Petersham Nurseries: The Family Way
At Petersham Nurseries — an uncommonly chic garden centre and celebrated Surrey eatery — business is a wholly family affair.
Almost every single member of the family, from parents Gael and Francesco Boglione, to all four Boglione children and even their other halves, are involved in Petersham Nurseries.
The Petersham story began on a leisurely afternoon in Richmond, round at the home of their friends Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger. Gael, an Australian former model, and Francesco, a Turin-born insurance broker, had come over to watch the cricket. Jagger happened to mention a place down the road that had gone up for sale. At the time, in the mid-1990s, Gael and Francesco were living in South Kensington with four young children and had a yearning for a quieter life with a large garden. Petersham House was beautiful but dilapidated – a 17th century Queen Anne estate in need of some serious TLC. The Bogliones bought it in 1997 and totally renovated it, paring it back to a natural minimalism: faded plaster walls and polished wooden floors offset with hand-dyed French linen curtains. Today, Petersham is considered one of the most beautiful homes in the UK.
Thirteen years later, the neighbouring Petersham Nurseries came up for sale and, rather than let a developer get hold of it, the Bogliones decided to buy it too.
“It all started in a very organic way, when they bought the house. They never set out to have a business,” recalls Giovanni Mazzei, the husband of eldest daugher Lara, Francesco’s son-in-law. “At the beginning, Francesco wasn't sure what to do with the nursery.” Soon, like the house, the nursery was given a complete makeover. “He took all the concrete off the floor and replaced it with earth, which totally changed the look,” says Mazzei. Now it holds accolades as one of London‘s most tasteful sustainable dining destinations, a model of the farm-to-table philosophy that has caught fire in the UK.
Helmed by award-winning British chef Damian Clisby, the menu is Mediterranean with British and Italian influences. Signature dishes include tagliolini with White Alba truffle, and venison and Chianti Classico ‘Cacciatora’, with porcini, pancetta, celeriac and potato. Main courses are priced between £19 and £36. The menu changes weekly and the family does regular tastings, although Francesco has the final say. The location initially presented an issue, as it is off the beaten track and only caters to lunchtime patrons. But this year the cafe has been gaining traction with city pop-ups, including one at 24/7 skyscraper restaurant Duck & Waffle, and another in the marquee at Frieze Art Fair. “To get to Petersham, there’s not even a sign. But now people are coming through word of mouth. It’s really hard to get a table,” says Mazzei.
Since the acquisition of the nurseries in 2000, the second-generation Bogliones have come into their own. The youngest daughter, 22-year-old Ruby, helps to run the nursery, planting seeds and growing the vegetables that will end up on diners’ plates. She took cookery courses and worked in the kitchens at Petersham and is fanatical about growing herbs in her Shepherd’s Bush flat. Ruby is very "socially-minded" and masterminds the events, marketing and social media on behalf of the family.
Harry, second youngest at 25, bought a plot of land on the Dorset-Devon border, where he now runs Haye Farm, a sustainable producer which observes the principles of slow food (as opposed to fast food). He supplies Petersham as well as the iconic London restaurant River Café, and luxury hotel The Rosewood in Holborn. His eldest sister Lara, attests to how hard he works. “Farming is a tough job, he works 18 hours a day and there’s never a day off. But it was his dream from when he was a little boy.”
Middle daughter Anna, 27, runs a mobile theatre company, Petersham Road. Its first performance took place in Petersham House but now the company performs at venues from The Wilderness Festival to The Old Vic Tunnels to the Charles Dickens Museum.
The firstborn Boglione, 31-year-old Lara, runs Petersham Cellar with Mazzei who she met while she was visiting Florence ten years ago. Mazzei is a 26th-generation winemaker whose aristocratic family dates back to the 11th century. Mazzei sources lesser-known wines from Italy — “a niche selection” — that is available at Petersham Nursery and also for purchase online. The pair have ambitions to take the platform to the US and Asia, but at the moment they are enjoying spending time with their new son, Achile, who is seven months old. Family, say Lara and Mazzei, comes first at Petersham. They hope Achile will one day be part of the enterprise, but they will give him the choice to do whatever he wants.
“Francesco gave an opportunity to each child to express himself or herself however they wanted. So they each chose a different path,” says Mazzei. “It’s still their home, which is why it is so popular. When they plan the menus, when they grow the food, they want to eat what they’re eating at their house. That’s the philosophy, the vision.”