Keen gardeners will know all about Chelsea Physic Garden, as it’s been in existence since 1673, which means we’ve known about it longer than we’ve known about Australia (which Captain Cooke bumped into in 1770). You’d never know it was there though, as the entrance is tucked half way down an unlikely looking side street and it is situated in prime posh residential London, surely no garden can afford the rent here?
Turns out that the peppercorn rent on the four acres is not a worry, as the land is leased for £5 annually in perpetuity from the descendants of the original landowner, Sir Hans Sloane. The garden, which was planted as a medicinal and healing garden, has been used for research purposes for universities for most of its life, but was opened to the public in 1983 and now it’s one of my favourite spots in London.
Not only are the experimental gardens a source of inspiration to workaday gardeners like you and I – their round-bottomed stick wigwams for sweet peas changed my whole thinking on supports this year – but they make a great place to visit with out-of-towners, who marvel at the gorgeous Chelsea houses spotted on the way. Lunch can be scoffed on the lawn, overlooked by these grand homes, while trying your hardest to imagine what it must be like to live in the area.
For me the best bits are the greenhouses full of pelargoniums and succulents (house plant loving millennials might consider this a visit to the mothership) and the Victorian fern house, which I want to bring home with me every time I visit. They also sell plants, which is very dangerous if you visit regularly, because they often have unusual plants and cuttings from ones they’ve grown.
This summer the garden has hosted Elixir Of letters, a collection of beautiful stone sculptures commissioned from artists such as Martin Cook, Annet Stirling, Karim Lahham, Alyosha Moeran, and Charlotte Howarth, which are thoughtfully positioned to compliment the planting.
If you wanted to plan a visit, I suggest to think about attending to the Christmas Fair, when the place looks like a dream and there are many beautiful things to buy from local artisans.
There are also fantastic courses and evening suppers too, but book early as spaces are harder to find than hens’ teeth.
I’m reluctant to talk too much about the place TBH, as it’s very special to us west Londoners, who sneak in for a quick coffee and cake stop after a stint of shopping in the Kings Road, or trawl the little shop for gifts. I don’t want all-and-sundry cluttering up the place, so keep it to yourselves TWR womenfolk, and share only with your favourite people.
I lived in Chelsea for 30+ years and only visited the gardens about twice so am feeling remorseful and guilt ridden after reading your post ! What a wasred opportunity. I shall remedy the situation next time I am back in the UK and would love to know the dates for the Christmas Fair. Thanks for the heads up !!!
Sue, Christmas Fair is 24th Nov, we should go for a coffee and cake next time you are around? Ax