Chelsea Physic Garden is a hidden gem in central London; as Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea bustles outside, the Garden walls hold a calm green oasis of history, nature and relaxation. Founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries, London’s oldest botanical garden started life as what was essentially an outdoor classroom, in which trainee apothecaries could study the plants used in medical treatments. For the modern visitor, the Chelsea Physic Garden is now a secret waiting to be discovered. Centrally placed in the fashionable district of Chelsea, and a stone’s throw from King’s Road (itself worth a trip for the shopaholics), the Garden provides a break from the busy tourist scene of the city. Immerse yourself in the quiet greenery, walk under the shade of the trees, and learn about how the world of plants is still vital to our lives (followed by a delicious bite to eat in the café, and a browse through the shop!).
In 1712, Dr Hans Sloane (of Sloane Square fame), a former apprentice of the apothecaries, purchased the Manor of Chelsea, which included the land occupied by the Chelsea Physic Garden; 10 years later he signed the Deed of Covenant to the Society of the Apothecaries. The agreement leased the Garden to the financially-struggling Society for an annual payment of £5 in perpetuity – to this day, the curator signs an annual cheque for £5 to Sloane’s heir. This generous action came to be the saving grace of the Garden, not only by relieving financial pressure with a minimal rent, but also because it came with the condition that every year 50 plant specimens were to be presented to the Royal Society of London, until there were 2000 plants in their collection from Chelsea Physic Garden. By 1795 there were 3700 plants (now held in the General Herbarium of the Natural History Museum) and the Garden was a thriving centre of pioneering botanical study.
The Garden is now run as an independent charity, and is open to the public during the summer season. Education is still central to the Garden’s mission: many adult and child education and activity courses are on offer, and the education is reflected in the Garden itself. The newly opened Edible and Useful Garden aims to demonstrate how dependant today’s modern society still is on plants. The Pharmaceutical and World Medicine beds showcase species used in medicine throughout the world, from tribal cultures to medical practices closer to home. Within the collection of over 5000 different species are included Britain’s largest outdoor fruiting olive tree, and the world’s most northerly grapefruit tree.
For those who are visiting London for the first time, as well as those who know all the nooks and crannies of the city, Chelsea Physic Garden is an absolute must. Quintessentially English, yet pioneering and dynamic, the Garden is not a static museum, but a constantly developing site. Take a volunteer-guided tour to be introduced to a few of its secrets, and enjoy the peace and tranquillity.
The highly-acclaimed Tangerine Dream café is very popular, and is often cited as one of the reasons for a repeat visit. Choose from a wide range of home-made cakes, fresh salads and delicious cooked lunches (the salmon en croute, followed by courgette cake is recommended!). Finish your tour with a visit to the Gift and Book Shop, which sells a large collection of garden-related items, from cookbooks to games and toys, from postcards to plants. Handmade soaps and chocolate are also on sale, and our very popular honey is available August to September – don’t forget to pick up a jar!
Come and visit soon, but shhh – keep it our secret!
Chelsea Physic Garden is only 15 minutes’ walk from Sloane Square tube station, and is well serviced by many buses connected to central train stations (170 stops directly outside, 11, 14, 19, 22, 49, 137, 211, 349 pass nearby).
Visit www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk for more information; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.