Herbal Travels: The Chelsea Physic Garden of London

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You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog http://lemonverbenalady.blogspot.com.

I got to daydreaming a bit lately about herb gardens in other places because we have snow on the ground here in the ‘Burgh.  I continue to find inspiration in the gardens I saw when I went to England in September 2010. One of my favorites, The Chelsea Physic Garden (“Chelsea”), is in the heart of London and is about four acres of intensely planted beds. Robbie L. Cranch and Gary Thomson wrote a comprehensive article about Chelsea and its history in the December/January 1995 issue of the Herb Companion, which you can access on this website for more information.

I will give you a quick version of the garden’s history. Chelsea was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. Chelsea was first and foremost a garden to train apprentices: the famous herbalist Nicholas Culpeper trained as an apprentice apothecary at Chelsea. The garden provided a site for growing plants used in medicines. When you realize that 80 percent of the world’s population uses herbal medicine, Chelsea provided and still provides an important service. The first heated greenhouse in England was built at Chelsea in the 1680s. Elizabeth Blackwell lived on Swan Walk and wrote A Curious Herbal to try to gain her husband’s release from debtors prison. Hans Sloane was a previous apprentice apothecary and became the garden’s benefactor in the early 1700s.

Hans Sloane is the benefactor of the Chelsea Physic Garden
and a great believer in the power of chocolate mixed with milk.
Photo by Nancy Heraud

In Sue Minter’s book The Apothecaries’ Garden, she relates the story of Sloane travelling to Jamaica to satisfy his interest in natural history and to collect specimens. He used his observations on the use of chocolate mixed with milk to treat sick Jamaican children. “[H]e benefited from the sale of ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate … Greatly recommended by several eminent Physicians especially those of Sir Hans Sloane’s Acquaintance, For its Lightness on the Stomach, and its great Use in all Consumptive Cases.'”

Here is a photo of part of the Pharmaceutical Garden that was launched in 2000. The beds contain plants for oncology, dermatology, anaesthesia and analgesia, ENT and lung disease, psychiatry, rheumatology and neurology, parasitology, cardiology and ophthalmology.

 The Pharmaceutical Garden of Plants can treat a wide variety of ailments and diseases.
Photo by Nancy Heraud

As Ms. Minter relates in her book, “In fact 50 per cent of the top twenty-five best-selling pharmaceuticals worldwide owe their origin to natural products, many of them plants and some of which are still grown in fields.” If you come over to my blog, I will have more photos of the garden posted for you to see. I am always impressed by the neat and precise rows of plants and even vegetables. I also just love that you are in the middle of London, but when you are behind the walls of the garden you really forget that you are in the city.

They have so many interesting collections of plants both inside the greenhouses and outside in the gardens. One of those collections is their scented geranium collection.

The Chelsea greenhouse includes a collection of lovely scented geraniums.
Photo by Nancy Heraud

I discovered that one of my favorite scented geraniums, ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose’ was mislabeled by Chelsea. If you go to my blog post on this subject, you will see the incorrect label. I have alerted the gardeners by e-mail of the mislabeled scented geranium and hopefully they will correct the problem. Chelsea is the only botanic garden to retain physic (meaning the healing arts) in its title. Chelsea is a hidden treasure of herbal magic and an garden survivor, and is not to be missed when visiting London.

I can’t believe that this is my 40th guest post for The Herb Companion magazine!  I have had a wonderful time guest blogging and if you have a passion for herbs like me, you could be the next guest blogger. Come join us. I know you will enjoy it as much as I have. I have been given the opportunity to experiment with the Herb Garden Planner featured on The Herb Companion homepage. So stay tuned the next couple of guest posts will be about the Herb Garden Planner.

If you have herb questions, please feel free to leave me a comment or e-mail me at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.com. Talk to you soon. 

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