Chelsea Physic Garden, London England, May 2017

by Emma Bumpus on May 16, 2017

Careertraveller uncovers fertile pleasure-giving treasure on the edge of the River Thames where scent and science take us on a journey to London’s oldest botanical garden.

Entry to this 4 acre walled garden with wrought iron Swan Walk gate and pendulous leafy green vine is a romantic opening to what feels rather clandestine and intimate in the capital’s borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Greeted by fifty shades of mesmeric green oxygenating space awaits a playground of trees, borders and plants, which set in a variegated oasis of colour delivers an elixir of botany that smacks of scientific research and worldwide learning.

Established in 1673 as a centre for learning and study of medicinal plants by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, we time travel back to a period of European Renaissance inspired plant curiosity and botanical exploration across the continents.

Entrenched in global travel and maritime history we uncover the transportation and exchange of plants behind botanical medicine on a free-guided tour conducted by knowledgeable volunteers. A poignant meeting point at the garden statue of benefactor Sir Hans Sloane sows the seeds for a reflective insight to the life of young apothecaries who once studied plant-based medicine.

The Garden of Medicinal Plants takes us on a flight from India to Oceania beds with evidence of cardamom to tea tree traditional herbal medicine, which leads to The Pharmaceutical Garden, a collection of roughly 60 plants used for a variety of modern day ailments. From Oncology to Dermatology we uncover a display of clever medicine boxes revealing modern day medicine in its form, most befitting of a contemporary physic garden, built for peace as well as visitor information and services.

Gardens and herbs galore, our trail of fragrant Mediterranean Rosemary and Lavender to Ginko biloba of China takes an extraordinary U turn in a neighbouring corner of exotic looking architectural plants labelled “poisonous, do not touch”. Strikingly exotic blue, purple flowers of the Himalayan Monkshood cunningly conceal their poison or aconitine toxin and underline the diversity and study of plant chemistry that comes with the origins of a botanical garden.

An educational meander past the traditional Order Beds comes a division of Dicotyledon and Monocotyledon plant families, which define botany with their linear arrangement and artist’s palette of colour bursting with orderly organic growth and bustling wildlife.

Hues of violet blue and sunny yellow and orange assist urban pollinators exceed their potential amongst a spray of flowers, including Phacelia Tanacetifolia, known as Fiddleneck to luminous Eschcholzia Californica or Golden Poppy. It is of no surprise to discover the latter is the official state flower of California and used as a herbal remedy for tooth pain and anxiety.

Getting lost amongst the birds and bees defines this Physic working garden in progress and draws us towards a multitude of gardens within a garden fit for purpose. Artistic yet functional, we uncover a collection of plants used for everyday life such as sugar beet in The Garden of Edible and Useful Plants. Amongst providing high-energy food for Man we discover the vegetable’s use in farming, which raising soil PH levels and feed for livestock, connects us with plants.

From Asia and Australasia to South America we enter the plant-hunting world of Joseph Banks and Robert Fortune in The World Woodland Garden and embark on an evergreen voyage of shade tolerant plants. Beneath the sheltering forest-like palms and sidewalk giant saucer-like hostas we consider the effects of deforestation amidst the lush vegetation and tropical plantation timber and admire the botanists universal species.

The ancient Ginkgo Biloba tree is a Careertraveller favourite with it’s tumbling Rapunzel like shoots that twist and twirl to the ground between dainty fan shaped leaves used for western herbal medicine. Native to China we admire this endangered species known as ‘living fossil’ and step into the world of Chinese traditional medicine, which over the centuries has led to extensive homeopathic research in the fields of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Our plant hunting tour ends at the Tangerine Dream Café where a garden fresh salad and glass of fine chardonnay deliver spring on a plate. Alfresco dining overlooking enchanting grounds are the ultimate garden party and an excuse to sign up for a seasonal course in botany or beekeeping, the list is endless!

A final mooch in the nearby Glasshouses ignite the Careertraveller wanderlust in The Tropical Corridor of medicinal plants from the faraway steamy and sultry tropics and subtropics. Home to the climbing Vanilla Planifolia orchid and latest first chocolate pod from the cacao tree, Chelsea Physic Garden is a breath-taking cauldron of science and travel, which as an independent charity salutes Sir Hans Sloane, volunteers and Friends of the Garden who donate their time and funds to maintain London’s secret garden.

Further information:

Chelsea Physic Garden
Walks, Talks & Workshops

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