Returning To The Source: The Morris & Co. Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022

An excitable hubbub is mounting for the forthcoming Chelsea Flower Show 2022. Into this glorious celebration of gardens and gardeners comes the debut Morris & Co. entry, brought to life by a legend in her field, Ruth Willmott. Ruth, busy designing and planting the Morris & Co. garden, brushed the soil from her hands and took the time to tell us a little more.

Since our founding in 1861, Morris & Co. designs have been in constant, chatty dialogue with the natural world. Morris once said, “I must have unmistakable suggestions of gardens and fields, and strange trees, boughs, and tendrils, or I can't do with your pattern”. With many designs known to have been inspired by walks in the countryside, an authentically organic sensibility was paramount with the Morris & Co. garden. So, Ruth, how have you carried on this conversation, translating fabric and wallpaper into plant and tree?

The garden emerged from hours spent pouring over William Morris’s iconic pattern books, immersing myself in his designs and imagining the joy of being surrounded by his patterns in the form of flowers and trees. In researching and designing the garden I also visited a number of places relevant to William Morris including Kelmscott Manor, his Cotswold retreat; the William Morris Society in Chiswick and the Morris & Co. archive at Sanderson Design Group, one of the largest archives in Europe.

For Ruth, wallpaper designs have been at the centre of a creative conversation ever since her youngest days. She knows well how interior designers have looked to the outside for ways to enhance the inside.

As an art student, my other designed and painted samples of wallpaper to make ends meet, which was something that stayed with me. Her love of art and design inspired me as child and is what eventually led me to garden design. When I was thinking of a garden for RHS Chelsea, the two naturally came together.

Perhaps above all, William Morris’s life’s work was in the service of Craft. Seeking to elevate textile weaving, wallpaper printing, stained glass production and a host of others to the level of ‘fine art’, Morris’s ambition was to cultivate a world full of making. Ruth, as a heroic craftsperson from a similarly practical field, in what ways did you channel this part of Morris’s legacy into the garden?

If Morris was alive today, I think he would have embraced modern technology and enhanced it for his designs, so traditional arts and crafts will feature alongside modern-day craftmanship. The pavilion will feature posts and screens layered with two contrasting colours, much like Morris’s iconic prints, and laser-cut with the Willow Boughs pattern using modern crafting techniques.  Elsewhere, hand-made clay tiles and riven buff Yorkstone paving will demonstrate more traditional arts and crafts methods. The stone paving is made from upcycled Yorkstone off-cuts.  To surround the garden, a traditional basket weaver will weave fencing using willow grown on his own willow bed in Norfolk.

The garden itself is an homage to two William Morris designs in particular, stretching all the way back to the earliest known wallpaper by Morris. Trellis, 1864, and Willow Boughs, 1887, are designs which have experienced an enduring popularity, even until the present day. They’re also designs that demand a second look, with Trellis’s bounding energy juxtaposing the gentle sway of willow branches in Willow Boughs. How is the garden informed by these two wallpapers?

A series of simple inter-connecting pathways will reflect Morris’s first wallpaper design Trellis, a pattern influenced by the rose trellis in the garden of his home in Kent. At the centre of the garden, an intricate hand-crafted metal pavilion will reference the metal inlays on the wooden printing blocks used to make his celebrated Willow Boughs design. 

Ruth will be back to share more insider knowledge as we edge closer and closer to revealing the Morris & Co. RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden.





As we prepare to open our Morris & Co. Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, we look back on Morris's enduring creative partnership with nature.

posted on 12 May 2022 in Events

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