Designer Matt James, Easy on the Eyes


My research reveals more reasons to cast your vote for Matt:

  • His “heroes” start with the gods Paul McCartney and Jimmy Hendrix and continue in the garden design world with Piet Oudolf, Alan Titchmarsh, and Noel Kingsbury.  (He left me in the dark after Oudolf, so I’ll be looking for those other guys.)  And among his recently bought CDs are some by Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes.  VERY COOL.
  • Though his resume says horticulturist and garden designer, his “greatest passion” is trees and he proselytizes for urban forestry.
  • Asked what he’d do if he weren’t a gardener, he says bricklayer or carpenter, something “get-dirty-hands creative.”  I told you he gets it.
  • The teacher of a garden design class I took recently recommended watching “City Gardener” because Matt actually explains what he’s doing, teaching and inspiring along the way.  Sadly, no other shows merited a recommendation.
  • As I said when I first wrote about him, his designs are exciting works of modern art.   

See, HGTV, we love you when you’re good.  Please, more smart programming like “City Gardener.” All my HGTV rants could be raves like this one.

My rave for “City Gardener” was SO sincere, which means I was a little disappointed by Matt’s new made-in-America show that debuted just this month – “Urban Outsiders.”  Here are some observations after seeing its first two episodes.  He’s still cute as ever, but:

  • In both of these episodes Matt was forced to design for homeowners in the L.A. area.  Sure, fly a guy over from London to select plants for the desert, exactly what I’d do. 
  • Now dumbed down for the American audience, “Urban Outsiders” uses so much repetition you think you’re watching Sesame Street.  Every single time they come back from commercial we’re told the same introductory info about the homeowners, their space, their feelings about their space, and so on.  And it was boring the first time.
  • Though his talents as a modern designer are still evident, I spotted a clear design mistake – a cute table-and-chair set perched precariously on field stones with gravel in between.  Decidedly nonfunctional.  Matt, are you losing your game because the suits at HGTV are pushing you around?  Say it ain’t so. 
  • On the bright side, he still uses really cute British phrases like “I’m really chuffed about their garden” – huh? – and “These plants should look the business.”  And naturally everything’s “brilliant”.

Readers with basic cable, what say you?  And if you have a barren city lot in LA, SF or NY and $10,000, you could still be chosen to appear on the show.  Check it out. Why those cities?  Go figure.


  1. I’ve always liked Matt James in City Gardener, so I am sad to hear that Urban Gardener got “dumbed down”. I had’t watched it yet; I think I’ll pass, though it might be worth viewing just to see and hear Matt.

  2. Aside from the repetition of the intro information about the homeowners, which is a bit grating, I’d say the show is very good and heading in the right direction. I think it’s fine that it started in L.A.–too many gardening shows have been east coast-centered for too long. At any rate, his design ideas can be implemented in almost any zone with different plant choices. I hope that the show expands beyond the L.A., S.F. and N.Y. territory it’s says it will cover and if I had the $10K budget I’d love to have him design my yard.

  3. “Every single time they come back from commercial we’re told the same introductory info about the homeowners, their space, their feelings about their space, and so on. ”

    All HGTV shows do this. I don’t know if it’s for the attention-span-of-a-gnat crowd, or if the shows really have nothing to say in the 48 minutes that commercials aren’t filling.

    { … not to nitpick your post, Susan, but do you mean Paul McCartney? … I’ve never heard of Paul McCarthy … }

  4. Alan Titchmarsh is an important UK gardening figures with many TV shows under his belts. Prince Charles even invited him as a featured gardener for one of his large Horticulture events. I am surprised to hear that you never heard of Alan Titchmarsh. Note: I am a Web and event designer, not a gardener.

    I do not agree with your assessment about the second Urban Outsiders episode (LAX house). In Europe, it is fairly common to rest dining tables on a gravel floor. Your table can be stable and there is nothing wrong with sitting or walking on gravels, if it is done right.

  5. Hi,
    my name is Kostas and i live in Greece.I like his job too and i want to know Matt’s education and the college he went.I want to do exactly the same job but i dont know where to study.In greece we don’t have something like that.Please if someone knows something just send me an email.

  6. Happy to see that there are others who understand the difference between a garden show that doesn’t ‘dumb it down for the viewers’ and the other dretch that’s passed off as ‘educational’! As for “easy on the eyes”, you might check out Jamie Drurie, new host of Victory Garden on PBS.
    Also, anyone else notice that on every episode of Urban Outsiders Matt’s butt-crack is featured prominently? Not that that’s a bad thing!!!

  7. Lol! I’m in the process of a complete “garden overhaul”, for the first time I have the full creative control over an outside space… needless to say I’m becoming slightly obsessed… So here I am watching “City Gardener”, Googling “Matt James” and you guy pop up! What a brilliant (sorry, I’m British) post and the blog is the business! 🙂


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