Chelsea Physic Garden: A gem in the heart of London

The Chelsea Physic Garden can be found a short distance away from where the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show is held. The garden covers 3.8 acres with Royal Hospital Road to the north and the Embankment to the south. The Physic Garden at Chelsea was founded by the Society of Apothecaries in 1673, so that their apprentices could learn to grow medicinal plants and study their uses. Today the garden is still dedicated to promoting education, conservation, and scientific research.

The garden is divided by gravel paths into quadrants, which are then mostly sub-divided into rectilinear beds – an original design feature of the garden. These borders have plants grouped by their culinary and medicinal uses, plants for perfumery and cosmetics, and others used for the manufacture of fabrics and dyes.

The formal design of the botanical garden is broken by trees which often have a multitude of uses, and include an ancient yew. A Historical Walk allows you to follow the Garden’s own history, with plants introduced into cultivation by notable botanists, such as Sir Joseph Banks and Robert Fortune.


Evidence of formality: demonstrated by a row of neatly clipped bay trees pruned as ‘lollipop’ standards.


Sweet cicely ‘Myrrhis odorata’ in the culinary borders.


Scarlet red poppies in the pharmaceutical borders.


Wildlife flourishes in the garden, and frogs, toads and newts inhabit the Tank Pond which was restored in 2004. The Flag Iris is in flower at the ponds edge.


The fresh green foliage of the virginia creeper ‘Parthenocissus quinquefolia’ stand out beautifully against the black panel fence.


Some lovely examples of architectural foliage – Cynara cardunculus is in the image below.



Gravel paths work their way through the garden and take the visitors past many different plants of interest.



The towering spires of the Echium give a tropical feel to the gardens. The sheltered situation and high brick walls enclosing the gardens help to provide a micro climate for less hardy plants to grow.


An imaginative way of creating a vertical herb garden by using a stack of wooden crates.

Whether for the serious plant enthusiast or the casual garden visitor, the Chelsea Physic Garden is a delight to visit and a great place to discover and learn about plants and their huge array of uses.

To find out more about the Garden and its activities visit

Photo credits: Garden Design Eye


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