‘Learn from those whose generosity is given to you.’
In 1673 The Chelsea Physic Garden was established on four acres of land, beside the River Thames, by the Apothecaries in order to gather, propagate and study medicinal plants. In 1712, Sir Hans Sloane, physician, naturalist, collector and founder of the British Museum, bought and offered the Manor of Chelsea to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries for the grand total of £5.00. This is still paid to his dependents today. Best £5.00 pounds rental ever!
I always knew about this chap from the famous, and often found in Sloane Square, but little of just how much of a legacy this gentleman has left for us to enjoy. And it was yesterday, admittedly, that I first entered the secret garden that is The Chelsea Physic garden. Done nearly all the gardens in London, and England, but this little gem somehow escaped me. Guess I was always turning into the The Chelsea Flower Show gates and never really explored this offering. Until yesterday.
Oh dear, you have missed something special, I though to myself as I turned into Swan Street. Lotto loving maybe one day street. The houses are elegant, peeps into the gardens alluring, and running my hand along the secret wall that protects the garden, I almost walked right by. The entrance is unassuming, the anticipation like a bride before she enters the chapel. God lives there.
Perhaps she has found her spiritual home in London. No photographs in 30 degree heat will do justice to the magic, only the gnarled and mighty trees a canopy of cool beneath the beating sky. The garden is divided into four quadrants, living libraries of medicinal, woodland, edible and historical favours. I took the tour, as I always, do for learning is never wasted. Of course my heart spiked at the sight of atlantic blue aggies, the vivid cannas so often planted as borders to free state farm houses with familiar friends I planted in my own gardens.
Summer colour is everywhere: plump oranges and grapefruits swollen on branches. Bella Donna, deadly belle that she is, like glass marbles on the bush. And it does not matter if the latin genus names escapes, a daisy is as pretty called a daisy as any distinguished label. Edging of Yew and buxus leads one gently from place to place.
A place of peace, and teaching. Calm reigns. I wished I could bring my friends, and in particular those who struggle with illness, and life to this sanctuary. Is a garden not the epitome of spirituality then? Plopped sun worshippers with flimsy clothes and broad hats dotted the lawn, rested on benches and conversed in the shady niches. There is a shop and tea room and I instead imagined an evening party to celebrate love here.
In the fading hours of the afternoon, it was to a quiet corner of repose. Softness around, I wished so much that I was an artist able to capture the moment. I will bring my children here.
Let them see coconuts bloom, deserts create. Let them meander and muse about the power of plants in a garden. And it has always been my wistful wish to have a garden again, to be part of the seasons and the soil, but that is for another time. This is a garden in the heart of London that has a heart of curing all stress and replace with sublime sensitivity for life. For breathing in and breathing out easily: to rest and watch butterflies and bees, hear the birds high above and remind oneself of the power of nature in a pretty place.
If I were to have the space again one day, I would plant a garden that tells a story, of healing, of history, of woodland walks and edible fare. With the sound of water. I would plant a garden just like this one.
Image: The Chelsea Physic Garden.