ABOUT

ABOUT ME

Hey, thanks for visiting my blog and site. I'm Matt Mattus.

I am a designer (by day) and even though any Google search will mostly show me focusing on plants and gardening, my design work consumes most of my time - most of it for my employer Hasbro, which if you know anything about the toy and entertainment industry, is highly confidential so I rarely can share any of what I do - especially since I create and work in their top secret futuring lab. 

So - In my spare time, I grow and collect weird and amazing plants.

It keeps me sane.




Outside of work, I like to cook, travel, ski and hike. I live in Worcester, MA with my partner of 30 years Joe, and our many dogs (we also raise champion Irish Terriers, as well as poultry, exotic cage birds and the general mish-mash of random creatures which find their way onto our property.

Speaking of which, the garden and house has been in my family for about 110 years, my father was raised here (he died in 2014 at 100 years old), and his father built the house - so yeah, there is a lot of history around here (like every tree). Just try to cut down a tree that your grand father built, and you can see the guilt and burden such a thing can be. No. really.

Why I started this site:

My goal with this site was to first, share what I am working on in my personal garden, but over time I learned that there were very few gardening blogs which offered what I craved - a mix of interesting gardening projects, an honest voice which spoke from experience and the resulting advice which was first hand, and not second hand, and content which either inspired me, wow'd me or just blew my socks off - I hope I deliver on some of these tenets.


Belgian Endive and Parsnips being planted in March
My site chronicles my personal journey with plants, plain and simple.

OK, it does get a little insane at times since that journey is a pretty intense one!

I try to stick to a philosophy where I rarely post what other gardening blogs do. I also try to not have any advertising or product giveaways, although, I occasionally will do some partnerships, experiment with ad's, if I do, I make sure that they are with businesses or brands which I truly believe in and use already. 

I don't write this blog so that I can get landscape jobs, new accounts or even good ranking, SEO or numbers - I admit that I rarely check my stats, and rarely use social media (even though I can't complain about being a top 10 gardening blog on Google with more than 2 million hits). In the end, I think people just like an regular, honest diary blog. Seasonal, personal and real. Like it, or not.

Also, visual design is important to me, so I try to make sure that the photos, images, graphics and projects have that Matt  'flair' - whatever that may be  - so you'll just have to deal with my frequent design tweaks. Apparently, I can't help myself.

I am not a photographer, but I do take pictures with happen to usually look nice which is more about my artistic eye an plant material than anything else. Being a Photoshop wizard doesn't hurt either, but I rarely fuss about focus, lighting or anything beyond auto on my camera.

The greenhouse and the gold and blue perennial border ( yeah, and touch of uninvited red!). Somehow, it works - even with the ugly cucumber grate showing.
Here are some anwers to questions I get often:


Where do you grow all of your plants?

I know that I am kind of fortunate to have a glass greenhouse, (believe me, it's also a burden). I had it built about 14 years ago. I just didn't want a plastic hoop house or a twinwall economical greenhouse because, well, I like good architecture and design, and I was in a position where I could afford it, so although it was not the most practical solution,  no one has ever accused me of being practical - (one of my many, many faults). Today, I may need to readdress this decision.

The greenhouse is my studio, my laboratory - my man-cave. It was built over my part of our old vegetable garden, which obviously, had been a cultivated vegetable garden for about 100 years, which meant that the soil below was deep and rich from  those years of compost and chicken manure that my grandparents and parents (and then us as kids) spread about. Now, in the ground where tomatoes and beans once grew, grow citrus and trees like Acacia’s and Camellias - all enjoy that rich soil which took years to create. It's heated with propane (and on those lucky sunny days in winter, solar).

The greenhouse during the 76" record snowfall during the winter of 2010-2011, amazing, right?

Once you start reading this blog you'll see that I complain a lot about heating costs. Understood, right?  I often write statements like: "this is the last year that I will heat it", which I know will happen some day - when I retire, or can't afford heat anymore - or when I am layed-off , so at that point, it will be converted into an alpine house, or a winter garden where a few camellias and tender shrubs can winter over. One must always have a back up plan or three.

I am a bulb enthusiast, growing many rare or collector bulbs that bloom in the autumn and winter under glass.
Here is a Cyclamen graecum bulb from Greece being repotted ,while dormant, during the summer.

Inside the greenhouse I grow many things - (yeah - far to many things). Aside from the many citrus trees there are olives, a random collection of interesting tropical plants, cacti, succulents, and alpine plants. Mostly though, I grow rare bulbs, the winter-blooming sort from South Africa, South America and the Middle East  as these are perfect growers in a cool house.

 I keep the minimum winter temperature at 40 degrees, but on sunny days in January, temps can reach 75, which is reason alone for investing in a greenhouse. Shirtless, in humid air amidst jasmine as the snow piles up on the other side of the glass. It's kind of awesome on a sunny January afternoon (but not at night when it ices over).

Planting out early Spencer Sweet Peas for cut flowers in March under cloches. Fergus assists. 

Outdoors, there is still my garden, I grow the rest of my collections on 2.5 acres, which again, was landscaped in 1920 my by fathers brothers (an a couple of them were landscape designers way back then, so there are many interesting mature trees like Davidia involucrata and rare evergreens).

 If you ever visit, I will admit that it looks far nicer in photos than it does in real life! - I'm just sayin'.  It's one of those gardens that appeals more to plant collectors than garden designers. We have very little free time to weed, and maintain everything, so I focus on the same nicer parts of the garden, which is what you see in the photos. When I win the lottery, I will hire gardeners - until then - I have to accept weeds and far too many tall over-grown trees.

