Planting Creative Inspiration: An Interview with Matt Mattus

Meet Matt Mattus: influential designer and noted horticulturist.

Matt Mattus is a leader in the design industry, but he's not your garden variety creative professional. As a futurist and a senior principal designer at Hasbro, he shares his wisdom and insights about emerging trends at industry conferences. But Mattus is also famous in the world of horticulture. His influential blog, Growing With Plants, has a wide and enthusiastic audience in what he endearingly refers to as the "plant community."

He says the term hobby doesn't even begin to adequately describe his passion for horticulture. "I am such a plant geek that I fear my involvement with plants ventures deeply into the 'obsession' category," says Mattus, who has a couple acres of land and a large greenhouse full of rare and exotic plants outside his home in Worcester, Massachusetts.

mattusHis garden and greenhouse are home to myriad plants, citrus trees and bulbs from as far away as South Africa and the Middle East. He periodically goes on expeditions across the globe in search of new species to admire and collect. (At left, a Clivia plant that grew from seeds Mattus picked up in Japan a decade ago.) 

While he used to worry about the dichotomy between his love of design and plants, Mattus no longer views the two worlds as being so different. "I can design app experiences for part of my time and hike the Andes collecting rare seeds the other part of my life. They're totally disconnected, yet, at the same time, totally connected in a strange way."

A Man of Many Talents

Difficult to categorize, Mattus considers himself a mix of many things: biologist, plant collector, explorer, art director, designer, blogger, craftsman and stylist. "I'm curious about many things, but I am fascinated about the cycles and rhythms of nature," he says. "I really don't see much of a difference between how and why some humans create and design from the way nature does."

For as much as he focuses on aesthetics in his day job, Mattus says he's equally interested in the physiology of plants as their appearance. "I sort of hate it when people ask me how my 'flowers are doing,'" he says, joking. "Sure, I love flowers, but I consider them a benefit of proper cultivation and more of a reward for caring for a species rather than mere decoration. Don't get me wrong, as a designer and a visual leader, I more than appreciate the beauty of plants, but I look deeper at my collections than the average person might look at their garden."

A Creative at Heart

Design does play a role in his horticultural pursuits and he believes that it's benefitted his career. "Aesthetics factor into everything I do," he says, noting the painstaking care he put into building his glass greenhouse. He also pots his plants so that the scale and color feel appropriate for the species. He even arranges his collections in orderly rows of grids to best show off the specific characteristics of each genus.

"I like to think of my greenhouse as being part science museum, part art gallery, part laboratory and part studio," Mattus says. "What appeals to me is the subtle differences between the species – the speckles or the stripes on the foliage. I examine and study the nuances and differences, as well as the similarities. It all helps me when I design at work."

What's your passion project? How does it fuel your creativity or help you in your career?

Related post: Harvesting Creative Inspiration: On the Farm With Graphic Designer Keith Neltner

Images courtesy of Matt Mattus.