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In the garden with: Torsten Matschiess (author and garden planner)

Torsten Matschiess – Photo:

Torsten Matschiess and his partner live in Brüggen on the Lower Rhine, Germany, since 2004, where over the years the two have gradually transformed 8,200 square meters of land into a very special place, which has become a meeting point for the garden scene in the meantime: the garden Alst.

Matschiess used to be a partner in an Internet agency in Düsseldorf. Today the self-educator in garden issues designs plantings, plans gardens, holds lectures and writes books. His latest work “AvantGardening. Plädoyer für gegenwärtiges Gärtnern“ (“A plea for contemporary gardening”) – which he also presented at this year’s spoga+gafa – won second place in the category “Best Garden and Plant Portrait” of the Deutsche Gartenbuchpreis (German garden book prize).

Garden Alst on the Lower Rhine – Photo:

Mr Matschiess, busloads of garden visitors make a pilgrimage to you on the Lower Rhine, your talks are always highly frequented and the book “AvantGardening” has received much praise. What is special, what is contemporary about your type of gardening?

Matschiess: With the book “AvantGardening” I am specifically addressing gardening beginners. My question was: What would I like to have known when I started gardening? There are many viewpoints at “the” garden. Some have solidified, are almost like blinders, while others seem to have been forgotten. Some people would hardly recognize our private garden as such a garden. Our garden was once a cornfield, surrounded by fields, wind turbines, a fruit orchard and a few houses with solar panels on the roof. When two people want to have it cozy on 8,200 square meters, optimal planting and care concepts are required. A certain casualness with regard to ashweed, common horsetail and – what I personally struggle with the most – also to bindweed.

Today we hear of apprentices in gardening and landscaping who justify their lack of plant knowledge with the customers’ need and aren’t even ashamed of themselves. They just want to drive the Bobcat and lay paving stones and gravel, both horizontally and vertically as a privacy shield! Do we want to wait until they all have retired? In case of doubt I even dispense with all of these trades and design a garden nearly exclusively with plants, almost like a florist. By the way, most gravel garden owners will admit that they prefer a planted front garden. They are just afraid they won’t be able to manage the work anymore.

Garden Alst on the Lower Rhine – Photo:

You plead for a garden design as free from conventions and fashions as possible, recommend taking a few years to create a garden, and are against compulsive cleaning up outdoors, and decorations as well as art in the garden are not really your thing also. To what extent do you have to compromise when planning plantings or gardens for your customers?

Matschiess: I don’t have to enter into any compromises. If I discover that the customers’ needs lie outside of my area of expertise, for example, if I can’t imagine these within a harmonious overall concept, I recommend colleagues who do have this expertise. I tend to see a garden over the long term. For this reason, I find it completely okay to incorporate short-lived plants, and then to think about where the long-lived perennials or trees and shrubs should be placed. That’s also how nature works. In this case I don’t plead for a particular style. That would be a) boring and would b) show absolutely no respect toward my customers. They have style and taste themselves. I simply help them express their own style with living and continually developing plants. During that process I also raise awareness of how complicated the care and maintenance of “their style” is. Those who like to spend a lot of time working in the garden may like it a little more “English”, and might be prepared to plant and dig out dahlias every year. Some just want to look after a field of flowers with a mower, while others love wild gardens, even when they just look like wild. This is, by the way, were I see the highest garden art: having a garden look so natural and self-explanatory that people can’t see the planning and the care. I have no problem with art in the garden, as long as the art of the garden itself and of gardening is also honored. Because these people deserve the respect and the protection of society.

Garden Alst on the Lower Rhine – Photo:

How do you spend your free time in the garden? Are you always planning, planting and gardening, or do you also sunbathe and turn on the grill at the end of the day?

Matschiess: Here I would like to answer with a quote from John Schoolmesters, the head gardener at Kasteel Geldrop, a wonderful park near Eindhoven, who answered each question about work and its intensity with a relaxed and very credible smile: “That’s not work!” – I myself find grilling or sunbathing to be much more strenuous. When I want to relax, I walk through the garden and pluck some stinging nettle here and there. I listen to a good podcast or the chirruping of birds.

Garden Alst on the Lower Rhine – Photo:

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