About Matt

A bit (OK, maybe a lot?) about me.

I'm Matt Mattus - a life-long plant person, designer and general plant enthusiast. Some tell me that I am a Rennaissance man, others tell me that I am crazy and obsessed (like my brothers!). The way I view myself? I am just one of the creative artistic people (have been all of my life) - constantly curious, but realizing that in life, one is constantly learning along the way. And this is what this blog is really all about.

Like many of you, I imagine.

I've been so, so fortunate un many ways. Although I've travelled all over our amazing planet, I've bee blessed with a rare opportunity - I now live where I was born, live in the same house where my dad was born (he passed away a few years ago at 100), and the very same home that my grandparents built back in 1910).

Plants however are more than just a 'hobby' (well, passion really) to me. I am an artist, a professional designer of many things - brands, products, graphics and gardens, a science and nature geek and somehow all of these interests combine together with my plants. The average Google search will show me focusing on plants and gardening, but it is my design and visual creative work which actually consumes most of my time. I just can't show most of it. Surely, you have seen it from older projects of mine (Skittles, Milky Way, Tide, Disney Theme Park projects, My Little Pony etc). Big experiences for big brands. I kind of like that, too.

I currently work for Hasbro  - the toy and entertainment company (for a long time - nearly 28 years now) in various, lead or high interesting creative roles. And if you know anything about the toy and entertainment business - everything is highly confidential so I rarely get to share any of what I do - especially since I am an imbedded innovator in their top secret futuring lab now. Pretty cool.

 I can say that I tend to focus on style centric, more 'visual' projects, which I like. Staying current or ahead of the design world excites me. It's when design becomes more like fine art. Visual design in important to me, which I hope is also sometimes demonstrated on this blog.

So, OK - then why do you write a gardening blog if you are a designer?

Good question. I guess I can't help it. I am also obsessed with collecting and discovering new and interesting plants. It is during my precious, spare time, that I grow and collect all of these weird and amazing plants.

It's that adventure which I try to share here, with some travel and food thrown in. After all, it all connects, right? Growing with plants is 'life'.

Ok, so wait a minute now - you live in Worcester, MA?

Yes, I live in Worcester, MA - it's home to me. You'll understand in a moment, but for some strange reason, even though I could have moved anywhere int he world with my job, I just stayed here - I think it's because I am happy with what I do. Sure, I love New York, and Paris, and I get to travel everywhere - from Japan to Russia, so home suddenly means something different to me once I know that I could go anywhere.  Sure, they neighborhood is crappy now, and sure, I will need to move soon if it doesn't get better, but now I consider myself fortunate to have such a connection most of my life. I think many people crave this sense of being rooted in a place for generations.

I live here with my partner of 30 years Joe, and our many dogs (we also raise champion Irish Terriers, as well as poultry, the occasional exotic cage bird - currently Spanish canaries, and then a general mish-mash of random creatures which find their way onto our property. We like animals, plants, nature and things like that. Yeah, there is often dirt on our floor, and our cleaning lady quit.

Speaking of which, this garden  that you see in all of my pics, as well as the house has been in my family for about 110 years. My dad was raised here, and sadly we lost him in June of 2014 at 100 years old, which should give you some idea of the history around here. My grand father had the house built when he and his wife came here from Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century, so like every tree here, everything has a story.

What are you trying to achieve with this site?

Honestly, as a plant geek I could find few blogs (or magazines, books or TV shows) that delivered any satisfying content for me. I am not sure how to articulate it, but I kind-of feel that I offer something unique. It might be because I am in this weird generation - between boomer and Genx, that my parents had me late in life (TMI, but my parents are depression era parents, having me in their 40's and 50's, so when I was a kid, they were the age of my friends' grandparents). I cherish this gap in parenting (thank God I didn't have hippies as parents!). But it did make me a different person.

