Monocle heads to the leafy suburbs of southeast London to discover how entrepreneurs Peter Milne and Alejandro Beltran gave up their corporate jobs to set up an idyllic group of garden centres.
From the moment you step in from the street, you’re enveloped in greenery and cosseted by soothing sounds and scents. It’s a bit of a transformative experience really. This is the relaxing haven Peter Milne and Alejandro Beltran wanted to create when they left their jobs to set up The Nunhead Gardener back in 2015.
What started off as a derelict patch of bramble-covered land opposite the station is now a fabulous space that’s home to hundreds of plant varieties. Outdoors are all manner of pots, planters, shrubs, ferns, grasses, flowering perennials and herbs; indoors, cosy under the brick railway arches, is a treasure trove of seeds, houseplants, tools, candles, crockery and curios.
So how did it all come about? Well, Peter and Alex did what many of us dream of by turning their passion into a day job. New Zealander Peter comes from a background in finance, while Alex, Peter’s Colombian husband used to work in fashion retail. But they both grew up on farms, so you could say that gardening and greenery is in their DNA. They set out to transform a hobby into something that would bring them (and that first little corner of southeast London, now joined by stores in Camberwell and Elephant & Castle) joy, tranquility and satisfaction.
Everything Peter and Alex sell is about happiness. Their aim wasn’t simply to supply plants but to delight and inspire. So, the pair stock only beautiful, high-quality items that make them smile, and which they’d be happy to have in their own homes and gardens.
It is this sense of responsibility and kinship that has shaped the atmosphere and experience at all three stores. Peter and Alejandro wanted them to be at the heart of their local community: places where parents can bring their children to explore, families can take the dog after a walk in the park, and couples can pop in, browse and unwind – time after time.
After all, every Londoner needs a calming refuge from the bustle and noise of the city.