Head Gardener, The Garden House
Wisley Trainee, Certificate Course 1985–1987
It was at the age of four that Matt was first introduced to growing plants, when his great grandfather allocated him a patch of ground at the bottom of his garden. He still remembers a peony (Paeonia officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’) growing there.
Later, during his secondary school years, Matt took a summer job with two ladies in Cannington, working on their smallholding. This not only gave him extra cash, but was also his first exposure to working in horticulture. He became passionately interested in houseplants, which the ladies had a great collection of in their conservatory. They gave him cuttings and fed his interest, one of the ladies later suggesting that Matt apply to train at Wisley.
In March 1985, Matt attended an interview at Wisley and was enthralled. He was hooked from day one remembering ‘it was magical to see so many interesting plants all growing in the same place’.
Starting in September 1985, when Matt was 16, he initially felt very homesick. There were 10 in his year and mostly the same age, away from home for the first time. After a few days however, they settled in, becoming known as the ‘tearaways’ for the pranks they got up to. One of these included submerging one of the metal tables from outside the restaurant in the pond outside the Directors office (now where the carpet bedding is) and covering it with ferns and a statue!
The Wisley Certificate course was primarily practical with evening demonstrations, weekly plant identification tests and the three-month rotation of garden sections. At the time Matt was particularly interested in the Rock Garden and alpine plants and he got on well with the then Superintendent of the department John Warwick who nurtured his interest and allowed him to take cuttings.
When he left, Matt wanted to go onto Kew but didn’t have enough A levels, so ended up back in Cannington at the Somerset College of Agriculture and Horticulture doing an Advanced National Certificate in Horticulture. This was later followed by a degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Greenwich.
After this, Matt went back to horticulture working in gardens in the Plymouth area before hearing about the Head Gardener’s job at The Garden House, and now has his dream job with a more-or-less free hand in terms of design and what he can plant.
Mike looks back at Wisley with a lot of affection and though too young to achieve anything there, it gave him the strong grounding in horticulture and the knowledge to know what you did and didn’t want to do and move you on accordingly.