Having made one attempt to see the Chelsea Physic Garden earlier in the year when I travelled with my son from Kent only to find it closed because it was Saturday, we tried again last Monday. I don’t know how I failed to see on the website the first time round that it’s closed on Saturdays but it was certainly worth the expense and effort to try again while the weather was still sunny and warm. From our home in North Kent we caught the train to Victoria and then hopped on a bus that took us to a stop just outside the entrance to the Chelsea Physic Garden in Royal Hospital Road: it’s also only a short walk from Sloane Square underground station.
Opening hours are from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm Sunday to Friday but it’s best to check the website before setting off in case it is closed for a special occasion and to check ticket prices. Entrance is £12.50 for adults but my husband and I used a Gardeners’ World two-for-one card and my adult son had his own Gardeners’ World card which I think allowed him in for half price; a real bargain. We went straight to the Garden Cafe to buy coffees and pastries and enjoyed them while sitting in the sun before setting off to tour the garden. It is London’s oldest botanic garden having been established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in order to grow plants to make medicines. It occupies a site of 4 acres between Royal Hospital Road and the Thames and in that relatively small space is a living collection of between 4,000 and 5,000 different ‘edible, useful and historical’ plants. We started in the World Woodland Garden and my husband, who is very keen on trees, was amazed at the collection of many unusual and rare ones growing there.
As lunch is served in the Garden Cafe between 12.00 and 2.30 we decided after about an hour to get a table while we could and sat outside under an awning with views of the garden. There were small and large plates on the menu – from £12 to £21 – a lot of them salads, using as much as possible from the garden. We each ordered something different – I had pea and mint risotto which was delicious – and my husband and son chose different salads; we also had alcoholic drinks. I think a lot of the diners were local and probably Friends of Chelsea Physic Garden and if I lived in London I would probably become a Friend too.
We continued our tour visiting the glasshouses, each dedicated to a different species including cacti, ferns, Atlantic Islands plants, pelargoniums, tropical plants, all brilliantly displayed and well labelled. There are also many tender plants growing outside; we saw pomegranates on a tree but somehow missed the avocados that were fruiting somewhere in the garden, probably also in the Garden of Edible and Useful Plants. In addition to the glasshouse containing Atlantic Islands plants, including Canary Islands and Madeira, there is also a border planted up with many of them. A large area is filled with long beds devoted to different types of plants. There are many other features including a pond rockery and a statue of Sir Hans Sloane. Several people were painting or sketching around the garden and a party of primary school age children was being shown round: Chelsea Physic Garden has an Education Centre and runs painting and photography workshops for adults and seasonal workshops for children. Many volunteers help with the garden maintenance and a team of them were weeding while we were there. I loved this garden with its mix of botanical education and diverse collection of beautiful plants all set in a space that is easy to explore thoroughly in a few hours or just amble around and enjoy the tranquil setting. Next to the entrance/exit there is a small shop with a good choice of gifts and botanical books. It’s definitely a garden I will return to at different times of the year.