Step into the ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ – home of the World’s Finest Flora
The words ‘Made in Chelsea’ unsurprisingly evoke an image that is far removed from botany and a bounty. One wouldn’t imagine a rich medley of global horticulture. One wouldn’t conceive a Garden of Eden overfloweth. In fact the immediate connotations that the words ‘Made in Chelsea’ would inspire is perhaps not conducive to the article I am currently writing. Yet rest assured, your eyes do not deceive you and this is not an Entertainment Blog. Rather, I write to rave about the delights of the ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’, based rather expectedly on King’s Hospital Road in Chelsea, London and all the wondrous things made within.
The Chelsea Physic Garden was established in 1673, and originally known as the Apothecaries’ Garden. Given that was previously known as the Apothecaries’ Garden, it is no surprise that’s the array of flora and fauna grown within was used for natural healing remedies (check out our article on ‘Apotheca’ in Manchester for a further look at establishments with a medicinal edge). With such heritage therefore, it also comes as no shock that the Chelsea Physic Garden is the second oldest botanical garden in Britain, losing to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden by little over than 50 years.
What does this mean? The collection and cultivation of rare and exquisite plants on display at the Chelsea Physic Garden is not just impressive in regards to modern ecology, but is one that is supported with an impressive historical precedent. However, despite it’s impressive history, the Chelsea Physic Garden has not been publically accessible for the hundreds of years since its establishment. In 1983, the Garden became a registered charity and was no longer the reserve for the ‘Worshipful Societies of Apothecaries’, meaning the Garden became modernized; it was more than just an academic, if not arcane centre for the study of homeopathic natural medicine. The Garden became a member of the ‘London Museums of Health and Medicine’, and was open as a thriving access point that brought global specialists plants and herbs to the Inner City.
There are many parks in London to provide a respite from the urban expanses, from Royal Parks to local Greens. However, the Chelsea Physic Garden truly is unique for a few reasons. Namely, unlike many a London Parks on a pleasant day, one isn’t competing with a second with a fellow sun-worshipping local for a spare blade of grass to soak up the rays. Also, there is little that competes with the sheer wealth of natural beauty to be found in the Garden.
The garden’s immense collection is indeed far ranging and the whole of the Chelsea Physic Garden holds approximately 5000 taxa, with a focus on the afore-mentioned medicinal and global botanical varieties. There is also a strong focus in cultivating rare and endangered plant species. It is no surprise that in addition the out-door gardens, there are several expertly appointed greenhouses, designed to enable various Mediterranean, tropical, and sub-tropical species to thrive.
A Rock Garden built up from History
A further unique selling point is that Chelsea Physic Garden contains the world’s oldest rock garden, which is comprised with a variety of stones – each a vestige from a different age. The rock garden is made from fused bricks and flint, including stones from the Tower of London, and Icelandic lava excavated and transported by a Thames ship in 1772. Yet it’s not just rocks that are contained in the so-titled Rock Garden, the heat-trapping high brick walls foster a perfect temperature to supports the growth of otherwise very rare varieties of alpine plants.
The Pharmaceutical Garden keeps its patients and their imaginations alive
One may visit Pharmaceutical Garden, which despite the Garden’s history as a traditional sourcing pool for Apothecaries of yesteryear, is still used to supply current medicinal practice around the world today. The flower and plant beds here are arranged in accordance to the drug that is extracted from them, so as one peruses the display, is able to engage with the taxonomy of nature as a invaluable healing agent. For instance, the Pharmaceutical Garden includes the ‘Catharanthus Roseus’, otherwise known as the ‘Madagascar Periwinkle’, which is potent in alkaloids used in anti-cancer medicine.
A further example of attractive and therapeutic flora is the ‘Filipendula Ulmaria’ or ‘Meadowsweet’, which, providing its salicylic acid, led to the introduction of aspirin in 1899.
See what’s for Dinner with Garden of Edible and Useful Plants
A relatively new addition to the Chelsea Physics Garden is the ‘Garden of Edible and Useful Plants’, introduced in 2012. The garden is designed to be homage to 18th century cottagers, and so possesses a more historic layout. Walk along the paved walkway, through the oak arches and you’ll see that the surrounding interlinked spaces of raised beds and plantings possess some of the most beautiful yet bizarre plant species that we depend on today. Included are: forest fruits, plants used to help re-fertilise baron soil, and plants used across hygiene, science and the arts.
Overall, the Chelsea Physic Garden has an incredible wealth of remarkable nature, for instance in 2015’s new ‘World Woodland Garden’, added a half-acre’s worth of plants spanning the continents to its already monolithic collection. In short, it would be impossible to rate and review all of the flora and fauna available to be seen. What is undeniable however is that among the visual beauty is a veritable treasure trove of interesting and remarkable nature. Other gardens contained within include ‘World Woodland Garden’ and the Garden of ‘Island Endemic Flora’.
Fauna for all the Family!
The Chelsea Physics Garden is obviously a fantastic setting to take children, it is as stunning environment that is allows for an immersive educational experience and gives children and adults alike a platform to engage with examples of nature that would otherwise be inaccessible in London. However, it is worth noting that there is a limit to two children allowed per accompanying adult, barring school trips. This is in fact because of the density of poisonous plants around. However, to combat this, the Garden’s contains several ‘Points of Interests of Children’, which designate some of the safer yet equally fascinating horticultural areas. There are also a variety of guided tours, educational talks, information points and even ‘Family Activity Days’ to ensure the safety of its visitors.
The Tangerine Dream Café has me dreaming for a return
What is certainly a safe bet is the tempting café for a post-educational respite. This highly acclaimed eatery, is named the ‘Tangerine Dream Café’, and offers the option of either eating inside or in the outside terrace area, which is particularly worthwhile on a lovely day. In conjunction to the standard cakes and teas one may expect from such a setting, the café also serves a range of utterly delectable light lunches, which is freshly prepared on site and served buffet-style.
The style of food to be expected is traditional British with a twist; all produce is locally sourced and prepared with a close awareness with seasonal ingredients. Dishes include ‘Savoury rare-roasted Aberdeen Angus Beef, with Golden and Purple Beets, with fresh Horseradish and Seasonal Greens’. A further colourful and zesty option is the ‘Wild Smoked Salmon with Capers, Lime Onions and Basil Mayonnaise’.
Simply, the Tangerine Dream Café is a destination point in itself, and is wholly recommendable as an option for mouth-watering and fresh indulgences in the Chelsea area.
The Chelsea Physics Garden is indisputable as a day out full of breath-taking beauty and natural delights. One can even purchase some of the plants seen in the collection in the gift shop as a perfect in which to perpetuate the earthly delights that have sprung in throughout your visit. For a green-fingered nature lover, a parent with children, or a couple who are looking for an outdoor venue to echo the rosy glow of their relationship, I suggest no place better in London than the Chelsea Physic Garden.