Heavenly Horticulture | Living North

Heavenly Horticulture


Matthew Wilson
What do you get when you combine an award-winning Garden Designer, the county of Yorkshire and a cathedral? A garden for God’s own country
‘Everything from the stone paving to the water feature and the garden building will be created by Yorkshire folk’

With Chelsea Flower Show already looming large, our county’s cheerleader Welcome to Yorkshire have pulled out all the stops. Not only have they brought onboard an award-winning garden designer for their 2016 entry, they’ve also enticed craftsmen from across Yorkshire to lend a hand. 

Matthew Wilson is in charge of it all – and he isn’t just your average garden designer. As well as working as Managing Director and Head Designer at Clifton Nurseries, he has a pool of clients across the UK and Europe and his talent has even caught the eye of the media, working as a correspondent for national newspapers and appearing as a panelist on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. 

These days, Matthew likes to take on the odd side project, and the show garden is the one currently occupying his mind. The garden, which will be entitled ‘God’s Own County – A Garden for Yorkshire’ has one of the larger plots, measuring 22 by 11 metres. ‘Hopefully it will get a medal, but I’m not thinking too much about that at the moment, I’m just focusing on the pleasure of putting it all together.’

The plan so far, which Matthew is adamant is ‘95 percent there’ (and needs to be due to the difficult logistics involved) is inspired by the huge East Window at York Minster. Commissioned in 1405, the window is the largest expanse of Medieval glass in Britain. ‘It’s just undergoing restoration due to be unveiled next year and that led me to think about light – how gardens are affected by it and how they change during the day,’ he explains. ‘At midday a garden looks one way and in the evening it looks a different way and I thought that was very interesting thing to expand on.’

As well as Matthew’s thoughts on light, the garden will also be a celebration of Yorkshire talent. ‘The actual craft and artistry that has gone into that window is quite staggering when you see it close up,’ he muses. ‘To think it’s 600 years old – the level of detail that has gone into it is incredible.’ You might be surprised to hear this type of artistry hasn’t died out. ‘There are still glaziers working at the Minster and there are still stone masons,’ says Matthew. ‘So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to take those ideas, expand them even further and look at all the craft, technology and skill that still exists in Yorkshire and add that to the garden.”’ 

So that’s what he’s doing. Everything from the stone paving to the water feature and the garden building will be created by Yorkshire folk. They’ve got metal workers from Sheffield, art stone manufacturers from Halifax and glaziers from York Minster involved. ‘It will be a real celebration of what Yorkshire can do today,’ says Matthew. ‘As well as looking back to the past, it’s looking to the future as well.’

But it’s not all fun and games, there’s a lot more to think about than you might imagine – the gardens provide highly difficult technical challenges. Not only are there a lot of elements to bring together, they have to look perfect for a whole week. And despite the fact that it’s a show garden, it does have to function. ‘People need to be able to walk on them and we need a garden building that will not leak.’

Not that Matthew is reining in his ambition. The glaziers at York Minster will actually be creating a window specifically for the garden. It will be erected behind the garden building, with the aim of filling the garden with multi-coloured diffused light. ‘It’s one of the key parts of the design in terms of referencing the East Window,’ explains Matthew, ‘But also in terms of how the garden looks and how it works.’

You might be wondering whether there are actually any plants involved – don’t worry, there are 5,000 of them. Most are perennials, including Bearded iris, Geranium phaeums, Meconopsis grandis, Deschampsia cespitosas and Brunnera Jack Frosts. Alongside them, there’ll be some trees – from apple to an oak which originates from the area around Jordan and Israel. ‘It would have been recognisable for people who wrote the Old Testament,’ explains Matthew. 

We’re looking forward to seeing the finished masterpiece.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London 24th–28th May 2016
To find out more about Matthew head to

Published in: January 2016

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