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RHS Chelsea 2019: Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

RHS Chelsea 2019: Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden


Jo Thompson’s show garden is packed with take-home planting ideas


Jo Thompson MSGD has previously made 10 gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show, yet, despite her four Gold medals, this designer is not content to rest on her laurels. She is returning, for a second year, for sponsor Wedgwood, with a garden which will be a modern design infused with classical elements, complemented by planting that she hopes visitors will use as inspiration for their borders at home.

The design references Etruria, the 18th-century factory and village built for workers by Wedgwood founder Josiah Wedgwood. A stone pavilion forms the main structural element, while a sunken garden displays artefacts reflecting the antiquities that inspired some of Wedgwood’s first designs.

A key component of the garden is water – watercourses and canals formed an integral part of Etruria and were also needed in the production of the famous tableware. A channel, punctuated by an island decorated with a horizontal frieze by Ben Barrell, traverses the space at ground level.

Thompson’s signature planting style is given a twist this year, with plants that lend a wild look confined to more structured beds. “Many visitors to my garden last year loved the naturalism, but explained that in their own gardens, they just couldn’t achieve this effect,” she says. “I agree that a naturalistic landscape can look a bit of a pastiche in a London back garden, so this year I’m showing how, within the tight rigid confines of borders, you can still ‘go wild’ with planting that’s untamed yet achievable.”

She conveys this idea using annuals, such as Daucus, Eschscholzia, and Atriplex, together with old favourites, including roses and peonies. For structure she has chosen conifers – Pinus nigra, Cedrus atlantica, and Sequoia sempervirens – together with the river birch, Betula nigra.

Experience has paid off when it came to the logistics of the build, but she explains that, while this garden may look simple, it is, in fact, the most complicated she has ever designed for Chelsea. “We couldn’t afford to be 1mm out of line at any point and that really raises the stakes.”

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