Home Tourist – Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic Garden has been on my ‘to visit’ list for a while, so when A suggested we take advantage of a spell of blue sky and head over there, it was a good opportunity to tick another home tourist omission off the list of shame.

Entered through a small door in a redbrick wall, in a triangular site, just off Chelsea Embankment, the Garden dates back to the 17th century, from a time when apothecaries were experimenting with plants in the search for effective medicines.  It’s a little shady haven of plant beds, neat paths, wooden benches and elderly greenhouses, watched over by a central statue of Hans Sloane.

The interest here is in plant classification, in all the varieties that such order offers .  There are the medicinal plants, grouped together in beds with titles such as ‘Analgesic’ or ‘Anti-parasitics’, some labelled, with paradoxically enticing signs bearing the skull and crossbones, to indicate their poisonousness.

There are areas which group together plants which were introduced to Britain in the same eras by the same botanists, brought  to this country from great expeditions in the jungles of the world.  It’s fascinating to look at plants that we have grown to expect in every suburban garden, that we would lazily think of as typically British, and see where they originated and how long ago they were brought here.

The beds dedicated to foodstuff plants were fun to go around with the children; they were quizzical each time A and I pointed out a plant for which we knew the name or use, potatoes, beetroot and gourds garnered particularly doubtful responses, although, amusingly, it was the children who spotted the wine grape varieties before we did.

Arranging the collection demonstrating the different ways plants might be grouped allows the garden to have several examples of the more common plants, so there was a lot of lavender in aromatic bloom, lilies, poppies and all manner of tomatoes already bearing fruit, and was an informative and thought provoking way to exhibit the huge number of varieties they have.

My only reservation about the garden was the decision to display a number of pieces of contemporary sculpture installed around the space; one, of a curved and bent slab of marble was beautiful and smoothly tactile, but unfortunately the one that will stick in my mind looked as if floating  rubbish had been thrown into the pond in the middle of the ancient rockery.

Even for the person who is not a dedicated gardener, it offered a lot in terms of the social and scientific history in this little corner of London.

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4 Comments

  1. The garden sounds (and looks) marvellous. I wouldn’t have minded a picture of the floating rubbish though!

    Reply
    • Ha! I did take a shot of the rockery, which was attractive, with the rubbish in the background, but you have to know that’s what it is, so well composed is the photo!

      Reply
  2. I have fond memories of the Chelsea Physic Garden and attended many NCCPG meetings & lectures there with my Horticultural mentor Anna Newton…we would arrive by car and drive up to the Physic Garden’s big kitchen window and pass all the food in off the street, prepared by Mrs Newton for the meetings luncheon…& delicious it always was.
    The garden is a rich delight, and it was the fist place I visited without my baby James.
    Check out their web site as there is so much to learn and so much to see, and so many excellent events there…my favourite spot in all of London.

    Reply
    • Now that makes me feel even more ridiculous for never having visited the garden before, but I can see how frequent visits would reward each time.

      Reply

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