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The Morris & Co. Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022

“I know a little garden-close,
Set thick with lily and red rose,
Where I would wander if I might
From dewy dawn to dewy night…”

William Morris, The Life And Death of Jason, 1867, 575-585

An Interview With Garden DESIGNER Ruth Willmott

As seen on the BBC, watch Garden Designer Ruth Willmott work with our Archivist, Keren Protheroe, to create the glorious Morris & Co. Garden- skip to 17:30

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 is here and we at Morris & Co. could not be more excited to host you all in our debut garden.

Gardens are many things to many people. A place for flamboyance. A site of sanctuary. A moment of quiet reflection stolen from the harried rush of modern life.

To William Morris and our team of designers at Morris & Co., gardens are also a nexus of inspiration and centres for creativity. It’s an opinion we share with gardener Ruth Willmott, charged with bringing the Morris & Co. garden to life. Ruth shares with us her inspiration and thoughts of the garden, talking everything from plants and trees to designs and craft.

One of the dominant charms of the garden must be the presence of water- it’s everywhere, seemingly at every turn! Ruth, can you tell us a little more about why this was so important when planning the garden?

Whether it’s a formal pond, a reflecting pool, a rill or a fountain, incorporating the movement and sound of water into a garden can really transform the space, creating a sense of calm and tranquillity.

Water was a huge part of William Morris’s life. All his homes were near the River Thames and he often talked about being close to water, including the River Wandle on which his mill at Merton Abbey was situated.

The three beautiful water channels that will be featured on our garden represent the rivers that were part of his life and will be inlaid with metal screens laser-cut with his famous Willow Boughs pattern.

Ruth, take us on a virtual walk through the garden. What will we see, hear, touch and feel?

The garden is a modern interpretation of two of Morris’s most iconic wallpaper designs, using colour, pattern and plants to return them to the natural outdoor setting which inspired them. 

A series of simple interconnecting pathways will reflect his first wallpaper design Trellis and will lead to an intricate hand-crafted metal pavilion at the centre of the garden that will reference the metal inlays on the wooden printing blocks used to make his celebrated Willow Boughs design. 

To create the sense of being immersed in a country garden, I’ll be using an abundance of plants drawn from Morris’s designs in a palette of earthy reds and apricot tones with colour accents of whites, blues and restful greens.  Soft and naturalistic, it will have a sense of repetition in both colour and pattern as it flows through and connects with each part of the garden, much like a Morris & Co. wallpaper. Many of the plants have been chosen with wildlife in mind with trees and shrubs offering food and habitat for birds and insects.

William Morris was a plant fanatic. Besides referencing hundreds of flowers and trees in his designs for fabric and wallpaper, he was also known to have drawn inspiration from John Gerrard’s 16th century Herball for his knowledge. How did this define the plant choices in the Morris & Co. garden?

William Morris had a passion for English gardens and hedgerows and an affinity to the natural world so it’s crucial to me that the garden embraces and works with nature.  While the plants must look great, I also want them to reflect a natural countryside setting and provide a welcoming environment for the wildlife that shares the space.  Morris was an early advocate of using native species amongst long-cultivated non-natives to attract birds and bees, so I’ll be mixing cottage garden favourites such as Iris, Peonies, Dianthus, Geranium, Foxgloves and soft velvety foliage Stachys byzantina, in a colour-palette of blues, purples, earthy reds and apricot tones, with wildlife-friendly shrubs which provide shelter, shade and food for birds, insects, bees and butterflies.

Trees will include weeping, twisted and pollarded varieties of Willow, inspired by Morris’s famous Willow Boughs design, alongside Hawthorn foliage which was in his Jasmine design.  Elsewhere, Cotoneaster, Berberis and Viburnum will feature as they are great habitat for birds, whilst Roses, which were another of Morris’s favourites, will include rambling and climbing varieties.

Even those lacking a green thumb can appreciate the labour that has to be poured into designing and growing a garden. What are some of the greatest challenges to designing installing the Morris & Co. garden?

One of the biggest challenges has been the planting, ensuring it has a wonderful sense of repetition as it flows through and connects with each part of the garden, much like a wallpaper design. The structural engineering of the pavilion is also very complex especially as we are trying to construct it with as few fixtures as possible.  Achieving the two-tone colouring is a complicated process but the end result will be absolutely worth it.

Chelsea Flower Show is known for exhibiting gardens which meditate upon broad socio-political points. Even in his designs for fabric and wallpaper, William Morris was elaborating upon a utopian socialist vision which animated his life’s work, from his literary and political pursuits to his creative and environmental causes. Can you point to a few issues referenced in the garden that transcend the confines of the garden?

A Chelsea Show Garden is never just about the designer.  Creating the finished garden that you see at the show or on the TV, involves dozens of skilled and dedicated craftspeople and horticulturalists each adding another creative layer to the finished design. Staying true to Morris’s ethos, the Morris & Co. garden is a collaboration between a whole host of talented craftspeople – stonemasons, water specialists, metal workers, tilemakers and basket weavers - using traditional arts and crafts methods alongside modern-day craftsmanship to create the many artistic elements that characterise the design.

I think the most important thing you can do as a designer of a Chelsea garden is to ensure you design and build it so that as much of it as possible is able to live on in another location after the show.

After the show, elements of the garden will be relocated to several new community gardens on the Packington Estate regeneration project in Islington, London in collaboration with the Arc Centre Gardening Collective.  This newly redeveloped estate is located around the corner from the site where Morris’s prints were first produced over 160 years ago.

Other than the residents living on the Packington Estate, the gardens are used by people visiting the playground within the estate and by other members of the public passing through the estate on their way to the Regent’s Canal.

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HISTORY

WILLIAM MORRIS AND HIS GARDENS

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 18 May 2022 in Events

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