Miss Willmott's GhostTuesday, June 27, 2006
There are some skills that cannot be learned. My daughter Ale can take cuttings in our garden and all will survive. You would think that pouring water into a gourd with mate would be an easy task. Yet few can "cebar" a mate. Wealthy families in Argentina in the 19th century would have a special servant whose task it was to cebar the mates. My wife Rosemary, who can remove a delicate flan from its pan without fuss (I cannot do it), has never been able to make me a good cup of tea. Years ago when we brought our housekeeper Clemen from Mexico I pointed out to Rosemary that Clemen could make the perfect cup of tea. This was the case until I discovered that she had been re-boiling old tea! But then Clemen can make tortillas from scratch which is another one of those skills which is an either you can or cannot mystery. Marion McDonnell, the Blue Poppy Lady, grew Meconopsis betonicifolia and Meconopsis grandis. These legendary Himalayan blue poppies are impossible to grow in Vancouver (even though ourcity has the climate that can provide the constant moisture and dappled shade that this plant loves) unless you have that touch that Marion had. In fact whenever you do spy one of these blue poppies in a Vancouver garden you can bet it came from Marion's.
Ellen Ann Willmott (1858-1934) was and English lady of "independent means". She was a keen gardener and friend of Gertrude Jekyll (rhymes with treacle!). Miss Willmott had a way with plants and many of them have the Willmott epithete atached such as Rosa willmottiana. But my favourite is Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Willmott's Ghost. Legend has it that Miss Willmott in her frequent garden visits would surreptitiously sow sees from this handsome biennial (it shares this frustrating quality with the blue poppy). Garden owners would then be startled by the greyish ghost apparitions of the plant a couple of years later as the plant will not flower on the first year.
Both Rosemary and I simply do not have the touch for the plant and our specimens are puny when and if they do flower. Perhaps I will ask Ale to give it a try.