Published: 02 June 2015
Learn in London
The Chelsea Physic Garden has been a place of learning since 1673, this role is as important today as it was in the early years
Situated on the banks of the River Thames in central London the Chelsea Physic Garden provides a place for Apothecaries, Botanists, medical students, school pupils and visitors to research and learn more about the diverse range of plants that are of use to humans. 
The four acres of land are still leased in perpetuity for the same peppercorn rent stipulated in 1722 in a Deed of Covenant by Hans Sloane, the then land owner of the Cadogan Estate; this arrangement exists only as long as the garden continues to provide education and training as its core activity.

Sir Hans Sloane’s stature forms an inspiring focal point within the gardens today. 

Plant Collections

Being a botanical garden created for the study of plants it was, and still is essential to have living plant collections correctly labelled and planted in an organised manner, these areas are called ‘order beds’, each containing  plants from specific plant families such as Leguminosae, Rubiaceae and Papaveraceae. This system allows greater accuracy for identification and cross referencing of plant characteristics by botanists and students, an important aspect in the early days of concocting plant remedies to cure many human health conditions, the choice of the wrong plants due to incorrect identification could prove lethal to the patient!  Today’s visitors will not be under the same pressures when identifying the plants due to the excellent plant labelling and interpretation boards throughout the gardens.

Theme Gardens

In addition to the formal plant order beds there are many delightful themed areas where plants for specific uses are planted not only to inform but create visually appealing scenes to give visitors ideas for their own gardens. During the past few years Head Gardener Nick Bailey and his team have designed, built and planted several new gardens to increase the diversity of the plant collections and inspire visitors.

The Garden of Edible Plants was created in 2012 with a selection of plants suitable to grow in Uk gardens. Some of those seen in the garden benefit from the warmer micro-climate created by the surrounding buildings and will require protection during colder winter weather, especially in more northern areas.

The new World Woodland Garden was created and planted in 2015 to highlight the diverse range of woodland plants that benefit humans. The interpretation boards give specific examples that will be unknown to many people. As this garden matures it will become more interesting to see where so many raw materials originate from.
The Tree Collection

The Physic Garden has a fine collection of mature trees, many with well documented histories, one being the olive tree that is the largest fruiting specimen in the most northern growing location, this is because of the microclimate created by the surround building and city developments.

The diversity of the tree collection plays an important part in both the visual appearance of the treescape but also reducing the impact of local noise and atmospheric pollution.
 The diversity of the tree collection plays an important part in both the visual appearance of the treescape but also reducing the impact of local noise and atmospheric pollution.

Education and Learning

The delivery of education is not restricted to the national curriculum for school and college students, the gardens offer a comprehensive range of walks and tours around the garden and behind the scenes, expert talks and lectures with subjects from trees to medical history  and workshops with topics ranging from medicinal plants, willow weaving, garden photography and  leaf inspired jewellery. In addition there are many family activity sessions to explore, create and have fun celebrating spectacular seeds, creepy crawlies on garden safaris or discovering natural materials made from plants.
All these interactive events are organised for people of all ages and abilities and are essential not only to comply with the gardens remit but also to generate income to safeguard its future. There is no government money available to support this valuable work or maintain and develop the garden.

Bee hives are established around the garden and the harvested honey is sold in the shop. The hives are also used to demonstrate and teach beekeeping during the regular classes on offer, these are supported by local bee keepers who often have hives on their house roofs, the bees benefiting from the flowering plants in the Physic Garden and surrounding London parks and gardens.

The Friends

The Friends of the Physic Garden, known as the ‘Growing Friends’ play an essential supporting role to the full time staff, their duties include welcoming visitors at the gate, garden guides or attend for the shop duty rota, others prefer to be hands on with growing plants for sale and practical garden duties. All of this important voluntary work helps the garden to offer such a great visitor experience and carry on providing creative educational programs to the widest range of audiences possible. 


An introduction to the gardens history, layout and key plant collections can be found in a new publication written by Head Gardener Nick Bailey, called ‘Chelsea Physic Garden – Connecting people with plants since 1673’ it gives a good idea of what can be seen when visiting.
The Chelsea Physic garden is yet another good example of a Botanic Garden proving that they are important places where both professionals and amateurs can increase their plant knowledge and understanding.

My report gives only a brief introduction to the Chelsea Physic Garden, with its diverse plant collections, winding paths of discovery and a great sense of activity and achievement.  It is a historically important site, for me it is also one of the most horticulturally inspiring places I have visited and I recommend readers to make a visit when in London, however, make certain you allow sufficient time to see it all, especially if including an excellent homemade lunch in the Tangerine Cafe!

For more information see the website:
Reported by Chris Allen  

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