I never liked rock music, listening instead to 40's jazz. My parents canned their own food, which they grew or raised, we picked our own Holiday greens, wild mushrooms and wild grapes by the bushels, baked pies, filled the storeroom and root cellar with squashes, apples and canned goods - not in the same way that most home-lifestyle bloggers do today, but in volumes. In some way, gardening is different for me - it's not a hobby, or novel, or decor as much as it is soulful (intimately connected wight he four seasons and life) and skillful (entering and competing with flowers and fruits and veggies in competitions at the local horticultural society as a kid).

Also for me, something triggered at a young age, where I loved the science and botany of it all. I loved classifying things, collecting 'like' specimens, creating an herbarium of pressed species, documenting and identification - taxonomy, first at a local level, then regional, and now as an adult, global. My collection of neophytes from the Western Cape of South African, for example. Not really ordinary garden-stuff, right?

So, combine this with my design talents and skills, and I probably spew out a unique take on everything from displays of potted plants for your deck, or what one might make a flower arrangement from. Other garden bloggers might 'discover' that winter squashes are ornamental and that some are even considered 'heirloom' but I am obesessed currently with very old Japanese varieties of squash, and how they migrated to Japan from Central America, and how in Kyoto, a certain winter squash has a temple dedicated to it, with recipes dating back to the mid 18th Century - and how today, this squash is sold only in a few markets, with decorative red belts on it. So---why wouldn't I want to try growing it in my own garden? And, wouldn't you want to try it too?

This sort-of sums up the kind of thing that fascinates me about plants, and how they fit in today with our lifestyle and culture. Or, how they used to be integrated into our culture, but have fallen out of favor. English Sweet Peas, Camellia's, Scented Violets, Winter baking pears from the 1700's, forced Lily of the Valley from the 1800's, and new discoveries as well - new species of bulbs from Patagonia, high-elevation alpine plants - nothing is off my radar.

What keeps you going with this site? Why don't you write a book?

It wasn't long before I realized that there was something different about how everything that I do, connects. I have these interests, which many people share, but in my head, they all combine in what I think is a unique way. I say 'unique' because I have met only a few other people who share this trait (burden). Again,  very few gardening blogs, magazines or even books seemed to offer this combination of visual interest, historical fascination, science, botany, design which today, we really sometimes call 'lifestyle'.

The problem with the word 'lifestyle' is that in our connected world- that of Pinterest, Google and blogs, it can become repetitive and not original. Many blogs feel like other blogs, just as many magazines and books are starting to feel like other magazines and books. Content is becoming omnipresent, and a sameness is settling in - homogenous.

What has surprised me, and many others, is that the flattening of the world, really didn't help content at all. I mean, sure - the internet is awesome, but Google search has made magazines and books somewhat obsolete.  Maybe over time, it will all balance out and new ways to share or experience content will arise, but I am rather convinced that for now, blogs and Facebook will replace books and magazines - I am so sad to admit. The answer may be better television once that content delivery system is figured out, but for now, we wait.

Why didn't you make a career out of plants? Open a nursery or something?

I still might write a book, but it would have to be extraordinary - like  a great cookbook looks like today, but a nursery is not on my radar - perhaps ever.

I do gripe often about there being too many 'experts' both in the bloggin world, and in many of the new books coming out today.   I knew that I was somewhat proficient in many horticultural ventures (after-all, I've been very active in many plant societies, horticultural societies and with other plant collectors for much of my life.), and we all can agree that 'experience is key', when it comes to creating content that is authentic, especially when speaking to serious garden folk.   I'm beginning to sense that I have something kind-of special happening here, I just don't know what to do with it yet.

The trusth may be that the mass market just wants more posts to re-pin, ideas to repeat like air plants or how to carve pumpkins, and the truth may be that few people want to raise their own narcissus from seed, or raise Korean Pears to perfection, or to grow fancy chrysanthemums instead of store-bought disposable mounds. All of this won't stop me from doing what I do. As so much of my content is just simply (or not-so-simply!) what I naturally do, day to day. And that even though I know that it is original, and that few may like it, that over time, this first-hand account of discovery might resonate with some people, and it just feels right to me, since it's something that I was not finding on-line, or from most garden writers. There has to be something here, that means more.

