Sir Peter Smithers

Bob Rutemoeller
Tue, 13 Jun 2006 11:20:25 PDT
Here is a bit more information and links to Sir Peter Smithers and his 
Garden at Vico Morcote in Switzerland

Garden tour at:…
(in several languages)

Also from the Times On Line:…

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sir Peter Smithers

Statesman, gardener and model for James Bond, Sir Peter Smithers died 
yesterday at his garden in Switzerland aged 92.  I'll miss him greatly and 
so will the many garden aficionados who used to beat their way up his 
garden path to see the house and garden he'd made from scratch over nearly 
40 years on a south facing slope above Lake Lugano.

The garden lives on in virtual form 
<>  Sir Peter's website went 
live today and it is both beautiful and educational.

The website gives a glimpse of the paradise where I first stayed while I 
was at school with his daughter Amelia, who has been caring for her father 
since Lady Smithers died earlier this year. The house has a mountain stream 
running through it, and so much glass and so many plants that the 
boundaries between inside and out are blurred to extinction.

In spring the view from the 54m terrace danced across a mass of magnolias 
down to the lake. In summer, as the leaf canopy thickened and the vast 
bamboo Phyllostachys pubescens rocketed skywards, the terrace and house 
were shaded.  Incidentally, the bamboo would grow up to 40cm a day and the 
Smithers family used them in everything from fritters to ice cream.

Peter found his way into the annals of history in British Naval 
Intelligence (he worked with Ian Fleming and was often regarded as a model 
for James Bond) and as an MP and Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

His garden was the cherry on this impressive cake. He designed the one-acre 
plot to mature with him to become a self sustaining ecosystem as he grew 
older. The blank canvas was filled with about 10,000 plants, none of them 

Inspiration for this maturing partnership of gardener and garden came from 
the oak and sweet chestnut woodland around Lake Lugano. If native woodland 
could sustain its own attractive palette of hellebores, cyclamen, gentian 
and primroses, Smithers reasoned, a natural ecosystem could be created, 
using imported plants from similar habitats around the world.

Magnolias were among the first arrivals and they were planted to create a 
luxurious upper canopy.  Today there are more than 150 species and 
varieties, including macrophyllas raised from seed selected in the States. 
The magnolias are regarded as an important collection, and parts of it were 
propagated and made available through the Magnolia Society.

Japanese and deciduous azaleas were added, along with rhododendrons, 
peonies, tree peonies, acers, cornus, Gardenias, Michelias, wisterias, 
Vibernums and plants like Ceanothus arboreus Trewithen Bluethat can cope in 
the milder parts of this country huddled against a warm wall but, in Sir 
Peters garden, became a small tree in three or four years. The final 
underplanting includes a wealth of Arisaema, cyclamen, some richly-coloured 
oriental hellebores bred by Miss Ballard and the marvellously fragrant 
Paramangaia weberbauerii from Peru.

Existing primroses, the orchid Cephalanthera latifolia and wild 
strawberries were allowed to coexist alongside the foreign imports.

On the left of the drive gardenias, two metres high, conceal one wall of 
the house. On the right, even taller creamy lilies nod scented heads. They 
were bred by Smithers, an unnamed seedling from Lilium X Vico Gold. This is 
turn came from L. sulphureum that Smithers collected in Burma.

To the east, a 6m Acer palmatum Shisio Improveddisplays fiery 
orange-and-red foliage in autumn.  Close by a Sinocalycanthus chinensis 
waves heart-shaped leaves from five main stems which reach about 2m high.

The ground falls sharply away from the front of the house although the 
topography, like the weed population, is blotted out by dense planting.  In 
summer, as the breeze picks up, enticing glimpses of lake and mountain are 
framed by rare plant material.

Paths make several circuits across the stream and up and down the hillside, 
with the help of oak steps set into the slope which lead back to his 
terrace. Here, large earthenware dragon pots contain lotus, dwarf and 
otherwise; passionflowers, brugmansias and a wide variety of citrus, 
including a Buddhas finger.

In the greenhouse a Grand Marnier brugmansia, dripping with vast 
pink-orange bells, takes up a 3m spread and, at ground level, Camassias 
including a variegated form and a yellow-flowered form that Smithers has 
bred, make splashes of colour.

The scented White Snake wisteria romps 24m along the concrete balustrade at 
the edge of the terrace and this, and other Japanese wisterias, all of 
which wind in the same direction as the sun, is joined by Chinese 
wisterias, which wind in the opposite direction.

In his late eighties Peter began giving away his collections - Exbury and 
Wisley were benefactors. Salamanders, birds and snakes kept pest attack to 
a minimum and the dense planting suppressed weeds. And the planting itself 
has built up a mulch which provides food and protection for plants.

His autobiography, Adventures of a Gardener, explains all this, as well as 
describing an extraordinary life in which his nanny fed him fried backbird 
eggs, he met and married his late beloved wife in a matter of weeks and he 
continued to be a friend to various statesmen and women including Baroness 
Thatcher, who was in touch with him the night before he died.

Posted by Jane Owen at 04:30 PM in 
<…>Jane Owen | 
(end of Times On Line post)

Bob Rutemoeller 

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