Magazine article The Spectator

Growth Industry

Magazine article The Spectator

Growth Industry

Article excerpt

There's a splendid old Indian Rain tree in the garden at Petersham House, near Richmond-uponThames. The head gardener tells me it might have a couple of hundred years under its belt, and I like to think it was a Mr Warde, recorded as the owner in 1850, who planted it. He would have done so, of course, in the full knowledge that he would witness it only in its unsatisfactory early stages, but I'm sure he died a happy man. He would have been happy to think that his little grandson Lionel (recorded as the owner of the house in a Country Life feature of 1918) would see the tree attain its full glory.

Today, we have a different take on gardens.

A permanently frisky property market and the pernicious inheritance tax, plus the general rush of modern life have led to a demand for the immediate rather than the inherited, and for the small rather than the large. Petersham House has relatively recent owners, in common with most patrician properties nowadays, but something here is different because part of the land is given over to providing instant patina and provenance to those without access to ancestors. Francesco Boglione bought the exquisite Wren-period residence in 1995 with money from his insurance business, and moved in with his wife, a former model. But what must have sounded to the distinguished neighbours like a new-money nightmare in the making turned out to be anything but, as Mr Boglione proceeded to buy back land that had previously been lost to the estate. Retrieved from a rapacious property developer, this became, in 2004, the already legendary Petersham Nurseries (petershamnurseries. com; 020 8940 5230).

It's a serious, growing-from-scratch nursery, as well as a purveyor of wonderful garden furniture and accoutrements. Not everyone, however, is impressed. On one of my parents' many visits to the place they overheard the following from a disappointed visitor: 'It isn't a proper garden centre -- it's just somewhere for rich people to get ideas.' They had a point. To put the nurseries into the same bracket as Homebase is just as preposterous as comparing a plastic hanging basket with Petersham's own pendulous planter (an aged apple crate, branded with the name of an old estate). …

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