Some answers to questions people always seem to ask
Such as ....'Why? Why do you grow all of this junk?)

 OK, so who are you?

My name is Matt Mattus, and I live and garden in central Massachusetts, on a couple of acres in a very average neighborhood, about an hour west of Boston, smack in the middle of the state (and the snow belt). I guess the weird thing is that I am one of those gardeners who has been gardening for an entire life, and I was raised in a family who had both large vegetable gardens, as well as most everything else one can grow. So little is new to me, so I guess you can say that I am en experienced gardener, in that I mastered many plants early in life, and then moved on to get a botany degree ( and  fine arts degree, which is what I do for a living), and then on to build my dream greenhouse, to collect plants from all over the world, and basically, to master growing most everything perfectly, especially plants that I have not grown before.

This is what I write about - new plants, interesting plants, rare plants, difficult to grow plants, and then I share these adventures with you. This includes intense projects - studies, if you will, where I try each year to intensely immerse myself in a particular genus or species, one year it may be poppies, where I will grow as many species and hybrids as I can, until I master them, from seed to fruit, and then I document it on this site.

I consider myself different than most of my peers, as I am a little more geeky and intense, yet, I think what makes me unique is that I am also a designer, so even though I may dive in deep on a subject such as English Spencer Sweet Peas, growing every variety on cordons, I also like the aesthetic aspect of garden work - sourcing out the best place to buy bamboo poles, the nicest, most beautiful labels, amazing  hand thrown pots and copper watering cans. I guess, in many ways, I fulfill many roles - scientist, biologist, plant collector, explorer, designer, craftsman, stylist, art director, graphic artist and photographer. I hope you enjoy my work, and please, share any ideas or comments with me!

So - about this house and garden - the land that has been in my family for over 100 years, and my grandfather had the house built in 1910, so my house so every plant, tree, rock and structure has a history. It’s the sort of garden where when I dig for potatoes, I sometimes find a Mr. Potato Head body circa 1955 from my oldest brother, or a marble from the 1920’s which might have been lost by dad when he was a kid in 1918.  A weird but nice part about living in a place with such a soul, is that I can tell you who planted every tree, every shrub and placed every stone - and when, which is weird since most are over 90 years old. Everything has a story, which is both charming, and challenging. See my page ABOUT THE GARDEN for more.

We try to grow everything organically, ( in the greenhouse, I sometimes need to use something stronger for scale or for disinfecting, but this is just good, horticultural practice, all care is used). Outside, I am still using huge compost piles that have been there for 70 years ( we have a lot of trees, as you can see), plus plenty of manure which we add into the mix every year. Even though we grow our veggies organically, don't confuse me with an anti- Monsanto nut.  Really now - I try to keep a sensible head about such things and have strong thoughts either way on such subjects, generally, I avoid these sort of subjects on my blog, as I try to keep my blog out of the political, but there is one thing I really get upset about, and that is the use of growth regulators on plants -annual, vegetable transplants and potted plants, trees and shrubs, even on lawns such as gold courses. I encourage everyone to grow their own vegetables, especially with their children and to never use growth regulators. 

Belgian Endive and Parsnips being planted in March

The greenhouse and the gold and blue perennial border ( yeah, and a little red!).
Here are some anwers to questions I get often:

Where do you grow all of your plants?

I know that I am very lucky to have a glass greenhouse, which that I had built about ten years ago. I didn't want a plastic hoop house or a twinwall economical greenhouse because, well, I like good architecture and design, so whenever I can, I try to find the more attractive solution- which is not always the most practical. Then again, no one has ever accused me of being practical - one of my many fatal faults, as one of my best (sadly, former) best friends pointed once once. I wanted a greenhouse not unlike a turn-of-the-century glass house, not unlike the 1890 model at Logee’s greenhouses in Danielson Ct. Mine is not a long as theirs, but it is not small, either at 33 feet long and 30 feet wide, and 16 feet tall. I had it built over my part of our old vegetable garden, which obviously, had been a cultivated vegetable garden for about 9o years, just so that I could plant trees like Acacia’s and Camellias in the rich soil. I heat it with propane and solar, and positioned it by looking in the yard on the winter solstice, to see where the sunniest part was on the shortest day of the year.

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

It's not cheep to heat, and every year I start to say things 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 - 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.

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 - far to many things. I have many citrus trees, olives, tropical plants, cacti, succulents, and alpine planats, but mostly I grow rare bulbs, the winter-blooming sort from South Africa, South America and the Middle East seem to dominate, 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 awesome.

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

Outdoors, in 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.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Most Popular Posts