The garden design is pre-WW2, originally designed as a 1910 post colonial garden (sounds fancy, but actually this is a very residential neighborhood - it was just the style then). Uniformity and straight lines, hedges and arbors. There once were rose gardens, and more formal planting, a concrete goldfish pond and fountain( which we still use), a round golf putting green, a badminton court and a basketball court. Most of that is gone now, and I am left with 100 foot spruces, white pines and other very tall trees, which leaves me with more of a garden restoration than a garden design project on my hand. We continue to uncover field stone walks, and a few paths.

One of my crazy projects - English Sweet Peas from the summer of 2012.


Is this your full-time job?

Hardly! Professionally, I work at Hasbro as a creative director - yes...the toy, game and entertainment company where I work in a creative role within the Global Design and Development/Integrated Play App Design group ( I know, it means little to you, but hey - you've heard of Furby and Nerf, right? Those are the sort of projects I work on).  Recently, I have been focusing on developing my career as an app, visual UX designer has been fascinating, and invigorating to learn an entirely new medium at this point in my career.






So, how do you find time for all of this?

This is the question I get asked most. My answer is.....I don’t know, I just do it (and most of the time, I feel that I really don’t do it very well, since I rush things). I would say that finding time for anything one is passionate about shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. Since, if you really love doing something and if you are obsessed about it, you will find time. I sometimes blog first thing in the morning when I wake up, I photograph things in the evenings in the summer, and on the weekends. I guess that I grow so much, that even in one weekend, I can get enough images for a weeks worth of posts.




How long have you been gardening?

I remember two things. First, my parents were gardeners, although not at the level I was, but I was really fortunate to be raised in a family in the 1960’s and 1970’s that spent much of their time gardening, or picking wild mushrooms, wild blueberries and nuts - it just gets in your blood. My parents were not hippies, my brothers and sisters were. My parents were older when they had me ( my Dad, 50) so it was more like being raised by grandparents - OK- I was the 'accident' - 15 years age difference between my oldest brother and me, so I often felt like an only child, which kept me in the garden, playing with plants. Our vegetable garden was huge, and my mom canned just about everything in crazy amounts (clearly, I inherited her obsessiveness). I can remember many hot, humid summer nights, after she came home from her job to bushels of green beans all spilled out onto the kitchen floor onto a white tarp, and we would all clean them, as she canned them late into the night.





What about your plants? DO you really grow everything?

Unless I am visiting a garden, most of my posts are of plants that I grow. This is important to me, for garden writers often write about plants that they never have actually grown themselves, which I never understood.

I make it a point to grow more than one species, and I particularly like to try and find numerous species of one genus to grow from seed, so that I can share all of the subtle differences between the genus.

I would say that I treat my plant collections like museum collections, ‘installing’ installations in my sand beds, which may focus on a theme, or to show numerous species. I am always looking for rare seed from expeditions, or traveling myself to places like the Alps, South America or Asia for new species or for influence.

I have grown from periods when I was passionate about Daylilies and Hosta 20 years ago, to today, where I grow many South African Bulbs and Chilean plants. At any one time, I probably collect 10 to 15 genus, and after 5 or so years, I move on to new ones, to keep discovering new things. But, I must grow them to perfection otherwise; I feel that I could not accurately write about them.





How do you take all of those photos? Are you a professional photographer?

I am not a photographer, hardly! But I have directed many professional photoshoots for my job as an art director for years, so yeah, I guess I have an eye. It helps to know how stylists work in NY, and how to compose a shot.  Just don’t ask me to tell you the F-stop or lens that I use! 

I use a Nikon D200 and a D300 with many lenses. I sometimes use a tripod, and sometimes not. I always use natural light.




How do you know so much about plants?

I am not an expert, but I guess I do know alot which comes through experience, after all, I have been gardening most of my life, being passionate about the garden and plant collecting even as a young child. SInce I am 50, it's safe to say that I have been gardening for about 44 years. So, for as long as I can remember, I was collecting and growing most everything I could find. As well as reading and researching anything that I can find about the particular plants I was obsessed with at the moment.

I started exhibiting in our horticultural society exhibitions while still in elementary school competing against adults in many classes. By the time I was in high school, I was already breeding daylilies and hosta, and planning to major in Botany in college. I never felt that it was helpful to become a "master gardener' since it wasn't as if I just started growing plants as a young adult, by my late teens, I was already specializing in alpines, saxifrages, gentians and other more challenging genus.

One key event in my life offered me a rare chance to apprentice for a few summers at a local estate that was designed by famed architect Fletcher Steele.  The private garden owned by Robert and Helen Stoddard local industrialists who also were passionate plantspeople, taught me more than any school or university ever could. I worked at the estate for 3 summers in the late 1970's, caring for extensive collections of alpines, daphne, roses and specialized plantings for primula and rare shrubs. In the greenhouse, I learned to propagate tropicals, force bulbs to be brought into the home for the plant windows in late winter, and to cultivate rare South African bulbs.

If I was lucky, I would get to ride in the family helicopter often helping Mr Stoddard unload exotic taxidermy specimens that he shot while on safari in Africa or in Alaska ( someone had to do it) ( many of the specimens at our Science Museum in Boston came from his trips collecting).  It was a rare look into a completely different world for me. The Stoddard's eventually left their endowment to create the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which was the new home for the Worcester County Horticultural Society.


A bulb plunge bed in late February - like having my very own personal spring flower show.

Did you go to school for this?

Not really. I did attend Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS for one semester, which I found not very challenging, so I begged my parents to let me go to Unity College in Maine where I could major in Environmental Science and eventually, go to Cornell, where I hoped to become an Ornithologist (birds). But, Cornell  never Happened.  I graduated from Unity with a degree in Environmental Science, and decided to go to Hawaii where I graduated at the University with another degree, this time in Fine Arts and Art History. My dad's artistic side came through.

Harvesting Cardoon in November. Fergus assists.

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