Eryngium - Giant White Sea Holly - Miss Willmott's Ghost ( Eryngium giganteum) Giant Ornamental Blue Thistle Flower

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Eryngium - Giant White Sea Holly - Miss Willmott's Ghost ( Eryngium giganteum) Giant Ornamental Blue Thistle Flower


Height 3 ft

This variety of Eryngium giganteum, commonly known as Sea Holly or Giant Sea Holly, is a species of flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, and is a short-lived herbaceous perennial thistle native to the Caucasus and Iran in Western Asia. The plant is known as 'Miss Willmott's Ghost', after Ellen Ann Willmott (1858 to 1934). Willmott was an heiress and accomplished  horticulturalist with claims to have grown over one hundred thousand different varieties with her sister Rosa, both keen gardeners, on their numerous estates - notably her Warley Place estate in Essex, England. 

Eryngium giganteum, is a large, strikingly ornamental and architectural plant with coarse, thistle-like, clump-forming biennial or short-lived perennial that typically grows 2-4 ft tall (less frequently to 6 ft). Plants feature basal rosettes of heart-shaped green leaves (to 6 in long) and smaller spiny ovate stem leaves.

Tiny, stemless, blue silver flowers tightly packed into cone-shaped, thistle-like heads (umbels to 4 in long) appear in late spring, in branched clusters on stiff stems that rise from the centres of the basal rosettes. Each flower head displays a showy collar of spiny, holly-like, silvery grey bracts (each bract to 2.5 in long).

  • Full sun
  • Loamy sandy well draining soil
  • Surface sow onto moist well-drained seed compost. Just cover with potting mix. Propagate 18-22°C. for 2 to 4 weeks. Do not exclude light. Germination can be slow. Seal seed container in a polythene bag and leave for 2 further weeks, then cold stratify. Move to a fridge 4°C for 3 to 6 weeks. After this return to warmth but no more than 18°C. If germination does not occur within 6 to 10 weeks, return to fridge for further 3 to 6 weeks. Examine regularly and immediately remove any seeds which show signs of germination. Move to 8cm pots. Acclimatize and transplant out when large enough and all risk of frost has passed.
  • OR direct sow outdoors in early spring or late fall - or place seeds in the fridge for three weeks (a cold treatment is required to sprout well). Cover lightly and water in lightly.
  • Plant spacing: 24 in apart
  • Germination: 60 days after chill period.
  • Seed Count: 5

More about Ellen Willmott

Ellen funded numerous plant-hunting expeditions to China; several plant species are named after her (Ceratostigma willmottianum, Iris willmottiana, Rosa willmottiae, etc.). Ellen was also a hybridizer, notably of narcissus, and an important contributor and (rare) female member of the Royal Horticultural Society - In 1897, she was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) most prestigious tribute, the Victoria Medal of Honour, a sign of how much her work was admired in an industry heavily populated by men.

Ellen was an accomplished writer and wrote books on gardening, and her gardens; she was greatly admired by another celebrated landscaper/designer and author Gertrude Jekyll, who called her 'the greatest of all living women gardeners.' Absolutely, ahead of her time.