Meet: Matt Cantwell

Today, we introduce Matt Cantwell, new contributor on the TOC block and most importantly, ‘Head Honcho’ at the phenomenal Secret Gardens. There is enormous probability you have previously seen images of his work printed in the most esteemed of publications and of course, floating around social media.

Funnily enough, each time I visit the grand town of Sydney, I ALWAYS seem to see one of their vehicles on the road, hustling their way through the inner city traffic, unknowingly reinforcing their brand and presence as they go about their daily business. Secret Gardens IS a brand within the landscaping industry which is backed by 21 years of experience. And the results they achieve are simply a testament to this.

It is with great pleasure I introduce to you… Mr Matt Cantwell.

Who is Matt Cantwell

First and foremost I am the father of three kids,  9 yr old twins, (boy/girl) and a 10 yr old boy.  Oh yeah, there is a wife in there too, Rochelle is our General Manager as well.  By day, I am the Managing Director of Secret Gardens.  We are 21 years old now (Secret Gardens that is); business is thriving and what I love most is that I enjoy a great life/work balance.

How did it all begin

My dad was a builder so I have been working on residential sites since I was 7. I left school, with no idea of what to do and stumbled into landscaping by chance. I worked for a few landscaping companies whilst gaining my qualifications and gained some great experience on a broad scale of residential landscape projects.  Not long after graduating I knew that I wanted to pursue garden design and complement my many years of construction knowledge.

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Why garden design

I have always been passionate about plants and it is still the element of a garden design that excites me the most.  I love designing something that is going to grow; something that you can then manipulate over the years.  When I am gone, the gardens I have designed will one by one be torn down to make way for new ones eventually.  But hopefully there will be countless grand old trees up and down the east coast that I was responsible for.  That will be my legacy.


Describe your design aesthetic

It’s all about the client.  The plot of land, the style of architecture and of course the client vary dramatically.  I would not be interested in taking the same look from one job to the next and try to squeeze a particular look in to every shape.  It works for some but it wouldn’t maintain my interest.  I have designed many gardens and I have enjoyed them all. Many are not what I would choose personally, but it’s not about me. Eclectic best describes it. If you look at our portfolio of work we are really proud that it is so varied.

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What do you enjoy most about your work

Relationships.  I enjoy meeting new clients and solving their challenges.  As I have matured I am much more relaxed and confident, so it is easy to enjoy.  And I love working with my team.  Every day in our office is fun, I never not want to go to work.  We also have fantastic suppliers and sub-contractors who are passionate about what they can offer us. Of course, business throws up challenges from time to time, but mostly it doesn’t feel like work.

Greatest professional achievement

Probably winning the Allan Correy Award for my own garden.  I was very hesitant in entering this garden.  I was very passionate about this job and my family gets so much enjoyment out of it.  I’m not sure I could have coped if it wasn’t up to the task of taking out the top AILDM award last year.

Who inspires you

My wife Rochelle.  She has such a positive attitude.  She never stops looking ahead and we work well together to break new ground in the industry.  Most importantly she also has an even stronger focus on a good balance and has made me see the importance of being as involved with my kids as I am.

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Greatest piece of advice anyone has ever given you

My dad was a builder, he never said much, but three things still stick in my mind.

If it smells bad, it probably is.
If there is a call you don’t want to make, make it.
And never go into a partnership.


Philosophy in life

You only live once……that is a handy line when pitching to clients.

What’s next

We relocated to a new headquarters this year.  The next 18 months to 2 years will be spent continuing to fit out the 1200 square metres of space.  Then we will go to work on utilising it and that I can’t share with you just yet.