My Chelsea Story, by Matthew Wilson

Grayshott Gardeners were very pleased to welcome Matthew Wilson – Garden Designer, Writer, Television and Radio broadcaster – to give our club night lecture this month.  It was his first talk IRL (in real life) since Covid restrictions eased, but he showed no first night nerves.  He gave us a fabulous peek behind the scenes of creating a garden for Chelsea Flower Show.

Matthew spent many years at Chelsea when he worked for the RHS.  He witnessed the work that went into producing a show garden, and saw first hand the exhaustion of the garden designers at the end of their journey.  He vowed he would never join them.  However, in 2015 he was approached by Royal Bank of Canada to design a garden that promoted water preservation.  This was an issue close to his heart, and having designed the Dry Garden at RHS Hyde Hall, he had lots of ideas that he could use.  So he said yes, and his Chelsea journey began.

Matthew’s RBC garden used lots of curves.  This meant clever cutting of stone, steam bending of wood, and decking with curved edges.  Getting the details right is key for a Chelsea Garden – right down to the spacing of stepping stones, which he mocked up with paper and sticky tape on his kitchen floor.  The build had to be completed in 19 straight days (no days off allowed!) and required stamina and teamwork.  There were a few hiccups that caused a lot of anxiety – but they made it, and delivered a garden to be proud of.  One of the big surprises was how much the garden changed over the period of the show – some things grew and came into bloom, and others went over – just like a real garden.  From start to finish the project consumed at least 100 days ….. and he was heard muttering “Never Again”.

That was until “Welcome to Yorkshire” approached him to design a garden for the show the very next year.  His 2016 garden was to celebrate the East Window at York Minster – one of the largest expanses of medieval glass in Europe.  He worked with the glaziers and stone masons from York Minster to design a garden structure which captured the essence of the window, the colours of which were cleverly echoed in the planting.  He described the skill which is needed to plant a Chelsea show garden – weaving plants together so that they look like they have been there for years, not days.  After a very wet build, the garden was completed and delighted the crowds – so much so that he won the coveted People’s Choice award that year.

At the end of it all, Matthew took the advice of a friend and did not stay to watch either of his gardens being dismantled – so in his mind they still exist.  Instead he celebrated with family, friends and a few bottles of champagne!

“Never Again” was once again muttered.  But we all know the adage “Never say Never”.  We will be watching this space with great anticipation.