The life of a horticulturist can be more varied that one might imagine – we had a chat to Matt Biggs about his new book: RHS Lessons From Great Gardeners, his appearances on Gardeners Question time – and his latest foray into the dark and murky world of antiques! Scroll to the bottom of the page to find out how to win a copy!
You must be really proud of your latest book – which is gaining accolades from all quarters – it must have been a real joy to do the research that went into it? Information came from a range of sources, traditional and modern, from The Dictionary of National Biography, archives, books to interviews on ‘Desert Island Discs’ to Google and Streetview. I wanted to capture the personalities the great gardeners and obituaries, mainly in the broadsheet newspapers were a wonderful source of stories. Interviews with people who knew the Great Gardeners were particularly revealing and I know there is information in the book which has never been published before. Some of the American gardeners were researched via a relative, Lorie Mastemaker, who is a historian. She sourced information from American newspapers like the New York Times and periodicals in the University archives at Harvard and Yale.
I am fascinated by people and gardens and this book brought the two together. Knowing the person behind the garden really helps you to understand why the garden is like it is. Every one of the forty great gardeners – Gertrude Jekyll, Christopher Lloyd, Lawrence Johnston at Hidcote, was passionate about the garden, often to the exclusion of all else. Ellen Willmott, an Edwardian multimillionaires, lavished all of her money on gardens and died bankrupt, Will Giles of the Exotic Garden, chose the garden rather than the lady he loved, Madam Ganna Walska in California sold her million dollar collection of tiaras and replaced them with plants. If the subject wasn’t plants and gardens it would be considered a terrible vice!
Gardening used to be something that most people did at some stage in their lives, but now we seem to be money rich and time poor – is it possible to allot just a little time each week and still maintain a pleasing and useful garden space? A little and often is just the way to garden, if you leave a garden untended for any length of time, particularly in the growing season, nature rapidly takes over. Don’t be over ambitious when designing your garden, it should be based on your needs, the time available and be a pleasure not a burden. Too many people visit gardens created by the Great Gardeners, are inspired, become overambitious and then disappointed. Use the inspiration from Great gardeners then adapt their ideas to suit your needs, even if you only grow a micro herbaceous border in a pot.
We recently saw you chasing around the countryside in a vintage car with fellow gardener Christine Walkden – how much fun was that? It was absolutely wonderful, Christine is a great friend of mine and we were both so excited right from the start. All we had to do was to imbibe the spirit of the adventure and enjoy ourselves, what could be easier than that? The antique experts David Harper and James Braxton were knowledgeable, welcoming and fun. I had never driven a classic car before, but remembered them when they were first introduced! the craftsmanship and engineering was a joy – it was an experience to treasure and reminded me of my childhood. There was a spirit of friendly competition between us thoughout the three days filming and I still can’t believe I lost by 16p!
We have a proud tradition in this country of producing inspirational gardens – and 2016 is the Year of the English Garden – do you have a garden that you love and think deserves to be better known? It is a beautiful garden called Bosvigo in Truro, created by artist Wendy Perry, who is an enchanting lady. The garden, divided into different areas displays her boundless talents as gardener and artist, it is a living work of art. Everything has such finesse, the garden is filled with interesting textures and subtle and bold contrasts in colour, particularly in the hot garden – and it is filled with fabulous plants. Wendy is passionate about hellebores, has an annual Hellebore Day at the garden and has made some lovely selections, over her own and the Woodland Garden is glorious. I enjoyed an afternoon of utter indulgence in the garden and can’t wait to visit again – the cakes were delicious, too! http://www.bosvigo.com/
You and I recently toured a garden in Barbados together and meet up fairly regularly in various parts of the world – how much do you enjoy the overseas trips that you do and what do you have planned? It has been wonderful to travel the world with BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Holidays and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. I have been to places I never thought I’d visit, from the Arctic to the Caribbean, Indonesia and the Antipodes, met some fabulous people and seen extraordinary plants and gardens. Our next trip is the BBC Gardeners World Magazine 25th Anniversary French Rivers and Gardens Cruise, with David Hurrion, a great friend and brilliant horticulturist – Carol Klein is joining us for the first few days too and I am really excited about that, she’s knowledgeable, kind and great fun!
And finally if we all plant one new plant in our gardens for 2016 what should it be and why? I love plants as they are found in the wild and Alliums should have a space in every garden. So I must recommend Allium nigrum f. roseum for its soft antique pink flowers in mid to late summer, perfect for a sunny, free draining spot.
RHS Lessons From Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs, published by Mitchell Beazley, £14.99 www.octopusbooks.co.uk. We have a copy of Matthew’s book to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address and ‘Matthew Biggs’ as the subject. Competition closes 25th January 2016. We do not share your details with third parties.