I’ve been a fan of Whichford Pottery since its handmade flowerpots first caught my eye at the Chelsea Flower Show more than a decade ago. Sadly, shopping at will was curtailed by the expense of shipping, but I tucked away the surprising news that the family-run business is open to visitors. It was a no-brainer, then, to add a visit to this celebrated workshop to the itinerary of my recent garden tour (Late Summer Gardens coordinated with Discover Europe), which included a 6-day stay in the Cotswolds.
Established in 1976 by Jim and Dominique Keeling, the pottery is internationally renowned for its handsome, durable, and frostproof flowerpots. The business is, in fact, the largest handmaking pottery in Europe, with a team of 25 craftsmen creating traditional and bespoke ceramics inspired by British, Greek, Italian, and Asian designs.
Our morning at the pottery was extraordinary. I was amazed we were able to observe every detail of the process, beginning with the three types of locally-dug clay and ending with a wide array of finished products, including numerous small items which were carefully wrapped and stowed for our trip back to the US.
Our tour, led by Kylie, began in the clayroom and while I can’t begin to describe the process in detail, here is what I remember in short: the three clays are mixed with grog (previously fired clay that is ground up and incorporated to reduce shrinkage) to make a slurry that is piped through a machine which removes stones and other bits that are too large. Then, the clay is squeezed through an accordion-like device to remove water, pumped into a machine that shapes it into logs, and cut into lengths that are wrapped in plastic and stacked for a minimum 8-week resting period.
Mixing is probably the most important part of the process and yet most would imagine it a thankless job. The craftsmen in the clayroom were high spirited, however, with radio blasting and obviously enjoying their work. Perhaps a nearby ceiling painting keeps them inspired.
After a quick look at the kilns, we were treated to a demonstration in the throwing workshop by Joe, Kylie’s husband, and within minutes saw a lump of clay transformed into a flowerpot with a pie crust edge. In the same studio, we also marveled over the application of a variety of finishing details, such as basket weave and other forms of ornamentation, as well as personalization with names and dates to mark special events.
Each flowerpot is marked with a “Whichford England” stamp at its base and some are further distinguished with a makers mark, or a rolling mark that circles under the lip of the pot noting, “Whichford Pottery*Warwickshire*England.”
Before departure, we did our best to spread joy in the stockyard and Octagon Gallery where a selection of pottery and other gift items were offered.
Limited by packing space, I chose a small longtom fired with a moss glaze for my new porch. Though my Wichford flowerpot may not always be dressed with such fanfare in the future, for its first outing it is graced with a selection of lady slipper orchid commonly called a Venus slipper (Paphiopedilum).
To see more about Wichford Pottery, enjoy this 4-minute video clip of Adam Keeling at work.
Or, click on the photo below of the courtyard garden to examine a small selection of various flowerpots created by these talented craftsmen.