Chelsea Physic Garden

As my reward for doing two busy events in a row this month, the Viking and I paid a visit to London yesterday, visiting the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum in the morning and then trekking across London (through the mayhem of the Chelsea Flower Show visitors) to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden, a place I’ve wanted to rummage around for years now!

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They’ve recently been building the new garden of medicinal plants, which is nearing completion, needing only a year or two of settling in now to become a really beautiful herb garden.  There are interesting wooden units dotted about, with pictures, pressed herbs and jars of pills inside, featuring snippets of information about the herbs used for various departments – skin, oncology, rheumatology, nerves, and so on and so forth.

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The rest of the garden varies quite widely in display – strips of beds filled with plants from different families, other sections full of selections of plants discovered by various explorers, including our local botanical explorer, Sir Joseph Banks.   Glass houses are full of tropical and heat loving plants from all corners of the globe, just starting to come into bloom.  It really is a stunning place, totally astonishing to find in the middle of London’s hustle and bustle!

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Bee hives, gardens full of edible and useful plants, woven fences, huge trees… I really could go on!  That having been said, I had expected I would be running around like a bee in a clover field, but here’s where one or two little criticisms come to light.   I found that the labels and tags only detailed Latin names – I’d have loved it if they put the common names as well, and more details about the folklore.   It would also have been lovely if they had done more specific beds for each country – British herbs, Mediterranean herbs, North and Central American herbs, that sort of thing.   Lastly, I would have loved more folklore – that, and plants’ mythic uses, are some of my favourite subjects.   But those are just my little niggles about the place – if you are near there, do drop by and have a look.  The gardens are stunning, the gift shop is really cute and full of really lovely stuff, and the cafe supplies very good food indeed.   All in all, a lovely place to spend an afternoon!

One other thing I discovered about myself is that I it would seem that I am a bit of a plant snob!  Or rather, my interests in herbs seems to be particularly geared towards local plants – the ones I have grown or can grow in my own garden, or which grow locally to me, wild in the hedgerows.  Even the foreign ones that can and will gladly grow in English soil I’d be very happy and excited to learn about.  For some reason I just can’t get as excited over herbs from the tropics, perhaps because I don’t feel as though I can really make friends with them.  They are fish out of water to me, metaphorically speaking – not in their home climes, with different shapes and leaves and colours to our more native plants.  I can’t get a proper ‘read’ on them as a result, I suppose!  In a way its a good thing.  There are so many more plants that live over here that I have yet to learn about, after all – time enough in the future to learn more foreign plants, when I can go to their shores and climes and meet them on their own terms.

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