Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Chelsea Physic Garden

A few weeks ago I visited the Chelsea Physic garden with my Mum. I had bought her a membership to the garden for her birthday but did not have any idea what the garden was. So I took a day off work mid week and we met in London

The garden is a short walk from the busy shopping street of The Kings Road. On the way you pass some lovely old houses, all beautifully maintained with painted railings and window boxes full of flowers. The garden is surrounded by large walls on all sides and the entrance is through a small gate off a little side street. As you step into the garden you suddenly forget that you are in London.

The garden was founded in 1673 as a garden for apothecaries to train their aprentices in identifying different species of plant. Over the years it has been taken over by various people and many different varieties of plant have been brought here from all over the world. You can read more about it's history here...

We started off by having lunch from the small cafe that they have. It was a refreshing experience as the cafe is not at all commercial. There is a table at the end of a room where there are various salads, quiches and cakes laid out for you to choose from as well as homemade lemonade. I had a delicious goats cheese quiche with a sundried tomato base. I think I will be trying to replicate this myself as it was really rather good. There are tables outside so we were able to have our lunch whilst looking out into the garden.

The garden is divided up into different areas that are home to different types of plant; Pharmaceutical Beds, Systematic Order Beds Dicotyledons, Systematic Order Beds Monocotyledons etc. When you go into the garden you are given a "Points of Interest" sheet with information that is relevant to that month. It is definately a garden to go to throughout the year and see how it changes with the different seasons.

We set off into the Tropical Corridor and Glasshouses to start with as it was just starting to rain. The heat of these is the first thing that hits you, and then you can apreciate the detail of the houses. They are probably of victorian era, wooden doors with detailed brass handles, and great big brass levers for opening the air vents. (I stupidly didn't take my camera so I will just have to visit again to take some more pictures)

The Pharmaceutical beds are fascinating as I had just not apreciated how many plants have some sort of medicinal property. Close to these beds is the fibre bed which has a collection of plants that are used to make rope and textiles. It is surrounded by the ropes and has an explanation of where each one is used. It is funny to see the plant where the ropes come as it is not obvious from looking at the plants what they would be used for.

The most fascinating area for me was the Cool Fernery. It was similar in construction to the glasshouse. but it was in the shade, cool and just had different varieties of ferns in it. Mum said that she has a fern that she can give me, so I will have to find a suitable place in the garden for it. There was also a Wardian case in the cool fernery. It is a simple idea, it is like a mini green house and you don't need to water the plants as the closed environment keeps it moist. I have a large glass sweet jar that I am going to try to make into a Wardian case.

The great thing about the garden is that it is a working garden and on show all year round, so it is not comeplly neat and tidy. It has also got me interested in the academic side of gardening. I love the sound of Systematic Order Beds Dicotyledons, but I do not really know what this means, and I am hopeless with the latin names of plants. I think I will try to learn more about this over the coming months. The other thing that I loved was that no matter how large or small a plant was, almost all of the potted plants were in terracotta pots, not plastic here.

I really enjoyed my visit, and I think that The Chelsea Physic Garden is possibly my favourite place in London. I am going to become a friend of the garden and visit it as much as I can.

My Own Garden

My own garden is really starting to come along and I feel that I am getting more confidence. It has managed to recover from the arrival of the chickens last year, who as lovely as they are, can really cause a lot of damage in a very short time if they are not watched.

My borders are quite poor this year and I have had a real problem with slugs, but I have (so far) been a lot more successful with my vegetable growing. I am starting be able to enjoy going out into the garden and picking things to take inside to eat.

This was my haul the other evening

Tiny but certainly moving in the right direction. The strawberries were delicious and I have been able to have a small vase of sweet pea for several weeks now. I have had a couple of courgettes too and the tomatoes and potatoes are thriving. I am not quite ready to live from my own produce (I think I would be rather hungry) but it is one, all be it small, step closer.

So much of gardening ins unknown, how will a plant work in your soil, will the slugs or the chickens destroy it. But when it does work there is something quite magical about seeing a flower, fruit or vegetable that you have nurtured from seed grow and mature.