Thomas Palmer

Thomas Palmer was born with a golden spoon in his mouth. An only child, he was spoilt as his mother, Anna-Sophia from Parioli, a wealthy suburb of The Eternal City, had lost her stillborn child Tessa. Thomas was born as an after thought on 30th December 1944, at 8.00 pm on a Saturday night, a healthy bawling Capricorn.

Anna-Sophia had met Claude Thomas when she saw in the weekly magazine 'The Lady' a position as housekeeper to look after an 'elderly gentleman' in Hampstead, London. Claude was separated from his harridan of a wife Constance and mother of their 2 sons William and Edward. His wife refused to divorce him hanging on for her inheritance, no doubt, as Claude was a successful industrialist with an electrical factory and plant in Hoddeston as well as an office in the exclusive Avenue Foch in Paris.

Over time an affectionate relationship developed and Thomas was the illegitimate outcome with a scorned Constance still refusing to give her estranged husband his freedom. What a scandal for the staunch Palmer family at a time when there was rarely divorce. A sordid affair!

Destined for greater things in life, Thomas was smothered with the love that only an Italian Mama can give. His father was left an outsider as Claude could not speak Italian and Thomas was naturally bi-lingual. Mother and son were inseparable.

Young Thomas grew up with a love for colourful fragrant flowers, fauna and trees as his parents loved the peacefulness and beauty of the Italian lakes renting a villa every year for the summer months in Lugano. 

Over the years, back in London, Thomas was attracted to the English style of aristocratic gardens designed by the landscape architect Capability Brown and the international horticulturist and author Gertrude Jekyll. He made the decision to devote his working life to landscape architectural gardening and horticulture, to create gardens embellished with labyrinths, statues and fountains cascading from lions' mouths. He devoured historical and modern garden books and seed catalogues for visual and technical propagation information.

Constance finally passed away so Claude married his bride in Rome but eventually declined in health and died suddenly of a stroke. Thomas and his mother moved to Parioli to her family home, later travelling the Amalfi coast, savouring delicious food everywhere they sojourned. Only the grand hotels in Naples, Sorrento and Positano for them. Thomas's favourite garden was the Villa d'este in Tivoli, near Rome and almost lived in the enchanting romantic gardens gleaning visual knowledge.  

Anna-Sophia took a lover, the Count Francesco Rimaldi and moved into his palazzo near the Plaza de Espana. Thomas had his own wing of course. Mother went nowhere without her beloved son Thomas. Life was good and with the count's social connections, Thomas was the darling landscape architect of the manicured Italian palazzo gardens with the status and growing reputation of a British landscape architect available for projects throughout Italy. 

Today there are coffee table books of the famous English style gardens throughout Italy and beyond designed by the renowned Thomas Palmer to be found in The Garden Book Shop in Notting Hill, London.

Written in Catherine Smith's excellent taster workshop creating a life through a name in NewWriting South, Brighton. 26.8.17.


Thomas wandered and wondered in the hidden fragrant garden in Hastings. He was surprised to see a Russian chapel with an onion shaped dome at the bottom of the garden beyond the central bullrush pond, its limpid green slimy water covered with water lilies.

Why? He thought, not knowing that the owner had been a catholic priest while his partner was a working undertaker! Both were converted Russian Orthodox devotees, one even being the secretary of the society of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanov.

Thomas observed embedded catholic priest ceramics in the ivy and scented jasmin covered stonewall. A St Benedict relief ceramic plaque blessing the enchanting garden, the eternal silence broken by melodious birdsong as dawn broke sounding like a religious cacophony. Thomas stopped to take photographs of this hidden paradise. Near to the Victorian greenhouse, housing tomatoes and peppers, was the blessed Virgin Mary in ceramic relief in the middle of an adjoining stonewall overseeing the arbour, groaning with ripening apples, greengages, pears and plums clambering up and over the curved metal frame.

Thomas took it all in. A magical place to rest and reflect. Like a vivid snapshot frozen in time on the screen of his mind.

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