Yvonne Mathews… on garden design & winning silver at Chelsea

Yvonne Mathews… on garden design & winning silver at Chelsea

This time of the year is the most manic for gold medal winning garden designer Yvonne Mathews, but she did very kindly find time to speak to myisleofwight about her amazing gardens and her stunning home.

Dashing back to the Island after BBC Gardeners World Live, where she won a silver gilt medal, Yvonne was organising the flowers for a wedding marquee in her village of Brook before heading off to Hampton Court on Monday morning to begin building her show garden.

Enormous pots of sweet peas along with two obelisks of the same in ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ hue for the entrance to the marquee were jostling for space in Yvonne’s driveway. And it is flowers that have become synonymous with her designs.

“I’m known as the flower lady because I design with flowers. That’s what we are on the Island – country people,” explained Yvonne. “I don’t do hard landscaping. Give me a camomile lawn any day,” she laughed.

Gardeners World was for Macmillan Cancer, with the theme ‘Remember the Dream’ (the song by James Ingram) and had had sweeping drifts of roses and lavender mingling with obelisks of sweet peas and clematis with a pathway of camomile leading to a double swing seat at the centre of the garden.

“It was all bright colours and about keeping your dreams alive, there’s always someone there,” said Yvonne of the riot of colourful flowers around the mosaic-ringed wishing pool.

Mosaic work are another feature of Yvonne’s designs, with tesserae encrusted windows, mirrors and objects all over her home and garden. Originally inspired by a visit to Barcellona, Yvonne has often used the technique to enhance and complement her garden designs to great effect

A magnificent mosaic of Laskshmi, goddess of health and beauty, adorns the wall on the way out to Yvonne’s walled kitchen garden: the centerpiece from her garden ‘Incredible India’ that won a gold at Gardeners World in 2010.  A blue mosaiced Buddha has his own little summerhouse in the garden, and more mosaic work covers the walls, planters and even a male manikin who sits under the black bamboos.

A concrete seat sits outside the kitchen window awaiting the mosaic touch. “I get this spark and it grows,” said Yvonne. “I can see me building a whole garden just for that chair.”

All of her bathrooms have wonderful mosaic mirrors and the beds have ornately embroidered quilts. “I used to make wedding dresses and patchwork quilts. I love embroidery and beadwork. With quilts it’s playing with colours again,” said Yvonne.

“When we had our youngest son I decided to give all of that up. We’d bought a house in Brighstone and it had a garden and I didn’t know what to do with it. I joined the Brighstone Horticultural Society (BHS) and it went from there.”

In fact Yvonne became chair of the BHS and then entered them into the Chelsea Flower Show, thinking they didn’t have a chance of being picked. But they were and she found herself  ‘designing a garden at Chelsea by mistake’ as she puts it and winning a silver medal.

Eleven years on and Yvonne is flitting from Gardeners World to Hampton Court, winning gold and silver medals and she helps her friends and suppliers Hardy’s at Chelsea. “I want to go back to Chelsea but it’s getting a sponsor that’s the problem,” explained Yvonne.

This year it is Co Op’s Funeral Care and Ball and Colegrave Bedding Plants who have sponsored her Byronic garden at Hampton Court in the style of his poem ‘Love’s Last Adieu’, the latter to the tune of 3,000 plants. One of six special poets gardens, the design features an abandoned horse drawn funeral hearse.

“This year we’re using alchemilla, ferns, David Austin Roses, which are old English roses with an amazing smell, and sweet peas. Purples, blacks, white and green nicotiana,” said Yvonne.

“I don’t use red much in gardening because I don’t like it. I find it too brash. I like strong colours but I like my colours to blend. I want it to look peaceful at the end. Purples, pinks and blues or you can knock out the pinks and put in oranges instead.

“I go back packing somewhere every year for inspiration. I like to talk to the people and go to the places that the tourists don’t go.  I like the crafts. In Morocco the metal workers let me work with them and the plasterers and the tile makers.  I like to sit with the locals and learn their trades,” said Yvonne of her annual inspirational journeys.