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Villa Boccanegra

Miss Ellen Willmott of Villa Boccanegra

Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) loved her hot, steep 21-acre garden at Villa Boccanegra on the Italian Riviera that she owned from 1905-23. A largely self-taught botanist, Ellen was one of only two female recipients of the Victoria Medal (Gertrude Jekyll the other) when she spotted the property, doubtless thanks to her friends the neighbouring Hanburys of La Mortola.

Today it is the visionary Ellen’s generous passion for funding far flung Edwardian plant hunting travels to introduce wild species that especially inspires our stand. Ellen was a considerable heiress and no slouch, she shopped relentlessly to fill her difficult dry shade with then-unknown wild sourced plants that entranced her for their diversity and distant origins: she favoured bold leaf forms, architectural structure – Agave, for example, contrasting shapes, deep and different tones, all pleasing against her established calm grey olive trees. Many familiar plants now bear her name including Miss Willmott’s Ghost (Eryngium giganteum) and Chinese plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum).

A number of her eucalyptus, palms and yuccas still survive with the current Boccanegra owners the Piacenza family, under the care of marine, biologist Ursula and her husband Guido. Ellen particularly championed the species Ruscus which features on the Crûg Farm Plants stand, along with Aspidistra and Ophiopogon and numerous other dry shade and heat tolerant selections we have collected on our travels, so many of which commemorate Ellen Willmott’s endeavours.