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Bond role model Peter Smithers had a secret gardening past

02-Jan-2011 • Bond Style

Sir Peter Smithers, who wrote Adventures of a Gardener, is widely supposed to be the chief inspiration for Ian Fleming's famous Bond. The two met during the war when Fleming arranged Smithers' posting to the SIS office in Paris. When Paris fell, Smithers and Fleming between them commandeered the seven merchant ships that brought the last of the British refugees safely away from mainland France. Smithers himself got back to England in a Sunderland flying boat and while the Battle of Britain was being fought out above, masterminded an efficient net below, rounding up German spies as they landed.

Fleming rescued him from an unenviable posting as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Windsor in the Bahamas and instead got him a job as naval attaché in Washington. Tall, languid, elegant (and armed with a special pen that turned into a pistol – a gift from Fleming), Smithers became an expert in spreading disinformation through the cocktail party circuit. It's not the kind of life that most gardeners look back on when they stroll around their patch.

Bond never showed a sign that he knew a tulip from a tiger lily, but Smithers was a plantsman from the beginning. While still at school, he started a ledger in which he entered details of every plant he acquired. By the end of his life – he died four years ago, aged 92 – the ledger contained more than 32,000 entries. While covertly watching the movements of German subs in Central America, he collected palms for the herbarium at the Natural History Museum and made himself a garden at Cuernavaca in Mexico, packed with orchids and aroids. For the past 30 years of his life, he gardened at Vico Morcote above Lake Lugano in Switzerland. There, he specialised in magnolias and peonies, bred nerines, planted thousands of lilies. And towards the end of his life composed a list of "Principles for my Garden". Would the rest of us gardeners agree with them?

Read more of Smithers gardening ideologies on the Independent

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