Lifestyle: Petersham Boglione family | House & Garden

Dean Hearne

Lara Boglione is gracious when I point out the irony of what we are discussing. She is describing the principles of the Slow Movement, a sort of philosophy-in-practice that extols the many virtues of putting the brakes on the pace of life, and which can be applied to everything from food production and medicine to product design and parenting. It is also an integral part of the ethos at Petersham Nurseries, the combined garden centre, restaurant and shop that Lara’s parents, Gael and Francesco, set up on their estate beside the Thames in Richmond 15 years ago. It has subsequently acquired a reputation for its unique atmosphere – an exemplar of effortless cool.

We are having tea in The Petersham, one of two restaurants in its recent Covent Garden offshoot. This ambitious project has been Lara’s undertaking and, less than a year in, it is proving a hit – and just as demanding as you might expect. Add to this an energetic three-year-old son and another child on the way, and a husband whose own work sees them travelling constantly between London and Tuscany in order to be together, and it is difficult to see how Lara could have the time to do anything slowly. Even as we speak, she is itching to get to a board meeting. ‘You’re right,’ she says with a laugh. ‘Maybe I am doing this to allow other people to slow down a bit.’

But there is nothing glib in the way Lara sees the world. She was brought up in the sort of family in which you might have a ballroom in your house or e a godfather whose surname is Bowie, but more influential were ideas surrounding ethical living and environmental awareness. Years before buying Petersham Nurseries, Gael was a founding member of Pamela Stephenson’s Parents for Safe Food campaign, which raised awareness of pesticides. When Lara attended SOAS University of London for her masters degree, she wrote her thesis on seeds and sustainability.

The subject of ‘time’ had come up a few weeks earlier when we visited Lara at Castello di Fonterutoli, a village in the heart of Tuscany’s Chianti region. She and her husband Giovanni Mazzei have a house there on the land where his family has made wine since the fifteenth century. He now heads up the hugely successful vineyard’s export business – hence their peripatetic lifestyle.

Part of Lara’s vision for the future is the development of an extensive interiors collection that captures Petersham’s distinctive look and feel. With her mother Gael, she has sourced makers from Tuscany (as well as the UK, France and India) to create furniture crafted from iron, bronze, marble and wood, as well as ceramic tableware and cast-bronze lighting inspired by shapes found in nature.

An example of this can be found near Florence – the terracotta workshop, where the enormous garden pots that Lara has commissioned for Petersham Nurseries are made by hand, each by a single craftsperson. On our visit, Lara is deep in discussion with Federico Manetti, one of the most experienced. Something he said has stuck in her mind. ‘He was telling me how time needs to be valued, how it used to be, but isn’t any longer,’ she says. ‘And what we are doing in Covent Garden is still the beginning.

It will change, grow, develop. We can’t expect to have got things exactly right immediately.’ Lara did not have to look far to find two artisans with whom she feels a particular connection. Fonterutoli’s local carpenter, Davide Bruni, and blacksmith Tommaso Bernabei are responsible for the shelves that line the walls of Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden; made from reclaimed wood with hand-forged iron uprights shaped like wizened branches, these can also be made to order for customers.

Lara explains that in the mid nineteenth century, the great-great-grandfather of the blacksmith forged the enormous gates that stand before Giovanni’s grandparents’ house in the village. Such long-standing symbiotic relationships are not uncommon in Fonterutoli.

The hamlet has retained a medieval simplicity that is part of the appeal for the guests at the Castello’s B&B, which has 15 rooms in various buildings on the estate. (There are few shops and no through traffic, but there is a terrific restaurant.) Below Fonterutoli, visible across e a paddock, is an architecturally modern winery that has been built into the landscape like a Bond-villain lair. It was designed by Giovanni’s aunt Agnese Mazzei, an architect who is based in Florence.

A five-minute drive through vineyards leads to the tiny hamlet comprising a handful of stone houses and disused agricultural buildings. It is here that Lara and Giovanni have chosen to have their own house and are finishing off the restoration of a sixteenth-century barn. It is an idyllic spot, high on a hill with views over olive groves, and the interiors are pleasingly imperfect, with subtle, hand-painted detailing on the plaster walls and rustic wooden furniture sitting on old brick floors.

Back in London, Gael has joined us at The Petersham restaurant and is recounting a conversation she had with Lara (who was already MD of Petersham Nurseries) in the early days of thinking about a Covent Garden outpost. ‘She said: “Mum, I can’t work at the bottom of the garden for the rest of my life.” ’ She is beaming with admiration for her daughter as she gestures round the restaurant. ‘We would never have done this is if it weren’t for her.’

And then Lara is off to prepare for that board meeting. But as Lara and Gael walk through the courtyard at the centre of the Covent Garden operation, they stop beside one of the terracotta planters that we had seen being made in Tuscany. Lara is pointing out a detail – perhaps its stepped edge or the Petersham elephant motif on its side. It is impossible to hear what they are saying, but they both smile and Lara laughs. As they set off again, they continue chatting and their pace has slowed. It is nice to see.

Petersham Nurseries: