Monday, December 19, 2011

Chelsea Physic Garden

Useful plants

The oldest botanical garden in the world is all about plants that have useful healing properties. And then there’s the belladonna, which is so dangerous that it has to be kept in a cage. Welcome to the Chelsea Physic Garden.

I forget what this was useful for...

This hidden gem on the banks of the Thames in Chelsea was founded in 1673. It was planted out by the Society of Apothecaries, of its apprentices to learn about the properties of healing plants. Throughout the 1700 it became an important centre for the exchange of botanic specimens - Joseph Banks brought some bits and bobs back from the Antipodes. A seed exchange program with other gardens was started, and runs to this day.

Amongst the plants are some interesting old structures, made from things like stones from the Tower of London, Icelandic lava, old bricks and flint. the “oldest rock garden in the world” is a rather hideous Victorian thing, but has been listed for preservation.

Cure every ill...

But it is the plants themselves which are, of course, of the most fascinating interest. The Physic Garden plant beds are generally divided up according to the ailments for which the plants are useful, such as Respiratory, Psychiatric, Cardiac, and so on. I visited with a cheerful group taking a guided tour - the guide was especially helpful in drawing our attention to otherwise quite dull and uninspiring looking plants, revealed to have astonishing pharmaceutical properties.


And the belladonna? The berries are highly toxic, though ladies in the 19th century used o squeeze belladonna juice in their eyes for a cosmetic effect. Apparently it was fashionable to have highly dilated pupils. Today the Garden has its specimen literally in a cage - despite a sign warning fiercely of the toxicity of the berries, a visitor (who didn’t speak English and declined a guided tour) thought she would just taste one of those juicy looking berries. The  hospital called...

Belladonna...Deadly Nightshade

Gingko leaves

The Garden, being of a great age, also has some very fine tree specimens, including my favourite tree, the Gingko Biloba, with its beautiful leaves and the ability to juice up the brain cells - and lots of other useful things.

Once you have spent the evening wandering around the Garden, you can while away a late summer evening with a glass of wine and, if you wish, dinner at the cafe in the grounds. Very nice.

Leaves image from


  1. I continue to enjoy your posts even though I dont often comment.

    Have a good festive season and 2012

    kind regards

  2. Thanks, Bruce! All the best to you guys, too.