Tucked away in an idyllic riverside pocket of Chelsea is the Chelsea Physic Garden: it has just opened its doors for the main summer season, and these fascinating four acres are well worth a visit as the weather picks up.
Founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1673 to grow medicinal herbs, the Chelsea Physic Garden is London’s oldest botanical garden: it boasts a world renowned reputation, and grows many rare and endangered species to this day. The garden was established by Sir Hans Sloane, a famous physician, naturalist and collector, who also founded the British Museum. A successful society physician, Sloane spent part of his career serving the Governor of Jamaica, bringing back many of his Jamaican discoveries to the British Isles: quinine, for example, which was used to treat malaria; and a recipe for a mixture of milk and coca that local women used to treat stomach ailments – which he later sold to Cadbury’s for a large sum of money! It was this financial boon that ultimately enabled him to purchase the Manor and Garden.
The garden holds over 5,000 useful, edible and medicinal plants that have transformed the world. Situated on a south-facing bank of the Thames, and making the most of the warm air currents running near the river, the garden has its own special microclimate, enabling gardeners to grow plants not commonly found in the UK. See, for example, the UK’s largest fruiting olive tree, or the world’s most northerly outdoor grapefruit tree! The four acres are incredibly diverse: visitors can explore glasshouses, a picturesque pond rockery, and several gardens of useful, edible and medicinal plants; or even walk through time on the garden’s historical walk! If you like, book onto a behind the scenes tour, too, to discover the garden’s secrets.
Although right in the centre of Chelsea, stepping into this hidden gem feels like entering a secret, peaceful oasis. Located nearby, the Mercure Kensington provides an excellent location from which to explore this historic garden: make use of the excellent public transport links, or perhaps enjoy a leisurely stroll through the streets of Chelsea after your visit.