Sandra Lawrence
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Born in 1858, Ellen Willmott grew up in a wealthy Victorian household, and inherited the family home when her father died. Thanks to a vast financial settlement from her godmother, she could indulge her passion for plants, by acquiring more land at Warley Place, and houses in France and Italy. Prodigiously extravagant and famously unpleasant, in 1897 she was one of only two women - the other being Gertrude Jekyll - to be awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour. To the astonishment of all, she failed to turn up to the ceremony, and Lawrence has an interesting theory as to why that was. She became increasingly eccentric. She sowed sea holly seeds in her competitor’s gardens, carried a revolver in her handbag, and booby-trapped her prize daffodils to deter thieves. The ending brought penury for her and dereliction for the house and gardens, sadly, but Lawrence recounts it all as with sleuth-like enthusiasm, reexamining old clues and uncovering new ones. 

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