Queer Places:
Sundrum Castle, Coylton, Ayr KA6 5JH, UK
Eton College, Windsor SL4 6DW, UK
The Albany, Albany Court Yard, Mayfair, London W1J 0LR

In July 1939, Chips Channon (1897-1958) met the landscape designer Peter Daniel Coats (June 26, 1910 – August 8, 1990), with whom he began an affair that led to Channon's separation from his wife the following year and the dissolution of the marriage in 1945. Despite Channon's conduct, it was he who sued for divorce. His wife, who had left him in favour of a Czech airman, did not contest the suit and he was, therefore, theoretically the innocent party.

Peter Coats was a garden writer, photographer and designer. The son of Ernest Symington Coats and Nora Pountney, he was a legendary social bachelor, widely known for his long association with the magazine House & Garden. This publication had been incorporated in Vogue, but re-emerged in the late 1940s. Coats was appointed gardens editor soon after, and played an influential role in establishing the magazine as an arbiter of taste. He produced a steady flow of amusing and meticulously researched articles, all illustrated with his own photographs, and demonstrated an encyclopaedic knowledge of gardens both in Britain and abroad, as well as a firm grasp of the practicalities of horticulture. These qualities were evident, too, in his many fine gardening books, which included Roses, Green Gardens of Britain, Flowers in History, Garden Decoration, The Gardens of Buckirgham Palace, An A-Z of Plants, Beautiful Gardens Around the World, and English Gardens: A Personal Ghee. A scion of the well-known Scottish cotton dynasty, Peter Daniel Coats was born and brought up at the family home of Sundrum in Ayrshire, where he tended his first garden as a small boy.

He formed a lifelong and intimate friendship with 'Chips' Channon, the Conservative politician. The entertaining letters he wrote to Channon became the basis of Coats's first volume of memoirs, Of Generals and Gardens, and he played a key role in the preparation for publication of Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon. During WWII he served in the Middle Bast and India, where he eventually became an ADC, private secretary and comptroller to the penultimate Viceroy, Lord Wavell, a position in which his flair for immaculate organisation found full rein. One greedy general told the hospitable major: 'Coats, I'll get you the Star of India for this salad.' Coats had the happy knack of reminding his master of the right anecdote for the right occasion. Alm for example, a former Mayor of Bombay complained of a rat in his room, Coats observed, Ah, a rat, Sir, those are for our most distinguished guests, the others only get mice.' The Viceroy and the ADC made an unlikely combination - the austere Wykehamist soldier and the gossipy, party-loving sophisticate - but got on famously. It was Coats who helped to persuade Wavell to produce his anthology of poetry, entitled, at Coats's suggestion, Other Men’s Flowers. Harold Nicolson painted a memorable pen-portrait of the ADC - 'resplendent in a white and gold uniform, directing with the wave of a trowel, these stupendous creations, stepping gingerly among the cannas and the odds. Never since the days of Zenophone has a soldier, and aide-de-camp to boot, been so precise and efficient a gardener.'


  1. Of Rhubarb and Roses: The Telegraph Book of the Garden, by Tim Richardson