On this very warm sunny day in London, it was delightful to enter the four acre green oasis of Chelsea Physic Garden, the third oldest botanical garden in the UK.
Under a statue of Hans Sloane we met Pamela, our guide for the tour, only to discover she had been a nurse at Barts! She led us on a very informative walk among the 5000 different plants within its walls, including large Olive and Cork trees and even a grapefruit tree complete with fruit that had grown from a pip on a neighbour’s windowsill.
In 1673, when Lord Mayor’s Show was still a river pageant, the Apothecaries leased the site for their boat house to facilitate their plant finding trips and found the south facing plot ideal for establishing a garden to grow medicinal herbs and to train apprentices. One of whom, Hans Sloane, when rich and famous, bought the site, leasing it to the Apothecaries in perpetuity. Plants from around the world were introduced and a global seed exchange began with a wide-reaching impact.
We learnt about the Doctrine of Signatures, where plants that resembled an organ or disease were used to treat the illness, with mixed results. Looking at the poisonous plants, we were reminded the anagram of garden is danger, as discovered by a previous visitor hospitalised after helping themselves to deadly nightshade berries!
It was fascinating to see so many examples of plants whose therapeutic properties are widely used; a real testament to this garden’s place in history. As we made our way to the cafe it was good to recall that Hans Sloane had introduced drinking chocolate from the Caribbean for its medicinal purposes.