Friday, 11 January 2013

Miss Willmott's Ghost and The Sage

Miss Ellen Willmott, a nineteenth-century plantswoman, is reputed to have surreptitiously scattered the seeds of her favourite plant when visiting gardens, which is apparently why the striking silver thistle, Eryngium giganteum, is known as Miss Willmott’s Ghost. I am not suggesting that we seed bomb one another's plots like a posse of twenty-first century Miss Wilmotts, but this has got me wondering what we would like to see more of in 2013.

This is my hauntingly beautiful ghost,
not Miss Wilmott's.
Were I to go Miss Willmotting, I would float gracefully around gardens (an act requiring a body double, as I tend towards the frenetic) in an outfit accessorised with a wide-brimmed sun hat, watering can and an ornate dibber. I would remove my hat, under which were my rooted cuttings, pop a plant into the soil with the aid of my dibber and water said plant before floating off for a cup of tea. Clearly this would never happen in reality as I have a habit of mislaying garden tools (ornate or otherwise), losing hats and preferring coffee. 

My personal ghost would be bog sage; a plant which does not require a bog. Salvia uliginosa (bog sage) is at home in wet or dry conditions, but it does love full sun. I have seen it thrive in clay soil, where the borders are under water for part of the winter yet baked hard in summer, so it is certainly one to think about if you feel thwarted by this tricky combination.


Sadly, too many people have lost so much in recent floods and those who love their gardens may be looking to replace plants as quickly and cheaply as possible. Salvia uliginosa puts on annual growth fast and does not cost the earth. suspect that it might be invasive on wetlands somewhere in the world, but I have grown it for nearly a decade in the UK and although it walks a little within the border, it doesn't rampage and if I were the kind of person for whom this was a problem, I would still grow it, only in a pot sunk into the soil. 


The one above came home hanging from the handle of my child's pram. I swear it wasn't that big at the time, but this plant is capable of growing up to 2 metres high. If you have the space, bounce a few clumps of it through your garden to give structure and height. Surprisingly, despite its size, I have yet to feel the urge to stake Salvia uliginosa as it holds its shape well once it is established. 



I never cut back the stems in winter because they ripen to a deep burgundy-brown and offer structure in those dark months. I like to think that they also offer protection as Salvia uliginosa is considered to be half hardy, although I have yet to lose one. Come spring, when the border is full of fresh green foliage and exuberant flowers, I cut the brown stems down to ground level and before long those fragrant green sage leaves emerge.

A reminder of spring... fresh foliage,
flower buds and a path in need of weeding. 
Of course it is the flower colour which stops passers-by in their tracks; and the bright electric blue flowers last for weeks from late summer. For me though, much as I love the flowers and the burgundy stems and the way the plant moves in the breeze, the very best thing about Salvia uliginosa - the reason why I would like to see more of it in people's gardens and why I am risking your wrath by suggesting it for my personal Miss Willmott choice - is that bees and hoverflies love it. On a summer’s day this plant is abuzz with them. Unbeatable! 

56 comments:

  1. I really can't chose what plant I would go Wilmotting with. Cosmos may be a contender as it grows easily from seed and is long lasting and colourful, Bees and other insects love it too. But then there's borage with it's beautiful blue.

    Both once seeded could self sow year after year.

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    1. With lovely choices like these, you may be invited to look around quite a lot of gardens in late spring!

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  2. If we have to choose which seeds to scatter somewhere else, it will have to be poppies :) that salvia is lovely!

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  3. Great plant recommendation, in my dry climate a plant named "Bog Sage" gets skipped over when reveiwing plant lists. I have looked it up and it is readily available here and does well in dry summers.

    My ghost plant would be Larkspur, our native delphinium which is easy to grow and produces tall spikes of flowers from pale pink to deep blue most of the spring.

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    1. That is good news! I hope you enjoy growing bog sage as much as I do!

      I had forgotten about Larkspur - I used to grow it years ago. I will get some seeds and have some this year. I'm really looking forward to seeing it in our garden here. Thank you for the recommendation!

