The Questions: Martyn Wilson - Garden Designer The RSPCA Garden RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023

Here we are very much now on the run-up to the 2023 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  Regular readers will know I am immensely fond of this show and see it as one of the great gardening highlights of the year.  This year Martyn Wilson, of Wilson Associates Garden Design, is designing a garden for the RSPCA which will be 200 years old next year.  Well I was not going to let the opportunity pass me by so I asked if Martyn would like to answer 'The Questions' and he very kindly said yes.

image by Emma Jacobs

But first more about the garden.  The garden is designed to be a sanctuary for people and animals.  It is a calm safe space, where things are considered such as the alarming amount of animals that are trapped and injured by litter every year.  The garden features a water feature that uses recycled litter to represent the work undertaken by the four specialist wildlife centres the RSPCA run.  Other elements in the garden create habitats for animals and birds, such as nesting boxes and hedging.
image c/s RHS

Once the show is over the garden will move to the RSPCA's Stapely Grange Wildlife Centre in Nantwich in time to be opened next year as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations.  I do wish the garden well at the show and I really looking forward to see it when it is completed.

The Questions


In which garden do you feel happiest? 

Piet Oudolfs garden which I visited a couple of years ago. It had been a real ambition to see it in person. I love Dutch design, the symmetry and neatness. His style fits with that aesthetic but obviously has its own unique approach. 






If you could only have five garden-related tools, which would they be? 

My Nikwai shears and secateurs, electric mower and blower, and edging shears as I like a nice neat edge. Might be the ex-military man in me! 








If you could only have five garden-related books, which would they be? 







Matt James How to Plant a Garden; 

Garden Design - A Book of Ideas with photography by Marianne Majerus – really handy when you go to see clients; 

RHS Design Outdoors by Matthew Keightley; Adam Frost - Real Gardens; 

and any of Piet Oudolf’s books 



What was the most defining moment in your life so far? 








From a career perspective, it would be winning my first gold at RHS Hampton Court. Having built several gardens at RHS Malvern, to then go to Hampton for the first time with a conceptual garden (Brownfield – Metamorphosis), and win a gold was just brilliant. 


What are you most proud of? 








The RAF Garden I designed for Malvern showground which was awarded a gold medal. I used to serve in the RAF, as did other members of my family, so this was obviously a very proud moment for me. It’s also a permanent garden and people continue to visit it. It has a great footfall. 


If you won the lottery, what would you do? 






The philanthropist in me would donate to a number of wildlife and animal rescue charities. I’d probably want to buy a large amount of land and return it to nature. I’d also like to pay off a few hospitals PFIs so they could get back onto an even keel. And set up a scheme to encourage more veterans into the horticulture industry 


Who are your garden heroes (no more than three)? 




Piet Oudolf; Andy Sturgeon – I like his design work, and his show gardens at Chelsea are always amazing, and his manner always seems really calm and welcoming; and Adam Frost, who is so down to earth 


What skill would you like to learn and why? (does not have to be garden related). 

I’d like to learn some artisanal skills like hedge laying. Or to plaster, theres a real skill in it, that is under appreciated. Or perhaps drystone walling. 


If you could visit any garden right this minute, which one would it be? 

Melbourne Botanical Gardens, I’d like to go back there, a really lovely setting, innovative ideas about water management and an incredibly relaxing space 


What is your current plant obsession? 




Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Fat Domino’ – gives you a lot for not a lot! Fills a space and has a good long season, is really great for pollinators, good for damp conditions, tolerates heavy clay, has good sized foliage, and suits exotic, prairie and even woodland gardens 


Which garden tool is never far from your hand? 




My Niwaki secateurs – they sit by the back door and if go out into my garden I’ll always deadhead a few things with them. 


What is your favourite gardening/plant related word? 


Propagating – it’s the meaning of new life, the start of a new season 


What do you wish you could do better? 


Manage my time! Always too busy 


What is the most important lesson you have learned so far? 






Treat people as you would expect to be treated yourself. It’s really important to look after your team.  


What makes a perfect day for you? 




A day off! Decent coffee, brunch with Mrs Wilson, take the dog for a walk, or a visit to the Welsh coast. 


If you had one piece of advice to offer to someone what would it be? 





Seize the chances in life – I wouldn’t be going to Chelsea it I didn’t seize the opportunity. It’s extremely hard work, but always go for it! 


Gnome or no gnome? 

When I left my last corporate role, as a leaving present my colleagues bought me a brand new pair of secateurs and as a joke they bought me a gnome too. He’s come with us to our new house, so definitely gnome! You must have a good sense of humour.  

A huge thank you to Martyn for taking part in answering The Questions.

Take care and be kind

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  1. Would love to see the gnome they chose for him. Some are real characters!

  2. I’m looking forward to seeing his garden on the bbc coverage!


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