Q&A with Matthew Pottage, Wisley Curator

Tell us about journey into horticulture?

I developed a love of gardening from my grandma, who had a passion for houseplants and gardening, and I was never happier than when I was in the garden.  Once I started avidly started collecting plants it seemed obvious to develop a career in gardening and I studied horticulture at Bishop Burton College near York, before becoming a student at RHS Wisley.  Fast forward ten years, and I’d got the RHS Master of Hort. under my belt, and had been appointed Curator of Wisley, the youngest to hold a Curator position in the RHS’ history.

How did you find the RHS Master of Horticulture? 

It was fascinating in that it opened your eyes to areas that I hadn’t much awareness of (for example I remember studying how mycorrhizal fungi associations in turf helped drought tolerance) but the volume of work, and depth of study needed to complete various papers and assessments was challenging to do alongside my job and at times I felt like giving up! 

What do you personally enjoy most about your role?

I have a team of over 100 at Wisley, and 150 volunteers on top of that, and the answer is always people – finding the right people, and when you have them, giving them space, trust and the tools (literally and metaphorically!) to do the job.  Seeing people flourish, develop and deliver exciting horticulture is one of the best parts of my job.  Wisley is over 200 acres and without great people, nothing is possible.

Are there any areas of the garden you’re particularly pleased with? 

One of the earlier projects I kicked off as Curator was creating the Exotic Garden. Wisley experiences good summer heat, and it felt like a ‘must’ to have such a garden, and it's quickly become a firm visitor favourite.  We’ve also mixed in hardy palms and exotic looking conifers, and the result is very good fun! 

What is looking best right now?

We are now in autumn colour, and as Wisley is on acid soil, colour from nyssa, acer and liquidambar is always a seasonal highlight.  May is my favourite time of year when the garden is literally erupting with vibrant, fresh colour - unless we have a late frost, then it quickly becomes the most upsetting time of year!

Tell us about all the recent new additions to Wisley. 

Wisley has undergone more change in the last decade than in its whole history – visitor numbers had risen well over one million per year, the science and education facilities were creaking and several parts of the garden were looking very jaded.  Regular visitors will know a lot has happened with lots of areas re-imagined.  We have been collaborating with designers for this – external eyes always see things differently, and my team and I are not trained landscape architects so we do rely on their technical skills to transform areas, especially large areas which can be refreshing and fun.

Tell us about your own personal garden. 

I have a tiny rented garden in West London, which was an inspiration for my book ‘How to Garden When you Rent’.  So many people rent small apartments, flats or have just a balcony and waiting till you own a garden can be a long wait, sometimes never possible.  But as gardening is so great for you, physically and mentally, I wanted to share ideas how people can get started!