Friday, 11 April 2014

The Chelsea Physic Garden

Wednesday 9 April 2014

I cannot think of a better way to spend a sunny April morning than in the Chelsea Physic Garden.

We, Mary, Linda and I that is, were having rather a Charles II morning, as we started at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, about which Linda has already written.  The Physic Garden was established in the same reign though the King was not as interested in plants as he was in doing the right thing for his soldiers.

We got to the Garden just after 11.30 and, while there was no cycle parking, I found a suitable lamp post outside.  The other two had come by public transport via Sloane Square, so had had ample opportunities to notice the serious wealth in the area.  On the other hand, there are large Peabody blocks and still some social housing that has not been bought by the rich to accommodate their university offspring. 

 The area nearest the entrance is being rearranged and replanted, so that medicinal plants are grouped according to the branch of medicine in which they might be useful, so there are beds labelled – for instance - ‘oncology’ and ‘obstetrics and gynaecology’.

We did not take the opportunity of a free guided tour, not least because the labelling is excellent and the explanations clear.  But you can if you like, and they also have talks and study days which are detailed on their website.

Obviously weather and wind direction are important to the gardeners, and this is a very sheltered spot, with tall houses and flats around as windbreaks.

The plants were looking and smelling wonderful, including some beds planted by colour.  

There were other items of interest, for example a Wardian Case.  This was designed in the early 19th century by Dr Nathanial (sic) Bagshaw Ward, to carry plants safely across land and sea.  A Wardian case brought the first germinating tea seedlings from China to India, and so changed the world, or at least the hot drinks aspect of it.

There were many people working in the gardens, and I asked a lovely worker whether they used weedkiller. (The answer is no, except for painting some systemic on really difficult intruders)  The conversation then moved on to slugs, obviously, after the wet winter which the little pests have clearly enjoyed.  She said they used nematodes, but were also about to try out Grazers, which apparently makes the plants taste nasty (to the pest) rather than damaging the plant or the pets, fish, birds etc  that suffer from normal insecticides.  In fact it was first used to deter deer, rabbits etc, and has only recently been adapted for –or against - molluscs. 

We visited the fern house and were amazed by the equisetum. It seems a better name when it is in Latin than the more everyday name, ‘horsetail’, since the 'equi' bit might refer to the equal segments in the stems.  

We paused briefly to watch some people re-chiselling the wording on the plinth of Sir Hans Sloane’s statue.

And then Mary stood us a welcome cup of coffee.  

Refreshed, we went to look at the further corners of the garden, with pond and beautiful Paulownia, or Foxglove tree. 

We also liked the explanations about reclassification which is gradually going on, using DNA rather than morphology (no, I didn’t know what that means, but it is the shape and the look of the thing rather than its actual biological structure.)

We left at about 13.15.  While the garden is not cheap (£9.90 as it happens) it is a delightful and informative oasis in the middle of noisy London. 

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