Today, we are joined by Matthew Wilson, an award-winning garden and landscape designer, writer, radio and television broadcaster and lecturer. He has extensive garden design experience having worked on a wealth of projects – from small urban gardens to master planning estates – and can offer a full range of horticulture design and consultancy services to suit his audiences needs.
Tell us about how you came into a Landscape Architecture career
By accident! Well almost by accident. I started my career in horticulture working in public gardens, which culminated in ten years in senior positions for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). I ended up taking on a lot of design responsibility in my RHS roles, including some now highly regarded features such as the Dry Garden and Clover Hill at Hyde Hall in Essex, and the Winter Walk and Main Borders at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire. It resulted in me moving into a creative development role with the RHS, and from there as Design Director for York based Landscape Architects The Landscape Agency, and then eventually to setting up my own practice, MWG, based here in rural Rutland.
You're a multi-hypenate extraordinaire! Is there one area of your work you favour over another?
Garden and landscape design is very much the ‘day job’, and I am immensely fortunate to love what I do. But I have always embraced opportunities that have come along, so over the years I’ve presented a TV series for Channel 4 (The Landscape Man in 2010), written three books on gardens and landscapes, contributed to The Financial Times gardening pages and, since 2010 I have been a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. I’m a living example of variety being the spice of life I guess, and I enjoy the variation greatly. But there is nothing quite like designing a garden or landscape from nothing and seeing it come to fruition, and being able to share the thrill of that journey with the client.
How does SketchUp fit into your creative process?
Like a lot of designers I have tried different software solutions over the years. I trained in the days when AutoCad was in its infancy, and standing at a drawing board was still a skill worth learning. I love drawing, and I still use it to help me get ideas of the ground, and to be honest I have always found DWG based software a bit of a sterile environment for developing ideas – brilliant for fine detail of course, but not a creative boat floater. I first came across SketchUp 12 years ago, and immediately felt at home with it. It allowed me to express my ideas in a way that felt more akin to pencil and paper. I taught myself how to use it (note to potential users, this is a great testament tot he usability of SketchUp but is NOT the way to get the most out of it) but in the last few years have undertaken regular training through one of the professional bodies I’m a member of, The Society of Garden Designers.
I now build models ‘properly’, and as a consequence SketchUp has become even more integral to how I work as I know that the effort I put in to making the model as accurate as possible is rewarded by the amount of information I can then extract from it, such as volumes of cut and fill for example. Increasingly I find contractors welcome 3D visualisations, especially when tying to express something where the construction has multiple layers. And of course clients respond with far more enthusiasm to three dimensional expression than a flat plan.
Any 'go-to' plug-ins or rendering software you like to use with SketchUp?
My most used extensions are TIG.PointUp, which is a really helpful tool when terrain modelling, 1001 bit tools, which has a lot of stuff on it including real time savers such as a step building feature, various array tools and a hipped roof builder, and Weld, which stiches lines together into a whole making it much easier to then offset or use the push/pull tool.
For quick rendering while I’m still in the model I use Twilight Render, which is a simple but very useable free rendering software. For client presentations I use Lumion 11 and Twinmotion. I have refined my approach to developing my SketchUp model to work with rendering software over the years, as there are some features in SketchUp, particularly items in the 3D warehouse like furniture and some of the 3D plant models, that are better than those in Lumion, for example. In general however I tend to export a ‘clean’ SketchUp model into the rendering software and then add plants and ephemera. My preference is to use live sync where I can.
What are your favourite kind of projects to work on?
I’m fortunate enough to have a wide range of highly variable projects on the go at any one time, from historic properties requiring a light touch intervention to blank canvass sites, to corporate headquarter and luxury hotels. The one thing that elevates projects to ‘favourite’ status is when the clients are really engaged in the process. It makes it an even more enjoyable journey.
What do you think are the most exciting garden design trends coming into view at the moment?
Our collective enforced ‘captivity’ has resulted in a lot of people rethinking how they live. A common thread among new projects is the inclusion of elements that are aimed at making the outdoor space more fun to use, and more integral to the overall living experience. So hot tubs, natural swimming ponds and pools, a lot of emphasis on outdoor dining, gathering around a fire pit on chilly evenings, and growing edible plants, even if its only on quite a small scale. Being unable to holiday abroad for more than 12 months has made us all miss these ‘luxury’ elements of the holiday experience, so if you can have them at home, why not?