WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: AM
Driving along the narrow winding road from Richmond towards Ham, blink and you will miss the entrance, just a subtle painted sign on the wall, however this place does not need to make its presence known, if you are in the know you will know exactly where to find them and if you don't then you will persevere until you do - such will be your curiosity to find this place and I promise you this, you will not be disappointed.
Petersham Nurseries truly is a wonderland, where glasshouse meets dirt floor, another world, their world of old meets new, east meets west. Where vines drip from the ceiling, plants exotic and otherwise are interspersed with antiques - urns, chandeliers, convex railway mirrors, even a French housekeepers cabinet from Provence from the 1920's - luxury Cire Trudon candles, incense from Astier de Villatte, linens from Italy - handmade of course - and even homemade jams. Bougainvillea dancing in the daylight, the laughter and excited chatting of the charming staff with their bold and beautiful Italian accents, talking about life, love and money, dogs lounging around snoozing in the dappled light, so natural and so achingly right, exquisite and harmonious, sit down in the café or the tea house and you will never want to leave this quintessentially British meets flamboyant Italian by way of eastern travels bohemian idyll - a grounded paradise, a gardening wonderland, whimsical even, a place that reflects the general mood and bonhomie of its travel inspired, adventure seeking owners, with a wonderful intrinsic beauty, unique aspect and approachable yet down to earth charm.
After extensive restoration works Gael & Francesco Boglione re-opened the nurseries in 2004 and for the first time, furniture, gifts and antiques were found amongst the plants which adorned the greenhouses. In the summer of that year they decided to open a casual restaurant - Petersham Nurseries Café - with Skye Gyngell previously from The Sugar Club installed as head chef, receiving their first Michelin star in 2011 under the direction of Skye and in 2012 managing to retain the honour with the help of Australian chef Greg Malouf. Since the beginning they have instinctively managed to surround themselves with an excellent team, including their culinary director Lucy Boyd, whose exceptional produce and gardening knowledge, English culinary background and affection for Italian flavours is a key driver and essence behind their ever expanding business.
Today Lucy and executive chef Damian Clisby work tirelessly to create an evolving menu inspired by what is growing in the garden, the changing seasons and a connection to the environment. They have a self induced strict slow food sourcing ethos which inspires them, they are respectful of the produce they work with and appreciate its exceptional quality and taste. In turn the small farmers and artisan producers who grow or produce these ingredients benefit from their support. Producing such delights as Roasted Haye Farm Chicken with Agretti, Petersham Pork and Herb Sausages and a Petersham Garden Salad. Whichever you choose, either the Italian inspired café or the lighter lunch and cakes at the tea house you will thrilled with your choice. Opened primarily for lunch, throughout the year they do have a few supper clubs, whereby on a handful of evenings they invite you to dine in the restaurant at night. Offering a bespoke seasonal menu inspired from the garden which showcases the exceptional produce for which Petersham Nurseries Café is renowned, these evenings are not to be missed. Some of these evenings are even for charity such as the Action Against Hunger Nepalese Feast where all the proceeds is donated to this charity - a fantastic initiative.
Not only is there the wonderful café and tea house, glorious antiques and the like, wonderful plants especially the roses and beautiful dahlias their signature flower, but also fabulous floristry workshops, wild food walks, education days led by horticultural expert Martin Ogden on planting in those challenging shady areas of your garden and courses on mindful eating run by Palma Michel including a mindfully chosen brunch curated by Damian, to name but a few. All in all this is clearly very much a community, formed by a determined and passionate family. However, it has grown to become so much more than that - a positive encapsulating, captivating and enchanting place, that holds sustainability, gastronomy, agriculture, education and a sense of family in high esteem, an ethos that contributes to their continued and very well deserved success.