GRANDE FLORA

The Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic GardenThe Chelsea Physic Garden is a very quirky place.  Many Londoners think of it as a secret garden, as it only opens from April to October, and never before 11 am.  In fact, the Physic’s opening hours are now in line with those of museums and National Trust houses, but still it has an air of exclusivity, which is part of its charm.

Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, the Garden was established to train apprentices in the ‘healing arts’ and to identity plants and study their medicinal qualities.  It is the second oldest botanical garden in Britain, after the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1621. Situated near the River Thames, where the bank was warmer to create a micro-garden for exotic and non-native plants, the riverside location made transportation easier for plants and botanists.  The river at that time was the main means of transportation in London.

Dr. Hans Sloane, the botanist and physician (1660-1753), purchased the Manor of Chelsea and four acres for the Physic Garden from Charles Cheyne to encourage the cultivation of plants from around the world. (Sloane and Cheyne are familiar names of streets and squares in Chelsea today:  i.e. Sloane Square, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea Manor Street).

This walled garden is a tranquil jewel in the heart of Old Chelsea, and it has one of the best cafes in London, the Tangerine Dream Café, acclaimed for its homemade food, delicious lunches and afternoon teas.  The Tangerine Dream Café Cookbook is a stunning collection of café recipes, photographs of the Physic Garden and gardening tips and history. There is an attractive shop, which specializes in the garden’s own honey in season, a specialist card game with beautiful illustrations of plants, and bone china mugs decorated with old garden prints, as well as interesting herbs and plants for sale.

One can visit the garden during the winter months as a ‘Friend’, which costs £38/year, or alternately as a ‘Life Friend from £600 for the over sixties, and £1,000 under sixties.  You can become a Grande Flora Patron for £350/annually, if you wish to help support the garden and promote the importance of plants. This will allow you to receive two exclusive events, and you can bring two family guests when visiting.

The garden team have now introduced an audio tour, read by Jon Snow, which will tell you everything about the different plants and trees, including their medical properties, and explain what the contents of each glasshouse and the ‘tropical corridor’. In the summer you can wander around the balmy garden with a glass of wine in your hand and Jon’s soothing tones in your ear.

The garden is also renowned for its tea. Sit outside and have scones and cakes or Pimm’s to quench your thirst.  There are delicious tarts made by Limpet Barron, a former chef at the River Café.   Buy postcards, seeds and one-pot only-per-person honey made by the garden’s bees in the pretty shop.  You can attend workshops or botanical painting classes or simply make the garden your own for an evening: host a drinks party or even a wedding on the lawn. This secret garden is brimming with opportunities.

— Orlando Bridgeman

Chelsea Physic Garden
66 Royal Hospital Road
London
SW3 4HS

Tel: 020 7352 5546

Opening hours
Tuesday – Friday and Sunday – 11am – 6pm
Monday – Open to Chelsea Physic Garden Friends
Saturday – Closed

www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

The English Gardening School
At the Chelsea Physic Garden

Tel: 020 7352 4347

www.englishgardeningschool.co.uk

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  • Chelsea Physic Garden