Over the summer I was lucky enough to visit Chelsea Physic Garden in London, and would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area.
-- The History --
The Garden was founded in the 17th Century as a way to train young apothecaries in how to identify plants and their medicinal properties. In 1983 it became a registered charity, at which point it also became open to visits from members of the public. It is closed over winter, except for special winter events such as the Snowdrop Days. In the spring and summer you need to double check the opening times on the website as it can be closed on weekdays.
-- Getting There --
The Gardens are along the Chelsea Embankment, on the opposite side of the river from Battersea Park. Myself and my partner walked down from Sloane Square underground station, which was around a 10 minute walk as we tend to be quite fast but slower walkers (or those who enjoy seeing architecture) will be looking at around 15 minutes. The walk from the station also takes you past the Royal Hospital, where the "Chelsea Pensioners" live. The Garden itself actually comes as a bit of a surprise, we suddenly realised we were walking next to a rather old wall and worked out that that was the Garden wall!
-- The Garden --
On first inspection the garden looks a little on the small side. The ticket office is a nicely kept shed where you can also get a guidebook, or a free little map that gives a bit of basic information about the garden. You can then wander at your leisure, and once you start you realised there's more to it than meets the eye. There's a small pond, a nice statue, and dozens of different beds all laid out with lots of plants, including herbs, flowers, trees and vegetables. The grass and paths between the beds are very well kept, the grass had recently been cut and the paths were fairly flat so you didn't need to worry about tripping over as you went. There were a few bits where the plants were overhanging the path, but if you're not expecting that in a garden then you probably don't belong outdoors.
The plants were well labelled, but there were very few explanations as to what they could be, or would have been used for. There was little information about the history of the apothecaries, my partner was interested to know how many of the plants that were believed to be medicinal have been proven to actually work by modern medicine.
There was also a poison area, for the more deadly plants around. This area was well marked with lots of signs but parents with children will need to keep a close eye on them, just in case. There were also some small greenhouses you could walk through to see more tropical plants.
-- Other Facilities --
After the poison area we washed our hands, the ladies toilets were clean and in decent condition, naturally I can't comment on the gents :)
At the top of the garden is an old house, the ground floor of which is now the cafe and gift shop. The cafe itself was nice, there was limited space indoors but it had been extended with a small marquee. There were a selection of drinks and cakes including a nice choice of teas, we had Earl Grey and Assam, which were served in tea pots with proper cups and saucers. We took our tray out to the patio so we had a lovely view down the lawn and enjoyed the sunshine. If anything there was probably too much marquee and not enough patio space.
Finally there's the standard exit via the gift shop, which includes a lot of gardening books as well as natural soaps and other gardening bits and pieces.
-- Final --
For the 2014 season the tickets for adults are £9.90 each and children are £6.60. This is a little on the expensive side, BUT it is London and so high prices are common. If you manage to get a nice warm day then you'll have a lovely time, but I wouldn't plan your whole day around it as it will only take around an hour, closer to two if you stop for a cuppa. If you are unlucky enough to get a rainy day then you will get very wet as the only cover is from the trees.
If you like gardens, I'd definitely recommend this to you.
Nicholas Culpeper, one of Britain's pioneering apothecaries declared "The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nation." The Chelsea Physic Garden, a stone's throw from the King's Road and Sloane Square is a perfect haven amid the bustle of the city. Providing visitors with a sensual trip through the history of medicine. We came across the garden by chance during one of the hottest days of summer. Coming across a high wall, obscuring the garden from the road. A wrought iron gate offered a tantalising glimpse of gorgeous greenery and a gently fragrant breeze invited us in. We frantically tried to find the entrance but all to no avail when a lady came out of a side door to a neighbouring building. She explained that the garden was only open to the public on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons. Utterly dissapointed we resolved to return. The second time around we were not disappointed. The garden in September was as lush and inviting as that first glimpse from the street. Thus, laden with shopping we paid our entrance fee (£4.00 for adults, £2.00 concessions)and embarked on a tour of one of the most fascinating gardens I have ever seen. The Physic Garden is no ordinary botanical garden but one which was endowed exclusively for the training of apothecaries. A charming lady showed us round carefully explaining the history of "London's Secret Garden". This all went in one ear and out the other as we grilled her about the many fascinating species on display, both in beds and in greenhouses situated in the three acre garden. She was able to answer all of our questions and engaged with us in lively discussion about more modern uses for plants and herbs in medicine. The garden is staffed by a curator, a head gardener and a team of four other gardeners. Not ordinary gardeners with horny, soil encrusted hands but true experts in their feild assisted by a team of volunteers who include students of horticulture and bota
ny. Refreshment in the form of teas is available in the garden itself and a shop offers souvenir umbrellas, books and seeds harvested from the many species on display. Since the garden is quite small it is possible to see a good portion of it in two or three hours making it an ideal diversion for those with visiting friends who have been enjoying a day at the shops. However the sheer variety and fascinating history of the plants on display can fill many hours for the true enthusiast time and time again. The Physic Garden is open from two O'clock on Wednesdays and Sundays only and costs four pounds for adults. Children, unemployed, students and pensioners get in half price. Tours are provided free by knowledgeable volunteers or you can peruse the gardens at your leisure making use of the unobtrusive but handy snippets of information on little signs among the plants. A word of caution however, don't touch the plants. I did and my hand swelled up rather horribly, we had to visit Boots for piriton!