Belgian Endive and Parsnips being planted in March
So, you are continuing to write this blog? Don't you worry about running out of ideas or content?

Since my site chronicles my personal journey with plants, I could not deal with the subject if I allowed it to become too repetitive - I will always try new experiments, or to try something new. Sure, for nostalgia's sake, I will repeat crops but always in a different way. I get bored easily, but I do love me some nostalgia.

My philosophy includes the premise that I will (rarely) post what other gardening blogs do. To remain season, in-the-moment, diary-like. If I write a book someday, it will be written as one of those month-by-month gardening books, with few photos or pictures - just like the books I keep stacked by my bedside. I can imagine the rest of it, visually.

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.

So, about this greenhouse of yours…what's the story there? 

OK, don't hate me, but yes - I have this rather awesome glass greenhouse, (believe me, it's also a burden when it comes to heating it!). I will not write about store-bought plants, I must grow everything many times, kill them, raise them from seed, and learn from the process.  I sacrificed a lot to get this beast of a greenhouse, but I really don't regret it.

We built about 14 years ago ( by ourselves from a kit - probably won't do that again!). 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! I promise that I will write and complain about heating it, or the furnace breaking down, or possibly not continuing it each and every autumn until I can no longer truly afford to heat it. On the other hand, it's my favorite spot on a sunny, Saturday afternoon in January.

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

The greenhouse is my studio, my laboratory - really, it's my version of a man-cave. It was built over my part of our old vegetable garden, which obviously, had been a cultivated for about 100 years remember, which means that the soil below is deep and rich from all of those years of compost and chicken manure which my grandparents and parents (and then us as kids) spread about.

Now, in the ground where tomatoes and beans once grew, grow citrus trees and 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?

Inside the greenhouse I grow many things - (ok - 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 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.

 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). Cold glass greenhouses are rather icky on overcast days or at night. If I heated the space to equatorial temperatures, it would be a different scenario.

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 (I say 'collections' since much of what I grow does fall into that description). I garden on 2.5 acres, which again, was landscaped between 1920 and 1930 my by father and his 6  brothers (and a couple of them were landscape designers back then, so there are many interesting mature trees like Davidia involucrata and many rare or primitively un-hybridized evergreens).


I do welcome visitors but be prepared. If you ever visit, I will admit that it looks far nicer in photos than it does in real life! -Really,  I'm just sayin'.  It's one of those gardens that appeals more to plant collectors than garden designers. There will be weeds, a messy house and most likely lots of dog shit. 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 (about 1/4 acre in front of the greenhouse.

Here's my master plan (which is probably something like yours): When I win the lottery, I will hire gardeners - build a number of zone-specific greenhouses, and collect everything on my many expeditions around the world.

Until then? - I have to accept weeds and far too many tall over-grown trees.

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

Where did you get all of your gardening knowledge from?

Mostly, it's self taught, but I did have some of the finest apprenticeships around. Before Hasbro, which I started when I was 28, I worked both as a lead floral designer at some hip Boston shops during the holidays, as well as a gardener. For 6 years I was a specialist gardener for a private estate in Worcester which happened to be designed by one of America's most influential landscape architects, Fletcher Steel. I learned so much working there, that now I actually speak more about that particular experience than anything else. Little did I know that those few years of intense internship would come back to be a pivotal part of my learning.

I did attend college at Umass/Stockbridge for one year, and then Unity College in Maine where I majored in Environmental Science/Botany. Later, College for fine arts, in Hawaii ( because, 4 years in Maine - hello?). I should have been directed to CalArts or RISD then, but somehow it all worked out. One of this professional students, my poor parents.

Harvesting Cardoon in November. Fergus assists.

