden', 8th Edition, 1900. This photograph had already appeared in 'The Garden' in December 1896

Gentiana G. macrophylla (Engraved from a photograph sent by Miss Willmott), from William Robinson’s, 'Alpine Flowers for Gardens', 3rd edition, 1903

In this photograph of a gentian, from later editions of Robinson's Alpine Flowers for Gardens, it's easier to see that it's from an engraving, especially due to the rather muddy background. This book also uses a couple of very poor quality 'woodcuts' of the rock garden at Warley Place which had been published in The Garden back in the early 1890's. (By the time this particular edition of Robinson's book was published in 1903, woodcuts were rather old hat, so I presume the publishers hadn't wanted the expense of updating the illustrations).

At least Robinson was complimentary about Warley Place in the book, writing (about Warley and 3 other gardens) that “we may see not only the rarest Alpine plants admirably grown, but effects and colour not unworthy of the Alpine fields”. Praise indeed, although Willmott was renowned for her ability to grow rare or difficult plants well.

Jekyll was a more prolific author than Robinson and, at the turn of the 20th century, published two books in quick succession. In the Introduction to the first, Lilies for English Gardens (1901), Jekyll credits Willmott with several of the illustrations but, annoyingly, doesn't identify which ones. However, many of these photographs were also published in The Garden, and some are, fortunately, attributed to Willmott. It's the same for Roses for English Gardens (1902), in which Jekyll offers "grateful acknowledgment" to Willmott for "a considerable number of excellent photographs". Athough, again, not identifying which ones, so hours of cross-checking required.

‘Gloire Lyonnaise (H.T.) in a Southern Garden', from Gertrude Jekyll’s ‘Roses for English Gardens’. This photograph had already appeared in 'The Garden' in December, 1898

Many of Willmott's photographs in Jekyll's rose book feature Willmott's garden at Tresserve in France, this example showing a 'rose pillar' (these were quite popular at the time, with Jekyll devoting a whole chapter to them). Although unattributed in Roses for English Gardens, it was published in The Garden magazine in 1898 under the title ‘Roses at Tresserve’, with Willmott credited as the photographer. Hurrah. An additional aid to identifying photographs of Tresserve is the helpfully distinctive mountain ridge line often seen in the background. Double hurrah.

However, the beautiful photograph below, one of my favourites from Jekyll's rose book, features the conservatory at Warley Place. The Blush Boursault of the title is the name of the rose scrambling over the walls. Unfortunately, it's unattributed and, unusually for such a lovely image, I've not come across it published anywhere else. However, it's identifiable as the conservatory at Warley Place, as the walls, with their distinctive frieze at the top, still survive. Therefore, and despite having no actual evidence, I assume it was taken by Willmott.

'The Blush Boursault', from Gertrude Jekyll's 'Roses for English Gardens',1902

The conservatory at Warley Place was originally attached to the house, which was demolished in the late 1930's. Photograph by author 2011. Today, the conservatory has deteriorated badly and is currently awaiting renovation work

The photograph of the conservatory at Warley Place, as well The Garden House (at the top of the page and which also appears in Jekyll's rose book), were used to illustrate her descriptions of tumbling cascades of roses covering walls, hedges, and buildings.

Willmott's 'wall' photographs

Photographs of a wall don't sound that interesting, but I particularly like these by Willmott. A "loose wall" was, Jekyll had suggested in her very first book, Wood and Garden, published in 1899, “one of the best and simplest ways of growing rock plants…”. After reading Jekyll's book, Correvon followed up in 1900 with an article titled 'Wall Gardens' for The Garden magazine with accompanying photographs by Willmott. Correvon often mentions Willmott and Warley Place in his own books about alpine plants and, in this article, wrote that he had “a great admiration for old walls covered with plants” and that Willmott’s photographs, showing a simple greenhouse wall at his garden/nursery, Jardin Alpin D’Acclimatation near Geneva, covered in a variety of rock plants, gave a good idea of how this is a “delightful manner of making use of old walls…”. Perhaps Willmott took the photographs while visiting to splurge on plants, although they (and their families) had become good friends.

‘A Wall in the Jardin D’Acclimatation, Geneva: Vella Spinosa, Erinus Hirsutus, Campanula Mirabilis, Saxifraga Longifolia, Dianthus Neglectus, etc. (Photographed by Miss Willmott)’, published in ‘The Garden’, February 10, 1900. A jaunty looking Correvon can be seen standing in the doorway

Jekyll even published a book titled Wall and Water Gardens in 1901. It ran to several editions with a reissue in 1910, with Jekyll using one of Willmott's photographs of Correvon's wall from The Garden. There is no mention of Willmott in the book but, in the Preface, Jekyll writes that she is “indebted to the proprietors of The Garden for the use of some of the illustrations…” and also to Country Life "for a still larger number of subjects for illustration". So we know where she (or her publishers) got the photographs from.

Writing about these so-called wall gardens was certainly a thing at the time, especially as rock and alpine plants were so popular; Robinson also published pictures of plants growing in walls at Graveteye Manor in his own books. Jekyll thought, writing in Wall and Water Gardens, that there was nothing "prettier or pleasanter" than using rough walls or steps in a garden planted up with "little ferns... saxifrages or stone-crops", or with "hanging sheets" of aubrieta or rock pinks to create "many more beautiful garden-pictures". And her mention of steps is interesting, as it became somewhat of a trademark of a Lutyens-Jekyll designed garden for Jekyll to soften Lutyens' hard landscaping, especially steps, with erigeron daisies or similar plants.

‘Alpine Plants in a Sunny Limestone Wall at the Jardin D’Acclimatation, Geneva. Saxifraga Longifolia, Erinus, Phyteum a Comosum, etc.’ From Gertrude Jekyll's, ‘Wall and Water Gardens', 1901. Also published in 'The Garden', 17 February,1900 accompanying Correvon's article on wall gardens

Anyway, it's no surprise that many of the same Willmott photographs were published in The Garden and in Jekyll's book.

Like her roses and lily books, Jekyll's Wall and Water Gardens was published by the Country Life Library: the publishers of both The Garden and Country Life were Hudson & Kearns who obviously used their stock of images to illustrate both magazines as well as the Country Life Library books [the company's name appears at the bottom of many of Willmott's photographs shown in this post].

A good example of one of Willmott's photographs that pops up in various publications over a number of years is her photograph of a walnut tree.

The walnut tree at Warley Place

Willmott’s iconic photograph of the walnut tree, which still stands at Warley Place today, appears in several editions of Robinson's The English Flower Garden, as well as elsewhere. However, the first time it appeared in print was in The Garden in 1897. It was also published in Gardening Illustrated in 1899 [see Note] - Robinson owning both magazines at the time.

'Narcissus in Turf at Warley Place', photograph by Ellen Willmott. From William Robinson's 'The English Flower Garden', 10th Edition, 1906

A similar photograph by Willmott (below) appeared in The Garden in 1900, 1902, and again in 1907. But the articles that accompanied Willmott’s photographs of the walnut tree did not discuss the tree at all. It was the meadow that the articles' authors were interested in, and the variety of spring plants growing there - especially narcissi growing in turf, which was a fashionable trend espoused by Robinson and others, and all part of the effort to achieve a more natural look in meadows and expanses of lawn.

This photograph of the walnut tree by Ellen Willmott was published in 'The Garden' magazine 3 times over the course of 7 years

The main flower gardens at Warley Place were surrounded by park-like meadows planted with clumps of coniferous and other trees, under-planted with grouped masses of snowdrops, crocus and daffodils. And Willmott's photographs of the walnut tree in the meadow filled with narcissi perfectly illustrated the new trend of planting daffodils and other spring bulbs en masse in turf, and arranged in groups or drifts.

The walnut tree at Warley Place. Photograph by author

Robinson, who planted spring bulbs in this manner at Gravetye Manor, was complimentary about the drifts of daffodils growing at Warley, writing in The Garden in 1909 that "perhaps it is in the springtime when the Daffodils make glorious carpets of colour, that it appeals most to those who love their gardens". While Jekyll, in an article about Warley Place in Country Life in 1910, wrote “…for here are oceans of many kinds of Daffodil”.

Warley Place is still well known for its displays of daffodils during the spring, and special open days at the garden (now a nature reserve) draw hundreds of visitors.

An article in Country Life in 1915 regarding naturalising daffodils in this way even described Willmott as "one of the pioneers of this system", and featured a photograph of daffodils growing at Warley Place taken by the pioneering plant photographer, Reginald A. Malby (1882-1924) [on whom a future post]. The article describes "a valuable object lesson in what and what not to do" - the photograph of Warley Place showing the right approach, being the ideal of "art and cultivation". Such spring-planting became increasingly popular, and the term "naturalising", in relation to spring bulbs, entered garden jargon.

