I love the drama of big spiky plants. As the summer moves to its later stages, the many garden plants that have a thistly habit reach their peak, and their jagged outlines and often grey-silvery colouring are a good antidote to the mounds and cushions of more vibrantly coloured perennials. The most elaborately formed flowers belong to Eryngium giganteum, commonly known as Miss Willmott’s Ghost.
Green in bud, the whole plant reaches its peak in a blaze of silver, the extravagantly jagged ruff to each flower veined with pale buff as it dries. The flowers are loved by insects, including wasps, and once they are over the plant decays beautifully, holding its structure throughout the winter, the deeply cut and thorny flower heads never better than when frosted on a sunny morning.
The story goes that the Edwardian plantswoman and gardener Ellen Willmott surreptitiously introduced this, her favourite plant, to other gardens by sprinkling the seed as she visited. Who knows how many gardens became haunted with Miss Willmott's Ghost!
The name could equally apply to the plant's luminous appearance, with its ruff of large, prickly, steely-grey bracts that shine a ghostly silver in the sun. The marbled, heart-shaped foliage is attractive and can be shown off to best effect planted in gravel.
The plant will reward you with a glamorous late-summer display to set against daylilies and grasses, with which they associate particularly well. Eryngiums are also perfect for use in dried flower arrangements.
Eryngium giganteum "Miss Willmott's Ghost" was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.
Sowing: Sow February to July
The seeds may need a period of cold to enable them to germinate.
Sow in trays, pots, etc of good seed compost in a propagator or warm place to maintain an optimum temperature of 18 to 20°C (65 to 70°F).
Surface sow and just cover with vermiculite. Do not exclude light. Germination can be slow.
After sowing, seal container in a polythene bag and leave at 15 to 18°C (60 to 65°F) for two weeks, then place in a refrigerator (not freezer) for 3 to 6 weeks.
After this return to the recommended germination temperature. If germination does not occur in 6 to 10 weeks return to the fridge for a further 3 to 6 weeks. Examine regularly whilst in the fridge and remove immediately the seeds show signs of germinating.
Although you can cut back flower stems after flowering the seedheads are a very attractive feature so are usually left over winter. Division in early spring or autumn. Take care since the plant resents root disturbance.
Costal or Gravel Gardens. Cottage/Informal Gardens, Flower Arranging, Borders and Beds, Wildlife Gardens Attractive to Bees and Butterflies. Beloved of flower arrangers for their striking foliage and flower heads.
Simply cut with a knife or secateurs. The difficulty is deciding when the stem is ready for cutting. In general, the flowers on the stem should be turning an appropriate colour. This process can take up to 10 days from the time it is first noticed.
The photographs show Zara Phillips’ wedding in July 2011. Zara's bouquet contained white calla lilies (Zantedeschias), the lacy, felted leaves of silver cinerarias (Senecio cineraria) and the steely blue sea hollies (Eryngium ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’). The church was decorated with huge floral decorations and added to the Eryngium were beautiful roses and heaps of white hydrangeas.
Miss Ellen Willmott was born in 1858. Independently wealthy, gardening became her passion. She became renowned for her knowledge of plants, her patronage of plant hunters (notably Ernest Wilson), the book she published on roses and her prickly temperament.
In 1897, she shared the Royal Horticultural Society's Victoria Medal of Honour with Gertrude Jekyll.
In 1910, she published the Genus Rosa, still considered the definitive work on species roses.
She never married and instead bought properties throughout Essex, in France and in Italy, and built gardens there, so that at one time she had more than 100 gardeners on her pay-roll, who shipped seeds all around the world for other gardeners.
Many a garden to this day owes a debt to the hundreds of strains developed at Warley. A book issued in 1909, Warley Garden in Spring & Summer, includes thirty photogravure plates that reveal the excellence of Ellen's gardens in their heyday before the first world war.
Miss Willmott had a peculiar habit: she carried seeds of the silvery-blue Eryngium giganteum and scattered them in other people's gardens. (The spiny plant was said to match her personality.)
Plant-hunters who, as well as bringing her plants, repaid her in the usual way, by naming some of the species they discovered after her. Her legacy is the plants that she introduced. She had over 60 plants named after her or her home Warley Place.
The specific epithets of warleyensis and willmottianum are named for her. Plants associated with these names include: Iris warleyensis, Campanula 'Warleyensis', Epimedium warleyensis 'Ellen Willmott', Rosa warleyensis, Lysionotus warleyensis, Corylopsis warleyensis, Ceratostigma willmotti, and Potentilla nepalensis ‘Miss Willmott’
|Average Seed Count||25 Seeds|
|Seeds per gram||80 seeds / gram|
|Cultivar||Miss Willmott's Ghost|
|Other Common Names||Miss Willmott is occasionally incorrect spelt with one 'L' - Miss Wilmott|
|Natural Flower Time||July to September|
|Foliage||Glaucous in summer|
|Height||90 to 100cm (36 to 40in).|
|Aspect||All aspects, exposed or sheltered|
|Soil||Well-drained/light, Moist, Sandy|