I visited it with Lisa from Lisa Cox Garden Designs and we both had such a lovely time there…it was like a little piece of paradise in the middle of London.
My post features some photos from our visit, plus an insight into this fascinating place, which is now run as a registered charity.
We arrived just in time to take part in a guided tour, conducted by Pamela. She was so knowledgeable and had us all captivated with the history behind the garden.
Chelsea Physic Garden is London’s oldest botanical garden and it was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries of London for its apprentices to grow and study the medicinal qualities of plants.
In 1712, Dr Hans Sloane (whose statute is featured in the post and after whom the nearby locations of Sloane Square and Sloane Street were named) bought the Manor of Chelsea and took freehold of the garden.
He’d studied there in his youth and was sympathetic to the apothecaries who were struggling with its upkeep. So he granted them a lease on the land for a rent of £5 in perpetuity, on condition ‘it be for ever kept up and maintained as a physic garden’. And the annual rent of £5 is still paid to his heirs today.
The garden features Europe’s oldest pond rockery (some of the ‘rocks’ are stones from the Tower of London and Icelandic lava!…which you can see in the image below), pharmaceutical and plant beds, a tropical plant greenhouse, a Victorian Cool Fernery and over 5,000 named plants.
It has a special microclimate, which means that it’s possible to cultivate many tender plants from all over the world there, including the largest olive tree growing outside in Britain.
The garden is arranged in four quadrants : History beds, Pharmaceutical beds, Monocot beds and Systematic order beds/Dicotyledons.
Pamela took us to each of these quadrants and she told us that it’s been discovered that Madagascar periwinkle can be used to help treat people with Hodgkins disease and leukaemia, plus crocuses and daffodils can be used to help people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.
After our guided tour, which lasted about 45 minutes, we went to the wonderful Tangerine Dream Cafe, situated in the garden. The food was absolutely delicious! Plus it’s a lovely setting with seating inside and out, and peonies and sweet peas in assorted tins and vases were adorning the tables. (I can highly recommend the chocolate brownie!)
The garden also runs courses, including ‘Still Life and Garden Photography’ with fine art photographer Clay Perry on July 26th and ‘Botanical Illustration using Paper Collage’ on September 15th with artist Jessica Palmer.
The last time I came to the garden was for a corporate event, back in the early 1990s, and you can still hire it out for events now.
As the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place just around the corner, the Chelsea Physic Garden is open til late this week. So from May 24th-28th, it’ll be open from 12pm to 10pm.
I’d highly recommend a visit to this wonderful garden. It’s full of beautiful plants and trees, with an amazing history…you’re learn so much, whether you go on a guided tour or use one of their audio guides.
We came away feeling so chilled after a busy week…it really is a calm oasis in the heart of the capital.
P.S. Thank you to Ramsey for his very warm welcome at the ticket kiosk and to Sarah in the office for all her help too.
P.P.S. If you’d like to see a garden designer’s perspective on visiting the garden, please do take a look at Lisa’s post.
(Images : Rona Wheeldon for Flowerona)