It was the nursery that clinched it. We were house-hunting in London in March, in the dreary grey weeks when the East wind blew unrelenting day after day. One house had ticked the boxes, only to be taken off the market; others were laughably unsuitable in various ways. One icy day we visited a house in a street we didn’t know at all, to be welcomed into warm, well-lit, totally comfortable surroundings, decorated (said my wife) rather like an old-fashioned luxury hotel. Yes, I said, we could live here without even talking to a builder – though a chat with a decorator would be good. ‘It’s not really us’ said Judy.
Next day she went back on her own to case the unfamiliar neighbourhood. Yes, there were cafes, cleaners, a Waitrose, delis – and just across the main road, only 100 yards from the front door of the house under discussion, a flower shop occupying the ground floor of a rambling old house. Inside, the scent of flowers was intoxicating. It was instant spring – and led, through the back door, into an Aladdin’s garden, wintry though it was, of potted plants, potted trees, potted shrubs…an entire nursery. Narrow paths under tall planes lead the length of a film-set Georgian square – all nursery. She had found Rassell’s. We bought the house.
Rassell’s nursery, in Earls Court Road, goes back to the days when the road was a country lane leading to Holland House through Lord Kensington’s farmland. His lordship, apparently, started to lease his fields to developers to pay his gambling debts (this was the early 19th century). His old lodge house on Earls’ Court Lane he leased to a nurseryman, and in 1870 Henry Rassell from Sussex came on the scene. In 1897 he acquired the freehold of Pembroke Square (everyone else had to make do with a lease), opened his florist’s shop, and started the business which is still there. I pop in for something almost every day – if only for the sight and smell of hundreds of happy plants.