As the Country Life image is too dark to show here, I'm adding instead a coloured postcard from a photograph by Malby of masses of crocus at Warley showing just what a wonderful sight it must have been. Malby visited Warley Place several times to take photographs and, again with a little detective work comparing this postcard with his published photographs of Warley Place, I'm sure it's of one of meadows there. Sadly, the crocus numbers today are badly depleted.

‘Wild Crocuses (Crocus Vernis) at Warley, Essex. From a Colour Transparency by Reginald A. Malby, F.R.P.S.’. Undated postcard

Warley Place in spring-time. Photograph by author

Today, it's always recommended that when planting out bulbs en masse - especially if you want to 'naturalise' them in a lawn, it's a good idea to scatter them on the ground and plant them where they fall to create a natural look. But this advice is hardly new - it’s said that to ensure an uneven distribution and gain the desired effect, Willmott had her gardeners’ children throw handfuls of bulbs from wheelbarrows.

So, I think it's rather fitting that, over 100 years later, one of the UK’s largest gardening websites,, reported (back in 2018) that their latest 21st century advice for naturalising narcissus or crocus in grass was “to copy the famous Miss Ellen Willmott of Warley Place in Essex" - as she "placed a small child in a wheelbarrow with a sack of bulbs and pushed it along whilst they showered the ground with bulbs”. However, I do think that one of the gardeners – or at least a footman, would have actually pushed the wheelbarrow!

Willmott's most published photograph

'Nankeen Lilies'. Plate 31 from 'Warley Garden in Spring and Summer' by Ellen Willmott, 1909

However, of all Willmott’s many published photographs, there is one that appears in print more than any other - so presumably a good printing plate or block survived over the years. Usually just titled Nankeen Lilies, it was first published in The Garden in 1901 accompanying an article describing bold masses of this popular lily (latin name Lilium testaceum) growing at Warley Place. I will be writing a separate post about Willmott and lilies in due course but, briefly, over the course of the next 10 years or so it also appears (or a cropped version of it) in Country Life (twice) as well as in Jekyll's lily book; in The Garden again a few years later; in Willmott's own book of photographs; and, in 1912, illustrates an account of a visit by the Essex Field Club to Warley Place in their journal, Essex Naturalist.

Then, in 1920, 19 years after it was first published, The Garden put Nankeen Lilies on its front page twice, first in January and again in the September. A brief paragraph in the magazine described the front cover as showing “a wonderful display of blooms of this delightful Lily in Miss Willmott’s interesting garden at Warley Place".

Willmott's most frequently published photograph, 'Nankeen Lilies', on the front page of 'The Garden', September 4, 1920 (it also appeared on the front page in January of the same year)

'Nankeen lily', photograph courtesy Berthold Gross

Willmott's contributions to The Garden magazine

Although Robinson and Jekyll took full advantage of Willmott’s skill with a camera to illustrate their own writings, it was in the weekly magazine The Garden in the first few years of the 20th century that she made her most substantial photographic contribution. In November 1899, Jekyll wrote to Willmott to advise that she would shortly be taking on co-editorship of The Garden magazine (which actually only lasted 2 years), and that she was particularly keen, as she expressed it, to see "to its much bettering as to beauty of illustrations".

The first issue under the new editors was to appear in January 1900 and, although the first few numbers were already in preparation, Jekyll’s letter requested, "any photographs of beautiful garden efforts or details with your own remarks will be as always of the greatest value". Willmott had, of course, already been supplying photographs to the magazine since the mid-1890's, but she heeded Jekyll's request and continued to do so for the next few years.

While many of Willmott’s photographs are attributed, it's difficult to ascertain whether she was the author of the accompanying brief texts that sometimes appear with her photographs - example below. However, given the comment in Jekyll’s letter to Willmott requesting "your own remarks", I think it's probable that at least some, given her extensive horticultural and botanical knowledge, were written by her.

'Border of Flowers Boldly Arranged' by Ellen Willmott. From 'The Garden', August 1, 1903 with accompanying text below. [Note: funkia is a rather outdated name for hosta]

A letter to a friend written in 1910 also touches upon this subject. By now, Willmott’s financial situation had become increasingly difficult and she wrote complaining that taking in "paying guests" may "pay better than writing articles for the gardening papers from what is in my head". Perhaps she viewed this activity as a necessary, but rather tiresome, expediency. But whatever her own thoughts on the matter, during this period Willmott, as both plants-woman and photographer, was put before the upmarket readership of The Garden on a regular basis only adding to her horticultural fame.

