While the rest of the world is going, “Autumn! Sweaters! Pumpkin Spice Lattes!” I’m sitting over here going, “Will we get one last bit of summer?” Perhaps I’m too stalwart of a purist, but for me, Autumn only begins on September 21st. There’s an Equinox, people. Also, Stag and I still have a few ‘summer holidays’ left, one to toasty Italy. So excuse me while I dream of floral dresses, gardens and sunshine.
Which is apt, considering I’m currently going through our pictures from the Chelsea Physic Garden, a 17th-century medical garden that we visited on a sun-drenched, warm early August day.This place really is off the beaten track, nestled off the bustling King’s Road on a quiet Chelsea street, hidden behind towering brick walls. It’s one of those places that you would never find unless you knew to search for it. And trust me when I say: you need to be searching for it.
I don’t quite remember how I first heard about the Chelsea Physic Garden. But, as usual with random London nuggets of information, it quickly entered our bucket list. I’ve been on a mission to get us there since. One failed attempt (IT’S CLOSED ON SATURDAYS, I learned the hard way) and a promise of cake to Stag later, we trekked our way across London and finally made the visit.
Once you get past the £10.50 entry fee (yes, it made me wince, too), you step into one of the most magical, most interesting gardens you can find in London. Magical, because it somehow balances manicured with untamed. Interesting, because it’s a garden-turned-history lesson on the medical uses of plants.
They offer free guided tours of the gardens, but one had just started when we arrived. Stag and I glanced at each other, nodded, and quickly dashed over to join the tour, having only just missed the first few minutes. As our tour progressed, we picked up a few more stragglers, each intrigued by the interesting stories to come out of this historic garden.
Our guide was incredible, full to the brim of anecdotes and medical knowledge — made even more impressive because she is a volunteer. She explained how the gardens are filled with over 5,000 plants, each chosen for either being edible, useful, medicinal or historical (or sometimes all four).
The medical section is categorised by discipline — from oncology to neurology, and everything in between — with each plant given a history plaque to discuss its use in medicine.
Fun fact about Eire: when I was a teenager, I fleetingly wanted to become a botanist and professor of herb and plant lore. What can I say; I was a weird child. I may have moved on from my strange career aspirations, but my love for the history of plant uses has continued unabated. Needless to say, I could have spent the whole day wandering these medical gardens.
In addition, the Chelsea Physic Garden is home to Europe’s oldest rock garden, a garden of edible plants, the UK’s biggest olive tree (who knew?) and enough smaller, winding pathways to get a bit lost in. Which I seriously recommend you do.
And it’s exactly what Stag and I did, after our tour completed. We did what gardens are best for doing: we strolled, we soaked in the sun, and we snuggled on a bench, just chatting about life.
Clearly all this fun works up an appetite. And Stag was promised treats. So we headed to the adorable Tangerine Dream cafe inside the garden for a light lunch and a slice of cake. We chose to sit outside and make the most of the beautiful day, sipping on sparkling elderflower with nothing but the sounds of chatter, birds and wind to accompany us
Our day at the Chelsea Physic Garden was one of the best, most relaxing days out we’ve had in ages. Only seconded by our morning in Mayfield Lavender. London’s secret garden; my favourite secret spot in London.