27.03.2015
14:01

Chelsea Physic Garden

Address:

66 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, SW3 4HS. (Access from the gate on Swan Walk)

Phone:

020-7352 5646

Website:

www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

Opening times:

Apr–Oct 11:00-18:00

How to get there:

Bus: 239 from Victoria

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Disabled entrance at 66 Royal Hospital Road, café and shop

Established in 1673 and first known as the Apothecaries’ Garden, Chelsea Physic Garden first functioned as a training ground for apprentices of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, involved in the cultivation of plants for medicinal use. The ornamental gates on the Embankment once led directly to the river, where the Company’s barge was housed. In 1681 the garden boasted the first heated greenhouse in England, known as the ‘stove’, which attracted the attention of eminent botanists and scientists such as Sir Hans Sloane and John Ray, both keenly interested in the cultivation of rare ‘exotics’. In 1685 John Evelyn visited Chelsea and noted the ‘the tree bearing the Jesuit’s bark’, the source of the expensive anti-malarial quinine. It was also in the 1680s that four cedars of Lebanon were planted, the first in England (the last one died in 1904). One of the trees produced its first cone in 1725, and seeds were distributed widely around the estates of Britain, and also to America. The garden was part of the Manor of Chelsea, which had been purchased by Sloane in 1712. In 1722 Sloane transferred the freehold to the Apothecaries in virtual perpetuity, for an annual rent of £5, for use as a Physic Garden where ‘the power and glory of God in the works of creation’ could be studied. The statue of Sloane, placed at the centre of the garden where its four lawn walks meet, is a copy of that commissioned from Michael Rysbrack in 1733–37, the original having been removed to the British Museum to protect it from further erosion.

Under the care of Philip Miller (1691–1771), appointed by Sloane in 1722, Chelsea became one of the best-known botanic gardens in Europe. In 1732 cotton seed was sent from Chelsea to the new settlement of Georgia and in 1736 the great Linnaeus visited the garden to study and collect plants. Many of the species introduced to Britain over the centuries and associated with Chelsea still thrive in the garden today, including magnificent magnolias named after Sloane’s professor, Pierre Magnol.

Hidden behind its tall brick walls, the garden is a secret paradise, but also a museum of living plants, arranged according to species and purpose. As well as the Systematic Order Beds, there is a Herb Garden, a woodland area, a fern house, a Garden of World Medicine and a Pharmaceutical Garden, where Deadly Nightshade (Atropa bella-donna) grows, with its round, black glossy fruits known as devil’s cherries. The garden is still used for research: the Natural History Museum’s Botany Department, for example, propagates tomatoes here for taxonomic research. Near the garden’s main buildings is the first rock garden in England. Built in 1773, it is made up of white Portland stones, some with ornamental moulding, from parts of the Tower of London then being demolished, and black basaltic lava from Iceland, donated by Sir Joseph Banks. Later in the 18th century it was further ornamented with shells and corals brought back from Tahiti as ships’ ballast by Captain Cook. A giant clam shell remains.

Today, Chelsea is a beautiful and tranquil place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon, when excellent home-made teas are served on the terrace overlooking the well cared-for lawns and ornamental but historic beds.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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