London’s Sweetest Secret Garden and Hideaway Café
Wandering through the February blooms is on the agenda today as we discover London’s oldest botanicals garden (founded in 1673!) just coming into Spring. Relax into your wicker chair, take your first sip a coffee and breathe in the sweet smelling air…
Over a high wall just off Swan Walk in Chelsea, where the road curves down to meet the river, peaks the hopeful fragrant white petals of a rose tree. We’ve found Chelsea Physic Garden, originally set up by the Apothecaries of London in order to investigate the medicinal properties of plants from all over the world and help further their knowledge of healing. The 4 acre walled garden now holds 5,000 varieties of ‘edible, medicinal, herbal or useful’ plants, and we’re going to discover some of the surprising uses the Garden’s treasures are being put to today.
Inside the greenhouses there is a jungle of colour, including a collection of endangered plant species from Crete, the Atlantic Islands, Maderia and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Islands Greenhouse. The smell when you walk into some of these greenhouses is just so incredible, it lifts your senses and spirits immediately.
My favourite flowering plant at the Garden was the Cymbidium Hybrid Orchid, which you can just see the tag sticking out for above!
The Garden has a fascinating history. It remains to this day on its original site – the former gardens of Chelsea Manor, a famous and sadly no longer existent house from where the borough of Chelsea in London gets its name. The revered philanthropist Sir Hans Sloane purchased Chelsea Manor in 1712 and provided its grounds for use by the garden. Prior to Sloane’s residency, the estate had once been home to King Henry VIII, his fifth wife Anne of Cleaves, and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I. There were 3 different buildings of the Manor throughout the estate’s life, until it was finally demolished by Earl Cadogan in 1825. The Garden, however, remains.
I was very pleased to discover that Sir Hans Sloane and his former home’s gardens are also important for another reason – that of the discovery of my most cherished addiction on the planet – chocolate. Though Sloane was not the first to encounter mixing recipes for chocolate and bringing them home to England from his travels in Jamaica, a Soho grocer named Nicholas Sanders jumped at the chance to capitalise on Sir Hans Sloane’s famous name and marketed his chocolate recipe as Sloane’s own ‘brand’. Check out the advert below!
Other than its contributions to the world of chocolate (the medicinal properties of which I can truly vouch for in cure of almost any ailment – including getting out of bed in the mornings), Chelsea Physic Garden continues to be the inspiration for all kinds of botanicals-based events. To mark the arrival of Summer, Chelsea Physic Garden has hosted ‘Live Botanicals’ gin events, including a Gin Garden pop-up with herbalist Michael Isted from The Herball to teach audiences what can be found in their own back garden and how to incorporate herbs and plants into their daily lives, as well as events in support of not-for-profit organisations, such as Malaria No More. P.s. The below photo is from my favourite boutique organic skincare store, Content – often regarded as London’s leading organic and natural apothecary and offering beauty treatments, Naturopathy and nutrition. Guess they have a love of other botanicals too! #botanicalsforthewin
Last year, the Four Seasons Hotel hosted a pop-up, garden-infused spa for Mother’s Day in collaboration with Budapest skincare range Omorovicza and turned some of the rooms at the top of the hotel into rooftop getaways.
Chelsea Physic Garden’s annual Christmas Fair is also not be missed, with the opportunity to make your own wreath with picks from the garden.
Nails Inc. even created a nail polish inspired by the Chelsea Physic Garden for the Spring Summer collection in 2013! They also launched their own Vegan Range, which you can discover here. I haven’t been able to get my hands on any yet though…
As we wander through the iron gate, an apple tree looms above, offering its crops towards the sky. It’s so quiet here, and I’m reminded that Chelsea was once a village. What a haven this once must have been – it still is now, especially in February when most think there isn’t much to see… Gulp in the fresh crisp air and keep walking.
Lemons, the textures of wood and large greenhouses stocked full reminding us of climes much warmer than England’s are bursting with colour and scent as we wind our way to an opening on the grass and come across a willow tree bending over the entrance to the cafe.
And inside the little café they serve us two warm cappuccinos. We settle back to take in the view, the only two there.
Check out some of the fascinating workshops and day tours that Chelsea Physic Garden have to offer such as the Living Medicine: Self-Care Basics one-day workshop and their chocolate- and wonder-filled historic Easter events! There will be blooms all year round.