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  4. Salvia uliginosa sounds like a perfect choice for our garden. The fact that it seems to be careless and it supports bees and hoverflies is enough for me but the added benefit of those gorgeous blue flowers makes it a must have. I liked seeing that you don't cut back the stems for winter, we try and do as little additional work as possible in our naturalized gardens. My ghost plant would also be poppies as the comment above states. Thanks for the great information. Sandi

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    1. Oh please give this plant a go, Sandi - it would look so at home in your cottage garden!

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  5. I like your S. uliginosa. I'm going to have to look for it, I don't recall seeing it for sale around here, but I am in the market for more blue flowers. My ghost plants would be seeds of Agastache foeniculum, anise hyssop, and Rudbeckia triloba, brown eyed susan. They germinate like crazy and are so easy to grow.

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    1. Hi Jason - thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. These are fab choices - Agastache foeniculum is a brilliant bee plant and Rudbeckia triloba is an absolute stunner. I must ask people to recommend plants more often - I am having a wonderful time reading about other people's ghost plants!

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  6. When I was Miss Wilmott I should scatter the seeds of the white tobaccoplant Nicotiana sylvestris in other people's gardens. They have a lovely scent and give plenty of seeds. Regarding the Salvia uliginosa I must say I like that plant very much, especially the blue colour. I had this Salvia various times in my garden, but they do not always survive our winters. The combination of wet soil and frost is too bad.

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    1. Ah yes - Nicotiana sylvestris is a corking plant! I am beginning to think that I should invite everyone and their ghosts to visit my empty borders!

      Happily Salvia uliginosa propagates easily, so it might be worth over-wintering some as an insurance policy against extreme winters.

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  7. Love the sound of this plant - and of Miss Wilmott! Great information! I'd sprinkle a mix of aquilegias! :D

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    1. Thanks! A mix of Aquilegia would be lovely, although I am now feeling frustrated as I have just remembered that I planted some in autumn and I want to see how they are doing, but they are under a blanket of snow!

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  8. I love this plant but the one I would scatter would have to be Sweet Rocket or Feverfew.

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    1. Oooh sweet rocket please - pretty, scented flowers which the bees would love!

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  9. I love the photo of the one that came home on the handle of your child's pram! It seems to have the perfect location and companions to show of its beautiful blue flowers.

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    1. Thank you! It was a surprisingly exposed location, but the plant thrived regardless.

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  10. If I was to spread one of my favourite plants, which also is not the most common plant around, I would spread trilliums under every big tree in other people's garden. They are such a treat when they come up in the spring and they are the ballerinas in my garden.

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    1. Wow - that's generous! They are absolute stars, but they are not the cheapest ghosts in town. You had better get yourself to Norfolk - I know a garden with trees which would benefit from being haunted by your ghost!

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  11. I have salvia, too, although it's a different type. Miss Wilmott sounds like the children's book character Miss Rumphius. She scattered lupine seeds every where she went. :o)

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    1. I have never heard of Miss Rumphius, but I like her. She reminds me of my former neighbour, who, after I had admired her lupin collection, threw seeds over the wall into my garden. I ended up with lupins growing in the most extraordinary places!

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  12. I'll out for you in the hat! What a wonderful blog, will definitely be following in future. Take care. x

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  13. Sweet flowers!! and great blog!
    Enjoy your time in Spain! if you needed anything just let me know!
    Greetings from Madrid!
    Isabel

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    1. Thank you Isabel, that's very kind of you!

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  14. I love Miss Willmot's Ghost, and thanks for the history update. As it seeds almost too easily I think she was a brave soul!

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    1. Brave indeed! I don't know how the owners of the gardens reacted.

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  15. Thanks for this awesome tip. I love sage. Awww..could you please become a Ms. Willmott in my garden :-)? I would love it.

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    1. I would definitely love to go Miss WIllmotting in your garden! I could do a world tour! Looking out my window at the snow and freezing fog, I think I should start somewhere sunny and work my way back to the UK in time for the summer!

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  16. I think it's lovely how Miss Willmott left her calling card in gardens she visited, by means of scattering the seeds of her favourite plant. I really don't know which seeds I'd scatter myself, too many favourites to choose.

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    1. You could plant whole borders, then you wouldn't have to make a decision.

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  17. Sold,though I'd like to combine it with Miss Wilmot's Ghost.