After 1907, Willmott’s attributed contributions all but disappear from The Garden, and photographs by her don't appear regularly again (although articles by her are published - an example being shown below). Perhaps she was too preoccupied with assembling her book of photographs and the enormous effort involved in the creation of The Genus Rosa, the completion and publication of which took several frustrating years. However, there's also a noticeable change in emphasis in the magazine around this time, as it became a more practical gardening magazine, with more gardening tips than previously and a section for beginners - more Gardeners World than Gardens Illustrated perhaps. Willmott’s photographic absence was filled by contributions from Kew and other botanic gardens, from nurseries, and, as the new style of gardening spread, more readers’ photographs, often printed with their accompanying letters.

Article 'The Crocus Fields at Warley', by Miss E Willmott, VMH in 'The Garden', March 25, 1916. The unattributed accompanying photograph is, I think, by Reginald Malby

Below front page of 'The Garden' for 23 February, 1924, with the words "Drifts of Yellow Daffodils in Springtime. Silver Birch, Yew, and water for reflection. Nothing could be more graceful. This charming arrangement is at Warley Place, Miss Willmott’s Home"

However, a lovely photograph of spring planting at Warley Place by Reginald Malby was published in The Garden as late as August 1922, accompanying an unattributed article titled ‘Naturalising Daffodils’. This photograph appears again in February 1924 on the front page, showing that, occasionally, Warley Place (by now past its best and slightly neglected as Willmott's financial difficulties increased) still graced its pages.

Digital copies of the gardening press are currently only available up until 1923/4, but my manual survey of volumes of The Garden for the following years, until the date of her death in September 1934, yielded no more of her photographs. However, as and when additional volumes of The Garden and other magazines become available online, I may discover more.

I'm sure the fascinating Miss Willmott will keep me occupied for many years to come - and will continue to pop up in many of my future posts!

Reginald Malby's photograph of Warley Place from 'The Garden', 19 August, 1922


This post is based on my MA Garden History dissertation, Echoes of a Garden: Miss Willmott's Photographs of Warley Place, September 2011, and my article, 'Miss Ellen Willmott of Warley Place, Essex: Eminent Gardener, Horticulturist and Garden Photographer' in Garden History: the Journal of the Gardens Trust, Summer 2014 (42:1)


Many horticultural books and gardening magazines from this period are available on-line at including many by Jekyll and Robinson, as well as The Garden magazine

Many of Willmott's photographs appear in Gardening Illustrated, William Robinson's cheaper periodical aimed at a more general readership. Many are the same as printed in The Garden, although many don't seem to have been published anywhere else. Unfortunately, only a very few volumes of Gardening Illustrated are available online, and the printing quality is generally poor.

Main publications containing Willmott's photographs:

William Robinson, The English Flower Garden, various editions; Alpine Flowers for Gardens, 4th edition,1910

Gertrude Jekyll, Lilies for English Gardens, 1901; Roses for English Gardens, 1902; Children and Gardens, 1903; Wall and Water Gardens, 1901,1902 and 1906 editions

Revd. C. Casey, Riviera Nature Notes, 2nd (illustrated) edition, 1903

Ellen Willmott, Warley Garden in Spring and Summer, 1909

E.T. Cook, Gardening for Beginners, 1901 & 1914 [Cook was Jekyll's co-editor of The Garden from 1900-1902]

The Garden

Gardening Illustrated

1,106 views3 comments

댓글 3개

2023년 5월 22일

What a wonderful summary of miss willmott. My family lived in Warley and worked for her.


2022년 10월 17일

Wonderful as ever, Paula. I am very glad you identified the wall picture from Geneva as I've spent a long time trying to work out where it was taken. I have seen a weird (unintentionally double exposed and not very good) 'ghost' shot of EAW taking a photograph of it - or at least I assume its her, she's under the camera cloth. I think the gigantic border image may be at Warley Lea

2022년 10월 17일
답글 상대:

Thanks Sandra! I’ve seen that photograph and I certainly like to think it’s probably Miss W with Correvon standing (obscured) behind her. If so, wonder who took that photo!?

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