It won’t shock you to hear me say that the British public loves its plants. Whether it’s collecting exotic plants from foreign lands, cultivating fantastic smelling roses, or embracing non-native plants as part of their gardens, it’s undoubtable that Great Britain has a particular love for plants. Which suits me just fine. More than fine, actually. I’ve loved plants all my life. During my childhood and adult years, I’ve collected and dried plants, I’ve made wreaths with plants, I’ve taken cuttings and collected seeds from various travels (mostly unsuccessfully) and today I do my best to surround myself with plants. Plants not only bring me joy, but they are one of the principal inspirations for my work as an artist. Specific flowers, seasons, and trees feature heavily in my work. Their colours, shapes, movement and the fact that they often mark the passing of seasons and time all inform my art practice.
Since moving to Great Britain 8 years ago, I’ve been particularly inspired by the love of plants, flowers, and garden that I’ve found in Great Britain. Nowhere is this more evident than in the nation’s buzzing garden centres and nurseries. A trip to the garden centre or nursery can transport you into another world. It can connect you to others (lots of my trips to the garden centre are with my English mother-in-law). It can inspire you. And it can educate you. For those of us living in busy concrete jungle cities, those garden centres can be our respite – a temporary retreat into a calmer and beautiful space - as long as you don’t visit during the first sunny day of spring when every other city dweller has the same idea. I’ve been to lots of garden centres and nurseries, large and small throughout the country, particularly at the Isle of Wight. And what has always struck me is the large variety of plants and flowers available – the UK (and particularly England) is blessed with a temperate climate that lots of native and exotic plants can thrive in. In my own garden, I have flowers that are native to the UK, the USA, the Middle East, other parts of Europe, South Africa, Australia, and Asia, just to name a few. And they all thrive in this climate.
For my birthday in late January, my husband took me to a magical nursery in Southwest London – Petersham Nurseries. It’s been a pleasant surprise for me to discover that many British garden centres and nurseries have cafes – something that is quite unusual for other countries. Normally, these cafes offer little variety, questionable quality and just fill the need for a cup of tea and a nibble, with little else. But at Petersham Nurseries, this garden centre café tradition is taken to another level with a fabulous restaurant. Set in a glasshouse, the restaurant feels like a fundamental part of the nursery and its ethos – quality, tradition, with a hint of exotic charm. It is a hugely atmospheric place to have a meal in the middle of all this beauty. My first visit to Petersham Nurseries was on a particularly cold, wet, and rainy day in January. Not exactly the most picturesque or plant friendly of days. But even then, the place looked spectacular and was full of colourful plants in bloom. I can imagine that as the days get warmer and longer, and the variety of plants increases with the season, that this nursery will become even more magical.
The garden centre is tucked away bordering Richmond Park. The whole experience ends up feeling a little bit like finding your own secret garden. Many nurseries and garden centres sell not only plants but related accessories – some are more utilitarian selling all sorts of tools and materials. Others take a more interior design view of things and focus on home and garden décor as a concept, including plants of course, but also other items such as furniture, glassware, decorative planters and pots, and sculpture. Petersham Nurseries is one of those places, selling not only fabulous plants but a variety of carefully curated home furnishings and home accessories all rooted in tradition and a love of fabulous vintage and antique shop finds. The end result looks like a photo shoot set for one of the many fabulously stylish home and garden magazine. Here are a few pictures below. If you happen to be around Richmond in Southwest London, I highly recommend a visit.