Thursday, February 16, 2017

London Excursion: Chelsea Physic Garden

Yet another garden visit from a few weeks ago when I was in London for my research: on my last weekend there, we managed to make it to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had just reopened that Saturday after its January winter closure for Snowdrop Days. The snowdrops were indeed lovely and the sheer number of varieties of these dainty little flowers on display was impressive  - as was the fact that in the sales tent rare varieties were going for as much as £50 for a single pot of a few shoots! Yet beyond the snowdrops, this was the first time I got to explore this small but jam-packed historic botanical garden, and despite it being winter there was plenty to see.

The plaque at the entrance to the garden - though it was actually founded in 1673

Wintery beds and trees

The wonderful Ethiopian acanthus (Acanthus sennii) blooming against a sheltering wall

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina' - a long name for a delicate flower

Some of the snowdrops that were the stars of the day in the Snowdrop Theatre...

... some more in the open ground...

... and a single bloom in one of the little stands used to display them for examination closer to eye-level

Part of the palm collection - note the chubby, wonderful Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) in the background

The garden's inner city location combined with the already very mild climate of southern England means that it has a very protected microclimate. This is evidenced by the palm trees - including my favorite, the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) - and tree ferns, an ancient olive tree, a cork oak (Quercus suber) which, apart from the fact that its bark has not been harvested, would not be out of place in the rolling hills of the Portuguese Alentejo, and, perhaps most outrageously, what is likely the northernmost outdoor grapefruit tree (Citrus x paradisi) in the world. Yet a series of small but atmospheric greenhouses is home to even more tender plants.

Part of the greenhouse and hotbed complex, with the city in the background

The Canary Island bellflower (Canarina canariensis) blooming in one of the greenhouses

Greenhouse scene

Bright colors 

A delicate, pale cultivar of wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) perfuming the air

We also caught the beginning of a tour by head gardener Nick Bailey but unfortunately had to rush off to make our lunch reservation with friends. The garden is a real treasure box, so hopefully I will be back during the summer some time in the future. Now off to read more manuscripts and explore more gardens here in Paris...


  1. Beautiful!The bell flower is so interesting!

  2. An interesting and lovely garden. The blooming Acanthus sennii is impressive. Mine blooms in late summer and is killed to the ground by frost each winter. Do you suppose that the plant was inside a greenhouse and taken out for Snowdrop Days?

    1. No, it was definitely permanently planted in the ground, but right up against the south-facing wall of the café. On top of that the garden apparently also has an exceptionally mild microclimate due to the heat island effect of the city.


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