My knowledge learning however began much earlier, as often happens with kids who find an interest at an early age. As I said, Actively in growing plants and exhibiting plants at our local horticultural society, the Worcester County Horticultural Society (now Tower Hill Botanic Garden) fostered my passions at an early age. My parents were gardeners, and combined with their ethnic habits of what they call today 'foraging' (nuts, mushrooms, berries), it all combined in the recipe.  I would ask my uncle to drive me to set up exhibitions which seemed to be held at Horticultural Hall every two weeks throughout the summer. There were classes for most every vegetable, fruit and berry as well as cut flowers, floral design and then special plant society shows - most all of which I would enter.

I became obsessed with plant societies back then (it was the late 1970's). joining every club I could save up for, just so that I could get the newest crosses and introductions - the American Hemerocalis Society, the New England Regional Lily Group, the Iris Society, the Rose Society, The Orchid Society to name a few. I stayed away from the more serious groups such as the American Rock Garden Society (today, NARGS), and the International Bulb Group as I felt unqualified. Clearly, I was not behaving like your typical kid, so I had few friends but an awesome garden. Talk about bullying! Talk about 'geek'!

Later in life, it all some together in a wonderful way. Something we should teach our kids today to realize. All of these were 'seeds' to something more greater.

I continue to be active in the world of plant societies, but have little time to join them all. I am the past editor of the American Primrose Society, and currently honored to hold the position of President of the North American Rock Garden Society, a rather prestigious plant society that I had thought that I would not join until I was retired. I am also greatly honored to be voted in as a trustee and board member of the Worcester County Horticultural Society that I had been so active in as a kid, and intimately involved in the future and master planning of their fabulous Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston, MA. In so many ways, I am now able to contribute and give back to these groups, of which were so influential to career and my passion.

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

(breath) Yes, this is the question I get asked most often.

OK, I have to learn to say 'no'.

My answer is.....I don’t  really 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).

Let's all admit it though -  finding time for anything today is something which most of us struggle with, especially if one has a family, kid or a time consuming career, but if one is passionate something, it somehow never becomes a problem - you just find time.  If you truly love doing something and if you are obsessed about it, you will find the time, or you will make changes to your life.

As for this blog, I know the writing is choppy and poor, with lots of errors and misspelling, poor grammar and blog-speak. I am not really a writer. I usually blog first thing in the morning when I wake up - write a little before I leave for work, and then grab a few photos which I may have photographed the prior weekend or evening.  I can get enough images for a weeks worth of posts with just a quick walk around the garden, which perhaps isn't ideal since I don't do any real content calendar or planning, but what I am growing is often planned, so things just naturally fall into a sequence over time. It's all immediate and real.

How did you start gardening in the first place then, did your parents force you?

I remember two things about my childhood more than anything else. First, my parents were super-hero gardeners, although not at the level I kind of moved into ( I mean, they were more practical), but I was really fortunate to be raised in a family in the 1960’s and 1970’s that spent much of their time doing somewhat fun things by today's standards of gardening - you know, all that 'picking wild mushrooms, wild blueberries and nuts- stuff' - it just gets in your blood, and you know it, or have a unique perspective on it.

What about your plants and images? Do you really grow everything?

Unless I am visiting a garden, all of my posts are of plants which I grown and photographed. This is so important to me, for  as some garden writers often write about plants that they never have actually grown themselves, in a world of Google, having someone at hand who has actually raised the plant, either successfully or not, is something unique. I know, that's whom I would want to listen to when it came to learning about a plant.

I am so inspired by 19th century gardening, that I like to recreate the experience -like this New Year's day dome with flowers that would have been found in a New England greenhouse in 1805. Amazing, right?

This idea of collecting factors in as well, since I often make it a point to grow more than one species within a genus, 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. Last year I sowed more than 250 species of Lithops for example, with the hopes of learning about each one. INSANE!

Display and design enters into the mix at some point. 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.

If you have more questions, let me know - I will be glad to answer them! Thanks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...