Chelsea Physic Garden and London
by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa
When I worked at the University of Cape Town I read about the Chelsea Physic Garden opening to the public. In 1987 the day we flew back to Zurich from a London holiday, utterly exhausted we lay on the lawns in the garden. Fast forward to this July. We walked wrong to the Thames entrance, before we reached the Swan Walk Gate.
On my father's side I am distantly related to Sir Hans Sloane. (Daniel Watkins, who was the first doctor to go to New Zealand, married Julia Maria Sloane in 1827) Sir Hans was an apothecary apprentice from Ireland. In 1687 he returned from Jamaica with two treasures. Quinine against malaria sourced from the Cinchona tree. And chocolate! Used as a drink by Jamaican mothers for children with colic. He was graciously able to leave his garden to the apothecaries, for the proverbial peppercorn rent, of five pounds a year.
A new biography of Hans Sloane was published in 2017. Collecting the World, by James Delbourgo. In 1695, he married the widow Elizabeth Langley Rose. Elizabeth’s first husband had been “one of Jamaica’s leading slave owners, reckoned to be one of only six colonists who regularly purchased hundreds of Africans in the 1670s.”
The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673. London's oldest botanical garden. Four acres of Chelsea which the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries used to grow their medicinal herbs and train their apprentices (what is it and what does it do??) South-facing, good soil from a former market garden, and access to the Thames for botanising expeditions.
Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward invented the Wardian case, to move living plants across the sea - leading to tea farming in India and rubber plantations in SE Asia.
I would love time to explore the monocot and dicot beds laid out by families. For example the tomato family gives us hyoscine (travel sickness).
They have renamed it again ... 464 of the 565 traditional plant families have been confirmed by DNA. Lotus is related to the London plane tree, not water lilies. Roses are closer to buckthorn, nettles and figs than saxifrages.
I was charmed by the affectionate gathering at jovial Sir Hans' feet in July with Rosa Munstead Wood and Lilium Bracelet in his circle. Huge white daisy Arctotis grandis (renamed venusta) a dry summer rainfall surprise from my home. Softly salmon Lavatera, hibiscus family from the Canary Islands. Sculptural cardoon or artichoke? Gentle lime yellow Cephalaria, teasel family from Central Europe. Huge bizarre leaves on Amicia, pea family from Mexico. Mauve Agrostemma, carnation family from SW Asia.
We ate at Amico Bio - vegetarian and Italian! And Food Heddon at Tibits. Imagine - a vegetarian hot and cold buffet, 40 dishes with many changing daily. And a dessert buffet with 20 choices. Double sigh!!
At the Imperial War Museum I understood why my mother never did learn to like rice, or pasta, preferring a little bread with her Cornish butter! We are exploring millet, as more nutritious than rice.
We walked to Postman's Park and read all the tributes.
Grateful to my blogs for virtual visits to distant exhibitions. At the Foundling Museum I longed to see Threads of Feeling (a 2010 gem that hooked me into the joy of blogging!) - when desperate women brought their children they took a piece cut from the baby's clothes as proof one fine day that THIS child is mine. Inspiring Tracey Emin's sculpture on the fence outside. Coram was appalled by abandoned babies as he walked in London. Handel and Hogarth were original supporters. Today they provide social services for the most vulnerable children. Coram's Fields was being happily used - 'adults may only enter if accompanied by a child.'
I went to the Imperial War Museum hoping to find information about my grandfather and kite balloons. Without an appointment I couldn't access the books - but I did see this small proof.
|Imperial War Museum - balloons!|
To the Sky Garden and the Olympic Park next.
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