Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, TW10 7AG
Glamorous and garden. Not words that normally go together. But Petersham Nurseries, a place “garden centre” does nothing to describe, exploits this beautiful paradox. Picture, if you will, an English country garden, but one behind the home of, say, the Rolling Stones’ best mates. On the eve of a decadent party thrown in their honour. Which Vogue will be photographing. And where the Monsieurs Michelin will be dining. That should give you some idea. And it’s not too far from the truth.* Here’s the full, four-seasons story on this shop, restaurant and cafe.
Petersham Nurseries has actually been around for 40 years, but only since an enterprising young couple moved in next door has it become the haven it is today. Gael and Francesco Boglioni – a beautiful, bohemian Aussie ex-model and an Italian free spirit turned businessman – bought the ailing nurseries simply to prevent any developer from buying up the land at the foot of their ‘Queen Anne’ mansion. But they saw its potential. A complete transformation took place. Out went acres of concrete and asphalt flooring and in came hoggin: natural, sustainable, peaty stuff that is lovely underfoot. Glass greenhouses were tastefully repainted. Old wooden carts, boxes and baskets became plant displays and huge aged terracotta pots became homes for large shrubs and trees. Garden experts who shared Gael and Francesco’s ethos were assembled. The shop, previously selling only practical stuff like lawn seed and fertilizer, became a place to find luxurious and quirky homewares, stylish but well-made outerwear, a high-quality selection of bulbs and seeds and carefully-chosen, finely-crafted garden essentials.
Francesco’s Ferrari was ousted from its garage to make way for a cosy cafe/tearoom which, to begin with, served about 4 people a day. The couple eventually convinced gorgeous, flame-haired Skye Gyngell, private chef (to…er, Madonna, at one point) that this tiny garage should become her kitchen. Mismatched tables and chairs were artfully placed in the open air and inside the adjacent greenhouse, dangling bougainvilleas and palm trees installed overhead and the whole place adorned with antiques and a breathtaking quantity of fresh cut flowers. Skye grew vegetables and herbs in the Boglioni’s back garden to use in her simple, seasonal cooking and quietly set about the creation of one of London’s top restaurants.
Because Petersham is located within a closely protected conservation area, the restaurant does two seatings at lunchtime only, typically from Wednesday to Sunday. Skye’s menu is largely produce-led; meaning she lets what is available seasonally dictate what she cooks. Ingredients are not necessarily organic, but Skye is known to be fastidious about selecting the very best quality. Produce is sourced locally whenever possible. Winter is all about comfort eating: in December, the choice of five starters and five mains included things like potato and porcini ravioli with slow cooked chard; pumpkin curry with cauliflower, cima di rapa (a green leafy Southern Italian vegetable) & roseval potatoes (the red-skined kind, with flavourful yellow flesh); and if that didn’t quite fill you up, chocolate mousse with ginger caramel to finish. As summer approaches, the menu will be full of lighter, sun-drenched foods: salads garnished with edible flowers, summer fruits & berries… Here’s a sample from last summer: shaved asparagus with tipico (a rare Italian cheese produced by one of Skye’s sous-chefs) and mint & caper dressing; bouillabase (Provençale fish stew) with rouille and rocket flower salad; and a dessert of fresh strawberries and raspberries with a rose geranium scented cream. Wines are suggested specifically to suit the menu, and a favourite no one can resist is a glass of Petersham’s own rose syrup and petal prosecco. Skye’s little “cafe” has become so popular that booking ahead, by a month at least, is advised at any time of year. For those on a non-special occasion budget, Petersham’s charming tea room, part of that same old garage, serves hand-roasted coffee, whole leaf teas, sandwiches, soups and freshly baked cakes and brownies. There is a luxurious pleasure in stacking up your own wooden tray — laden with lemon polenta or coffee cake and a pot of tea — to find a quiet, sunny spot somewhere among the grounds.
Food is not the only reason London folk make the trek to Richmond. It’s quite difficult to describe what makes Petersham so unique. It’s about ambiance. Gael and Francesco have a striking visual aesthetic that is all their own. One-off pieces of furniture and artwork sit among the rows of plants and flowers, collected by the couple on their travels to India, France, Sri Lanka, Sweden. Tables and chairs don’t match but do: some are zinc-topped, made especially for Petersham, some thick with aged oak, some French bistro-style. A huge, corroded tin bath takes centre stage in one greenhouse, filled to the brim with flowering plants. Elephant statues and lion’s heads peek out behind flowering climbers and herbaceous plants from A-Z. Giant jumbles of aged Victorian terracotta urns and pots and a few newer ones (sourced and now personally commissioned by the Boglionis from an Indian village) sit alongside red geraniums in zinc planters. In the centre of the shop sit two huge circular tables with whole tree trunks for legs. Indian carpets and paintings dot the place. Bamboo blinds and Balinese benches give a South Asian feel, while vintage green wooden shutters evoke the South of France. The sound of tinkling glasses invite you to try the restaurant’s Amalfi lemonade and the Boglioni’s three dogs can sometimes be heard and spotted behind the gate to their private gardens. In wintertime, palm trees sparkle with Christmassy fairy lights, boxes of vintage glass baubles line the shop, tiny poinsettias and candles fill the tables and the whole place is infused with the scent of clove. This is a place to wander. In a haze of delight.
It is also a place to shop. Ronny de Koning, Petersham’s resident expert florist and chief buyer, has created a retail masterpiece. I consider myself a seasoned shopper. And the best shops, to me, are not places where certain products catch your eye, but where you want to buy the whole shebang. The lifestyle, if you will. In short, I want just about everything in here. Even a studded leather dog collar — and I have no dog. Yet. In keeping with the rest of the Nurseries’ vibe, a charming kind of disorder rules. Gentle, natural beauty products like Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps and Mad et Len fill vintage wooden crates. Huge gilded mirrors reflect bursts of colour in bouquets of flowers. Glass vases for single hyacinth bulbs and silvery tea light holders line up in front of antique French birdhouses. Cire du Trudon‘s regal and sophisticated hand-made candles are sexed up by fuchsia orchids. White Astier de Villate dishes and plates with pleasingly irregular shapes fill gracious, paint-chipped French armoires. An expensive collection of handblown Murano glassware (selected in Italy by Francesco and eldest daughter Lara and launched last summer at Dover Street Market) is serenely displayed inside vintage glass cabinets and atop marble tables. All manner of plant pots, scrubbing brushes with natural bristles and Italian stationery sit side-by-side in rusty metal baskets. Rows of classic but fashionably edgy welly boots and raincoats by Ilse Jacobsen and Petersham’s own branded Superga plimsolls make you want to pick up your wheelbarrow, your Duchy Originals tools and your leather gardening gloves (Petersham’s own, of course – they are buttery soft) and get planting.
Of course, all this food and shopping might not be your bag. You might just be into the plants. These pics, of Petersham’s true star attraction, are for you.
*Mr. Jagger is a local resident and known to be a frequent diner at Petersham (but they didn’t tell me that).
Please note, Petersham Nurseries Cafe welcomed a new head chef this year. Damian Clisby, previously head chef at HIX Soho and Cotswold House, now works alongside culinary director Lucy Boyd, a gardener, food writer and cook, who has been at the Nurseries for most of the last decade.