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Chelsea 18: Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

Chelsea 18: Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

The Wedgwood Garden. Designed by: Jo Thompson. Sponsored by: Wedgwood. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018. Photo: The RHS


The Chelsea regular returns for a woman’s garden with a challenging pavilion


Swapping Chelsea for the inaugural RHS show at Chatsworth last year, Jo Thompson MSGD is returning to her old haunt for a ninth time with a Main Avenue show garden for Wedgwood. Her brief from this quintessentially English company, which dates back to 1759, was to create a design that would encapsulate the brand. “Wedgwood wanted a garden that would be feminine, floral, romantic, and sophisticated, with a feeling of elegance,” she says, “but they were also looking for something innovative and inspirational.”

Her solution is a garden for a strong, successful woman, with an innovative bronze pavilion that appears to dance over a stream providing the main focal point, and planting in hues drawn from 18th-century colour trials by Josiah Wedgwood, which were used to stain the clay mixtures for his fine china. Paving that uses the Japanese art of Kintsugi – where broken porcelain pottery is repaired with liquid metal – forms a path which will take visitors through the garden.

“I was looking at how the sculptural pavilion could represent femininity and innovation at the same time, and realised that the shape I had in mind needed the expertise of a brilliant engineer,” explains Thompson. An old friend in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University introduced her to Allan McRobie, and the two then collaborated on the ephemeral structure she was looking for. 


Jo Thompson MSGD


“I worked with Allan and some of his graduates and postgraduate students at Expedition Engineering on a number of prototypes. The biggest challenge was how to make the pavilion stand up. The calculations that went into the development of this structure are phenomenally detailed, and we’ve had to think carefully about how to test it once it’s built, as well as ensuring we have the right means of transporting it safely.”

The planting in her design is inspired by the patterns on Wedgwood china. Coyote willows, Salix exigua, are dotted throughout the garden and reference an iconic Wedgwood design, while elegant weeping willows complement the scale of the curvilinear pavilion. An Acer campestre hedge surrounds the back of the garden, birches are placed strategically to create a secluded, contemplative space, and a range of perennials and grasses soften the overall design.

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