Lisa Rockliffe spoke with MATT JAMES about his new book, How To Plant A Garden, its appeal for novices and keen gardeners alike and the importance of our outdoor space.
How To Plant A Garden is the new book from designer, horticulturalist and senior lecturer Matt James, who is perhaps best known to the gardening public as The City Gardener, which aired on Channel 4 from 2002 to 2006. We speak after Matt has had a busy morning, helping his students at the Eden Project in Cornwall finalise their show garden designs “The deadline for submissions is this afternoon so, as you can imagine, there’s been a mad panic this morning. Hopefully they are all ready to go though.” It’s fitting that James, who has a great deal of experience in teaching (he spent five years teaching on the award-winning Garden Design degree course at Falmouth University) should write a book that seems to be based at introducing novices to gardening. Accustomed to teaching would-be designers, he’s on very solid ground. “Yes hopefully it will help those new to gardening, but I think there’s plenty there for experienced gardeners too. If they already know how plants work, and enjoy working with plants but don’t necessarily know how to combine those plants to create a pleasing composition, this book will hopefully prove really useful. A lot of people are very good gardeners but are less certain, and feel they need advice, on how to design with beautiful plants. For beginner gardeners, or for those who want to learn to think like professional gardener, the book takes you on a logical journey through the plant and design process from analysing space, through choosing a style to putting together the composition to understanding how many plants you need to buy and grow. It’s also bursting full of beautiful images that will hopefully inspire people as to how they want to proceed.”
It is easy to get carried away by the beauty of plants – to simply pick all the ones you think are wonderful and just try to cram them into your patch wherever you see a spot of bare earth. And this isn’t always terribly successful. “There is a real process to designing with plants, and there are so many options available that very careful editing is required. There are certain things you need to do to get to that beautiful end design. You need to adhere to the principles of art and design; you need to be aware of your conditions; you need consider the role of plants in your design and that means choosing plants that suit the style of garden you want. The book gives you a series of tests to help you zero in on the best choices. There are thousands of plants that might work, it just isn’t practical to sit down with the RHS Encyclopaedia of Plants and work out what you want. Instead, you say ‘my soil type is this, my preferred aesthetic style is this, my climatic condition is this, the functional role of my plants is this’ and you end up with a brief. Once you have that you have narrowed down your options from that initial encyclopaedia to just 3 or 4 pages of plants that would actually work, and then you can start putting your favourites together in a manner which is beautiful. That is what the book is all about.”
The book promises to work just as well on small projects as large ones, and with new homes now offering smaller gardens than ever, this has never been more important. “The book is called How To Plant A Garden, not How To Plant A Landscape, and it’s very much focused in on how to apply the principles to smaller gardens. There are lots of images in the book of gardens of different sizes, urban backyards up to large suburban gardens. That’s an important distinction. There are lots of garden books out there that will help you plant a meadow on a huge scale, but the majority of us just don’t live like that, we have a small back garden and there is inspiration aplenty, even if all you have is a small roof terrace, with room for just a few pots. The design principles are the same, they just need to be tweaked accordingly. I’m sort of renowned for tackling smaller gardens, the majority of the clients I work for have them, and I think it’s tremendously important that we take full advantage of any outdoor space that we have. Hopefully this book will help people do that.”
RHS How to Plant a Garden (£25) is published on 3 March 2016 by Mitchell Beazley
We are lucky enough to have 5 copies of Matt James’ How to Plant
a Garden to give away to our readers. If you would like to be in with a chance of winning one just email your answer to this easy question to email@example.com and please include your contact details with your entry.
Which HUGELY successful garden show did Matt James present from 2002-2006?
a) The City Gardener
b) The Country Gardener
c) The Clever Gardener
Email your answers now. Good luck!
Closing date for entries is 31 March 2016. Ts & Cs apply.