Chelsea Physic Garden

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Coordinates: 51°29′6″N 0°9′46″W / 51.48500°N 0.16278°W / 51.48500; -0.16278

The garden in summer 2006.
The garden with the house visible in the background.

The Chelsea Physic Garden was established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in London, England, in 1673. (The word "Physic" here refers to the science of healing.) This physic garden is the second oldest botanical garden in Britain, after the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1621.

Its rock garden is the oldest English garden devoted to alpine plants. The largest fruiting olive tree in Britain is there, protected by the garden’s heat-trapping high brick walls, along with what is doubtless the world’s northernmost grapefruit growing outdoors. Jealously guarded during the tenure of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, in 1983 the Garden became a registered charity[1] and was opened to the general public for the first time. The garden is a member of the London Museums of Health & Medicine.

History[edit]

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries initially established the garden on a leased site of Sir John Danvers’ well-established garden in Chelsea, London. This house, called Danvers House, adjoined the mansion that had once been the house of Sir Thomas More. Danvers House was pulled down in 1696 to make room for Danvers Street.

In 1713, Dr Hans Sloane purchased from Charles Cheyne the adjacent Manor of Chelsea, about 4 acres (1.6 ha), which he leased in 1722 to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity, requiring only that the Garden supply the Royal Society, of which he was a principal, with 50 good herbarium samples per year, up to a total of 2,000 plants.

That initiated the golden age of the Chelsea Physic Garden under the direction of Philip Miller (1722–1770), when it became the world's most richly stocked botanic garden. Its seed-exchange program was established following a visit in 1682 from Paul Hermann, a Dutch botanist connected with the Hortus Botanicus Leiden and has lasted till the present day. The seed exchange program’s most notable act may have been the introduction of cotton into the colony of Georgia and more recently, the worldwide spread of the Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus).

Isaac Rand, a member and a fellow of the Royal Society published a condensed catalogue of the Garden in 1730, Index plantarum officinalium, quas ad materiae medicae scientiam promovendam, in horto Chelseiano. Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (1737–39) was illustrated partly from specimens taken from the Chelsea Physic Garden. Sir Joseph Banks worked with the Head Gardener and Curator, John Fairbairn during the 1780–1814 period. Fairbairn specialized in growing and cultivating plants from around the world.

Parts of this classic garden have been lost to "development" - the river bank during 1874 construction of the Chelsea Embankment on the north bank of the River Thames, and a strip of the garden to allow widening of Royal Hospital Road. What remains is a 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) patch in the heart of London.

The present chairman of the trust which operates the Garden is Sarah Troughton, Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire.

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