Interview - Matthew Wilson, managing director, Clifton Nurseries and chairman, Greenfingers

The new chairman of Greenfingers is adding that role to his responsibilities as managing director of Clifton Nurseries. Matthew Wilson is also a Radio 4 Gardeners' Question Time panellist and at earlier career stages was an RHS curator and TV's Landscape Man. Greenfingers builds gardens at children's hospices.

Matthew Wilson, managing director, Clifton Nurseries and chairman, Greenfingers - image: Clifton Nurseries
Matthew Wilson, managing director, Clifton Nurseries and chairman, Greenfingers - image: Clifton Nurseries

Q. What will you bring to Greenfingers, having taken over from Richard Jackson?

A. The most incredible thing about Greenfingers is the amount it has achieved with a very small group of people. I had my first official duty last week, opening a new garden in Stoke, and saw how amazing its work is and its impact on children and families. So it's an awareness-raising thing. My background is different from Richard's - that's part of the reason Greenfingers wanted me involved. I come from a different side of gardening and landscaping, whereas Richard is more retail. So I'm hoping I can introduce a new mix of people to Greenfingers - my contemporaries on my side of the industry.

Q. What are your plans for Greenfingers?

A. We have early plans for three gardens in 2013 and possibly a fourth. I am meeting the team to map ahead. They will be countrywide - we are totally democratic in terms of geography - at Hampton Court, at Chorley and Bishop Auckland. Hospices get in touch with Greenfingers. They are self-funding, don't receive Government money and tend not to be part of NHS Trusts.

We look at each application on a case-by-case basis. We'd love to make more of these gardens, but what prevents us is money and our size. We can currently only deliver three or four gardens a year.

Q. How much of your time does Greenfingers take up?

A. For Richard, it was almost a full-time job, but I expressed an interest on the understanding of one day a month and emails at weekends and in the evenings. I remember from my RHS days that people gave their time to charities with enthusiasm, but you must remember they have jobs too.

Q. How is business going at Clifton Nurseries?

A. Like everyone else, it's tough because of the weather. We came into that prolonged bad weather from a hosepipe ban, which undermined consumer confidence. We've made a lot of effort controlling our costs. The other positive is that we're a mixed horticulture business - we also design and build gardens and do interior landscaping, and that part of the business continues to perform pretty well. It's more incumbent on us as an industry to really push autumn. We've all had a terrible spring, but autumn is coming up - and autumn is the new spring. Christmas is also very important - we are using our online content over the next couple of months to promote gift ideas for gardeners. At Christmas, people don't buy plants apart from poinsettia and cyclamen, but it's a great opportunity around tools, books, gloves and sundries. So many people now shop using search engines, rather than wandering around the high street, so we're getting that. E-commerce is just starting up for us, but our aim is to get it to 20 per cent of sales eventually. It could even be more.

Q. What do you think are the trends for 2013?

A. Outdoor dining and lighting because in many urban areas outdoor dining space can often be the larger part of the garden, especially in a courtyard or rooftop. We can extend that even further with awnings - finding ways of using the garden even if the weather is not so clever.

Q. What broadcasting are you doing at the moment?

A. Gardeners' Question Time, but no TV. There's not a huge amount of ideas coming out for television. It's a side of life I love doing when it comes up, but it's supplementary to the day job.

Q. What gardening idea would you like to see on TV?

A. I don't think something on the fabulousness of plants has ever really been tackled. The stories behind them are so incredible. Plants are so diverse, from micro-organisms to redwoods. There's a fascinating story to be told celebrating plants' diversity. But the trouble is, a programme like that would probably need someone like David Attenborough and not little old me.

Q. Is there anything interesting coming up for Gardeners' Question Time?

A. In October, we're going to the first three locations they recorded at in 1947, starting at Ashton under Lyne. Our annual garden party is at Ness Botanic Gardens on 8 September.

Q. And what is in the pipeline for Clifton Nurseries?

A. A lot of local trade landscapers and garden designers use us and we wanted to help them, so we're introducing a Friends of Clifton trade card they can use like a Nectar card.

1992: National certificate and diploma in horticulture
1990s: Landscape sub-contracting
1999: Deputy head gardener, Hever Castle
2000-04: Curator, RHS Hyde Hall
2004-08: Curator, RHS Harlow Carr
2008-09: Head of gardens' creative development, RHS
2009: Presenter, The Landscape Man, Channel 4
2009-11: Associate director, Landscape Agency
2011: to date Managing director, Clifton Nurseries
2012: to date Chairman, Greenfingers

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