Rituals: Matthew Wright

On a fresh February afternoon, we met gardening extraordinaire, Matthew Wright, on his canal boat. Though he has no fixed address, the custom-design boat he shares with his girlfriend can often be found docked on the Victoria Park segment of Regent’s Canal, in east London.

Studying fine art at Glasgow School of Art may well have laid the foundations of Matthew’s artistic approach, which is acutely evident in his work. Though he works to the brief, Matt’s work typically retains a sprawling, overgrown nature, and his unruly style has cultivated something of a cult following. Between landscaping jobs, Matthew and his girlfriend are in the process of perfecting designs for Wright and Doyle, their eponymous gardening accessories brand.

Matthew’s ritual occurs daily, when he unties his canal boat from the dock to refill the tank with water or occasionally, to sail. 

Tell us about the art of tying the knot for the boat - what type of knot is it?

The boat is tied up to a mooring ring or pin when there is just a grass verge beside the towpath. I wouldn't say I've mastered the art of tying the knot but I usually use 'round turn and two half hitches'. It’s an essential knot for a boater because it’s quick and easy to release.

What do you do once the boat is untied?

Once on the move, it's a good time to relax. You can never get anywhere at speed so it's a great excuse to accept a more leisurely pace of life.

What’s the furthest you’ve sailed in one go?

In one given time the furthest the boat has travelled is from Watford to Hackney, which took about 12 hours in total.

Where are you headed today?

Today I'll be taking the boat to the nearest water point so I can fill the tank with water.

How long do you dock in the same spot for?

For continuous cruisers you usually get to stay in the same spot for a maximum of 14 days.

Your boat is uncharacteristically wide. Can you tell us about the design?

The boat was built to our own specification and design. We wanted to create a space that was open and light, avoiding too many compartments and narrow corridors.

The very nature of growth means, when you complete a garden project, your work continues to evolve over time. How do you feel when you return to a past project?

I love to return to past projects, it probably gives me the most satisfaction. Gardens will naturally evolve in a way that is not so controlled. I feel incredibly connected to gardens I've designed. It's often very difficult to walk away.

What plants do you tend to use again and again?

There are a few plants I tend to repeat use, usually for their structure and architectural habit. This can change however, through seasons. Last year I'd say that 'Tetrapanax' Rex featured in a few of my most recently designed gardens.

How integral are plants to your living space?

Plants are an essential part of making a home a home, they live and breathe in the spaces we create for them. Nurturing them, I feel like you get back so much in return. 

Your interior space is eclectic but essential. How rigorous are you when it comes to furnishing your home?

I've always been quite design conscious, I'd like to think function and form can be matched so that there is a balance. Living in a small space means you have no choice but to be rigorous with home furnishings. Most things placed on the boat are a response to things in the bigger outside world, but definitely considered.

What’s important for you to understand about a client when you are creating a garden for them?

It is very important for me to build on our personal relationship first. Finding out how they will utilise this space is also necessary. If they have kids, like to socialise lots, like to get their hands dirty etc etc. Gardens are an extension of someone's home so I also like to reflect on the aesthetic of an interior or the overall architecture of the house.

What are your thoughts on the recent shift towards plants and gardens as a cultural trend - do you have any favourite magazines or websites?

I completely embrace the recent shift towards plants and gardens as a cultural trend. It is something that seemed to almost be left behind from Victorian times. I'm delighted that people are also looking at it from a more cultural and contemporary stance, through journals like 'The Plant' and 'Strange Plants'. These connections are great and for me, as a gardener, it’s very exciting times. I'm hoping through websites likes Wright & Doyle this recent trend will continue.

What is a rainy day on the boat like?

Funnily enough rainy days can be the best. It's an opportunity to cosy up, make good use of the wood burner, eat some hearty food and share a glass or two with friends.