23 September 2015 By Sam Duke
We all look forward to our annual lecture; not only is it a chance to spend time with friends of the company, it’s also an inspiring evening with talks from much-loved industry experts. This year was no different; garden designer, broadcaster and writer Matthew Wilson spoke about the time he spent as curator at RHS Hyde Hall and Harlow Carr, his influences and his genuine love for nature.
After a few glasses of prosecco and a handful of olives, visitors were ushered towards our factory, which had been transformed into a charming stage. Matthew started with where it all began for him, “plants are amazing, I’ve always been intrigued by how they have adapted to live alongside us,” he gleamed. “I was always taught, throughout college, that the garden should be on one side of the fence and everything else should be kept out. I never understood this, how do you keep out the things that crawl, fly and wriggle?” This way of thinking became something that Matthew took into his professional career as a garden designer, with his interests including environmentally sensitive gardening and wildlife.
After Matthews time at college, in 2000, he got a job at Hyde Hall; back then he was the youngest curator the RHS had ever appointed. The masterplan for the garden was to put a fence round it, keeping it free from nibbling brown hares, however this plan was soon diminished after one of Matthews walks to work, “I heard this thumping sound that turned out to be a couple of boxing hares, it was an amazing moment. As soon as I got to the office I got straight on the phone to the fencing contractor and cancelled the order for the fence.” Matthew joked that this was his first act of rebellion against the RHS, with the argument “if we can’t co-exist with these magnificent animals, what’s the point.”
The dry garden, one of his greatest achievements at Hyde Hall, is an area made up of 9000 plants including 1600 species’ from every continent (apart from Antarctica) and there is zero irrigation, “You can have a garden with no irrigation; if you are growing something to eat then go ahead and water it but if your not going to eat it, why are you watering it?”
After Hyde Hall, an opportunity with Harlow Carr arose and Matthew couldn’t refuse. When he arrived, he worked with super intendant Geoffrey Smith to turn Harlow Carr into a mini Yorkshire Dales. One of the features are the 500 meconopsis that bloom each year, “they require a lot of attention, even tea and biscuits!” Matthew joked “we have to grow 1000 to keep population of 500 going.”
Matthew then went on to tell us of his proudest moment, in establishing the 140m long main borders, “I saw it as an opportunity to re-invigorate. I sat on the table and planned the colour planting, dark to light to create the perfect vista.” The borders include 6000 alliums and combinations of Matthews favourite plants including the vertical Rusty Foxglove and the Monarda ‘Garden View Scarlett’ in the middle.
The hour seemed to fly by; the audience were hanging onto Matthews every hilarious digression and inspiring insight. “Gardens need a personality to be truly great,” and Matthew's character certainly shines through in his portfolio of amazing spaces.
For more information on Matthew Wilson and his career, click here.