Interview: Meet C4’s Landscape Man Matthew Wilson

Catch up with garden-design expert du jour Matthew Wilson to find out why he’s looking forward to this year’s Chelsea Flower Show and get his tips for a great-looking exterior space…

We're loving your show Landscape Man where you ‘demystify’ garden design. How did the idea for the show come about?

People don’t look at their gardens as an obvious place to apply design, which is strange as I think we’re in the most design conscious time in history. Gardens tend to get defined by the position of a shed or washing line and I want to try and change this in my show. You wouldn’t put a TV in your living room in a place where you can’t see it – so why not apply the same design rules in the garden. I want to show people how they can apply the principles of good garden design no matter what the size of their exterior space.

Did you always want to be a garden designer?

No, but I grew up on a flower nursery in Kent so the idea was always there in the background. But I thought it was a ridiculous way to earn a living - I had brown fingers, not green fingers! I did a variety of different jobs in my early 20s but couldn’t find my niche, so in my mid twenties I went to work for my father on a large estate in Kent owned by the United Arab Emirates. I started at the bottom and worked my way up and loved it and went on to do my qualifications in garden design.

Who inspires you and why?

Dutch-born Piet Oudolf and British-born Tom Stuart-Smith are great garden designers, but I get inspired from everything around me – architecture and commercial design, as well as the countryside and nature. For example, I love being on the beach and watching the sea and the way it moves the sand. I could sit out for hours if I knew my wife Jane wouldn’t tell me to get off my backside! I also take inspiration from Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design – that design should be innovative and beautiful but practical too.

Country or city?

I’ve lived in London for three years, but I’m a country person at heart having spent 20 years moving around Hertfordshire, Essex, Yorkshire and Kent.

You spent 10 years with the RHS as its Head of Gardens Creative Development. What did this entail?

I oversaw all four RHS gardens in a creative capacity – Hyde Hall in Essex and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire Rosemoor in Devon and Wisley in Surrey. I was responsible for the design work that took place in the gardens and to ultimately encourage people to visit. We went from 100,000 visitors a year to a quarter of a million at just one garden.

Landscape project in rural Wales: Sarah and Trevor Woods gave up their urban lives in a spa town to pursue a goal of a self-sufficient lifestyle on a near-derelict farmhouse with five acres. The sphere-like frame is a geodesic dome, which inside they now grow frost-tender veggies such as cucumbers and peppers.

As well as your new book and TV show are you working on any other exciting projects?

I’m now associate director of design at The Landscape Agency. We’re a fairly boutique practise specialising in landscape design, management and planning and work with organisations such as English Heritage and National Trust.

What’s your favourite flower show?

It’s got to be Chelsea. If you speak to most designers they’ll agree. It’s in a good location right in the heart of London and it’s glitzy and glam. It’s like the difference between going to a nice restaurant and one that has lots of pazazz. I love the big marquee in the middle with colourful blooms and vegetables on display that are grown to perfection.

This year's show at Chelsea promises to be as spectacular as ever. So what are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’ve heard David Domoney will be filling his show garden with £100k’s worth of semi precious stone, which has to be seen to be believed. I’m looking forward to seeing what Tom Stuart-Smith comes up with – he always produces interesting designs without any gimmicks.

What’s your own garden like?

It’s small with lots of mature shrubs and climbers and containers with herbs and vegetables we’re growing. We’ve designed the space for our young twins, Dylan and Amelie, with a sandpit and climbing frame.

What things should we be doing to get our own gardens in shape?

May is not too late to be planting trees, shrubs and perennials. Don’t forget to take action now to ensure your garden looks good in the autumn and winter too. Plant autumn-flowering bulbs such as crocuses and prune winter-flowering shrubs such as Mahonia. If you forget to prune them now they’ll look a mess in the winter. And make your garden as usable as possible all year round - buy a firepit and covered seating so you can sit out in those gorgeous sunny and dry end-of-season days.

Watch Matthew Wilson in Landscape Man on Sunday evenings at 7pm on Channel 4.

Making A Garden by Matthew Wilson (Redhouse) is out now.

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Emily Peck, Editor

View all posts by Emily Peck, Editor