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  18. I so enjoyed your entertaining post. My personal garden ghost would be Black-eyed Susans (daylilies would be too difficult to scatter discreetly). Who knows? I may become a seed bomber. All the best! :-)

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    1. Beth, I cannot imagine you as a seed bomber! Having said that, you have surprised me with black-eyed Susans over daylilies, so anything's possible!

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  19. I like Salvia in the garden and so do the many bees. Cosmos are a favorite and so are broadcasted annual poppies.

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    1. That would make a lovely lively border!

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  20. I love salvia and am always on the look out for new varieties especially ones that humming birds like. Do you see hummingbirds on this plant?

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    1. Hi Barbara, unfortunately we don't get wild hummingbirds in the UK.... if only... that would be brilliant! I don't blame you for wanting to grow hummingbird-friendly plants, I would too if there was a chance of seeing hummingbirds in my garden. I have read that they will use this plant, but I am unable to say how attractive it is to them.

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  21. I enjoyed reading about Miss Wilmot...if only every plant had a story like that.
    I've never heard of this plant before, although I do have other salvias. I've lost almost a complete bed due to flooding this year - I'll keep this in mind for future.
    If left to me - I'd be spreading Echinachea everywhere - lovely big drifts, if only I had enough room for lovely big drifts, I can dream )

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    1. Hi Angie, I am sorry to read that you lost so much of your garden in the floods. I hope you are able to replant it and have it looking beautiful again very soon.

      Echinacea is a great ghost choice - you're right, it looks especially good in big drifts!

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  22. For me I think it would have to be parsley. Nice and green, hardy, self seeds prolifically and best of all you can eat it!

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  23. Great choice AND it is reputed to help with bad breath! Perfect for those garlicky mornings... although there is something vaguely disconcerting about seeing someone walking down the street and grazing on a handful of parsley.

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  24. Thanks for adding my blog, looking forward to following yours too, I am a passionate gardener too and although we have spent the first year doig lots to our cottage since we moved, I am to start on the challenging garden this year.
    Annie

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    1. Hi Annie - and welcome! We are still in the throes of making our home - I don't think that the barn conversion will be completed until this summer, so I am very envious that your are shifting your focus outdoors. I look forward to reading about how your garden develops.

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  25. The Sage is lovely. One of those plants that lives no matter what. Thanks for stopping by and I am following also.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Hello Cher - thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and comment. It is a lovely sage - one which I just could not be without.

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  26. What a lovely story! I love so many flowers that I'd probably sprinkle a mixture of agastache, cosmos, geum and your recommended bog sage.... the bees would be happy!

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  27. I love the idea that one ghost could never be enough for some gardeners!

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  28. Thank you for visiting my Slavic Garden blog and for following! You have a very interesting blog! I'll be visiting you here! Greetings from Poland!

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  29. Thank you Dewberry - and welcome! I look forward to reading more about your life in Poland!

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  30. I hardly dare suggest Limnanthes the poached egg plant, it can be a thug. Nemophila 'Penny Black' has a similar self-seeding lifecycle and is less aggressive.
    You mention resisting staking Salvia ulginosa. I resist staking nearly all my own plants!
    Unfortunately your salvia does not overwinter well on my soil!

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  31. Hello Roger - thank you for taking time to visit my blog and leave a comment. I like Limnanthes too - it's great for beneficial insects. I think I'll give Nemophila a go as I've never tried to grow it. I don't know why not, because I do like it and it doesn't need staking! So thanks for the tip.

    I have to say, after 10 days under snow, I did wonder how Salvia uliginosa might fare, but it has coped magnificently so far this winter. It propagates easily, so if you want to grow it, it might be worth overwintering some with a little protection.

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  32. Hi 'shoe', lovely blog. I'm following you now and looking forward to your posts. I found S. uliginosa only late last summer and it is bee-yoo-ti-ful: such a blue! My Miss W. plant might well be the Welsh poppy: easy-peasy to seed, a gorgeous cheerful yellow and virtually indestructible. I love the randomness of it in my own garden and it's easy to pull out if it pops up somewhere I don't like.

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    1. Hi - thank you for following my blog and taking time to leave a comment. Salvia uliginosa is a fabulous shade of blue! Welsh poppies are a super Miss Willmott plant - I also like a plant which is a pleasure to weed!

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