Matthew Oliver: taking grow-your-own to a new level at RHS Hyde Hall
Researching and growing interesting edible plants from around the world is at the heart of Matthew’s role as head of RHS Hyde Hall’s Global Growth Vegetable Garden. We find out what inspires. Portrait Andrew Montgomery
First plant love Probably antirrhinums. Our garden was full of bedding plants grown from seed and I remember picking the flowers off and squeezing the sides together to see why they got their snapdragon common name. Foxgloves featured heavily too and I was fascinated to watch bees disappear into the flowers.
Who has inspired your career? I would say my grandparents, who lived round the block from where I grew up. Their garden was always a complete jungle so it doubled up as both a playground and somewhere you could cut your teeth as gardener and make mistakes without consequence. They were the ones who had no qualms about telling me I should go for horticulture as a career. They saw it as a proper, skilled trade and a ‘real’ reason to go to college/university.
I’d really like to have a crack at growing pineapples in hot beds.
Most valuable training My year as a student at Hyde Hall. I did it as a practical year during my degree at Writtle University College. Working alongside other professional gardeners in a setting where the consequences really mattered was eye opening.
Dream plant destination To go back in time to a working Victorian- or Edwardian-era walled garden to see if the horticultural standards really were as good as the history books say. I’d really like to have a crack at growing pineapples in hot beds.
Favourite planting style Formal. Straight lines. Neat and tidy. Gardening for me is about the process, so I just run with the fact that anything I do is controlling and manipulating what nature intends and tend not to be shy about it.
Biggest challenge facing gardeners Climate change. I can handle hot summers and find plants to grow in it, but having winters devoid of frost days is a truly frightening prospect for a fruit and veg gardener. Frost helps knock back garden pests and some fruit crops need vernalisation [period of cold] for their buds to ensure a good crop the following year.
Favourite gardening podcasts Through lockdown I was invited to be on a couple of podcasts, which got me listening to them on a more regular basis. This Week in the Garden with Peter Seabrook is very listenable. He uses all of his many contacts and experience to get a wide range of knowledgeable guests.
Contact email@example.com. Find out more about the Global Growth Vegetable Garden at rhs.org.uk/hyde-hall
Sorrel Everton is deputy editor of Gardens Illustrated.