Wellington College ‘Breaking Ground’ at the Chelsea Flower Show

Wellington College’s mission for more accessible education is highlighted in its ambitious 2017 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden, Breaking Ground.

Wellington College, one of the world’s leading co-educational independent schools, returns to the celebrated horticultural show with its second garden ‘Breaking Ground’, designed by Wilson McWilliam Studio. The garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show highlights the College’s ambition to break down the barriers to a life-changing education by making it possible for more young people to attend the College regardless of their financial situation. Sponsored by the boutique investment manager, Darwin Property Investment Management Limited (Darwin Property), a passionate supporter of this progressive vision, the 2017 garden also marks Darwin’s wide-ranging commitment to raising awareness and funds for the new programme and its broader support for young talent in the business community.

At the core of ‘Breaking Ground’ is the College’s belief that every child has a right to a life-changing education enabling them to reach their full potential. Central to this ambition is an educational ethos that is focused on encouraging intellectual curiosity, on true independence, on a generous and far-reaching inclusivity and on the courage to be properly and unselfishly individual – the capacity to be inspired to become the very best you can be. Designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam – the erudite duo known for their daring yet thoughtful designs – the garden explores themes of progress, evolution and thought patterns.

A central feature of the garden is the series of monumental, transparent, steel walls. The 4m high structures express the concept of the disappearing walls of accessing education – allowing students to access a Wellington education based on their ability rather than their financial circumstances. Over 200 students from the family of Wellington schools in the UK and in China have handwritten personal messages about their visions for the future. These thoughts are inscribed onto the boundary wall in an explosive, wave-like manner.

The garden design also references the synaptic activity governing our thought process – triggering cognitive connections and responses, facilitating the formation of ideas and concepts. The garden is inspired by the structure and nature of our neuronal activity – water, one of the basic elements that makes these processes possible, runs through the hard and soft elements. Ornamental meadow features planting that explodes with sparking umbels and dramatic flower and plant forms that echo synaptic events and trains of thought.

The heathland planting at the rear of the garden references the original, bleak heathland landscape in Berkshire, into which Wellington College was established in the 1850s. The garden simultaneously highlights the plight of this habitat – one of the most threatened in the world with more than 80% of lowland heaths having been destroyed since the 19th century.  These expanses of semi-wilderness are home to birch, pine and oak with Molinia dominating the herb layer beneath. Rare species of violet and occasional orchids populate the sward. Majestic hawthorn trees feature in the ornamental meadow, chosen for their individuality and special quality – another nod to the educational philosophy at the College.

‘Breaking Ground’ raises awareness for a bold ambition for a new bursary campaign at Wellington College, that will offer life-changing bursaries for young people with talent and promise who would otherwise be unable to access the quality of education and opportunities presented by attending the College. This is part of a broader vision to raise aspirations and attainment and increase opportunities for young people through the College’s network of schools and educational partnerships.

Julian Thomas, 14th Master at Wellington College explained more about the concept: “The College is known for high academic standards and outstanding examination results but truly inspiring education is about more than academic achievement alone. The garden magnificently symbolises the breaking down of the walls associated with an independent education and truly represents our collective ambition to do all we can to provide an outstanding and inspiring education for as many young people as possible. Andrew and Gavin have been sensitive to this vision and have beautifully immersed the students into the process.”

This is the fourth garden that landscape architects, Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam have designed at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Their most recent appearance at the Show being the medal-winning Living Legacy Garden in 2015, which was the brainchild of Anthony Esse, a former Wellington College student. The design commemorated the battle of Waterloo and the Duke of Wellington’s living memorial, Wellington College. The Living Legacy Garden has since been rebuilt in the grounds of the College to be enjoyed today by future generations of students and visitors.