Edible + Useful

Edible + Useful


What a wonderful haven this is. They say that gardeners are the most content of people and here is a place which induces a sense of well-being, the aromas alone are worth coming for. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries initially established the garden on a leased site of Sir John Danvers’ well-established garden in Chelsea, London. This house, called Danvers House, adjoined the mansion that had once been the house of Sir Thomas More. Danvers House was pulled down in 1696 to make room for Danvers Street. In 1713, Dr Hans Sloane purchased from Charles Cheyne the adjacent Manor of Chelsea, about 4 acres (1.6 ha), which he leased in 1722 to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity (no inflation clause in those days), requiring only that the Garden supply the Royal Society, of which he was a principal, with 50 good herbarium samples per year, up to a total of 2,000 plants. That initiated the golden age of the Chelsea Physic Garden under the direction of Philip Miller (1722–1770), when it became the world's most richly stocked botanic garden. Its seed-exchange program was established following a visit in 1682 from Paul Hermann, a Dutch botanist connected with the Hortus Botanicus Leiden and has lasted till the present day. The seed exchange program’s most notable act may have been the introduction of cotton into the colony of Georgia and more recently, the worldwide spread of the Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). Isaac Rand, a member and a fellow of the Royal Society published a condensed catalogue of the Garden in 1730, 'Index plantarum officinalium, quas ad materiae medicae scientiam promovendam, in horto Chelseiano' (he did not condense the title). Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (1737–39) was illustrated partly from specimens taken from the Chelsea Physic Garden. Sir Joseph Banks worked with the head gardener and curator John Fairbairn during the 1780–1814 period. Fairbairn specialized in growing and cultivating plants from around the world. Parts of this classic garden have been lost to road development – the river bank during 1874 construction of the Chelsea Embankment on the north bank of the River Thames, and a strip of the garden to allow widening of Royal Hospital Road. What remains is a 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) patch in the heart of London.


The Physic part of the name refers to healing (as in physician), rather than quarks or neutrons. The Pharmaceutical Garden is a display of plants which yield therapeutic compounds of proven value in current medicinal practice and are in world-wide use today. The beds are arranged according to the use of the drug derived from the plants. The collection includes plants such as Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar Periwinkle) which contains alkaloids used in anti-cancer drugs. Digitalis lanata (Woolly Foxglove) which contains a cardiac glycoside (digoxin) that is extracted directly from the leaves and is used to control and prevent abnormal heart rhythms and strengthen the heart beat. Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet) is the plant from which salicylic acid was first made in 1835, leading to the introduction of aspirin in 1899. Hordeum vulgare (Barley) led to the synthesis of lignocaine which is universally used as a local anaesthetic. The Garden of Edible and Useful Plants was established in 2012 and displays an extraordinary range of plant species on which humanity depends; from forest fruits and land restoration plants to plants used for hygiene, science and the arts. The garden showcases a diverse collection of productive and functional plants, incorporating both the beautiful and bizarre. The design, which features a series of interlinked spaces, is inspired by 18th century potagers and Chelsea Physic Garden’s historic layout. Raised beds house the plant displays and their explanatory information panels, while other areas are dedicated to teaching and secluded seating spaces.


The collection of endemic Cretan plants is grown in one of the glasshouses as well as on the recently restored rock garden. It is the oldest planted rock garden in Europe still on view to the public and dates from 1773. It was built with stones from the Tower of London, chalk and flint and lava from a volcano in Iceland. The lava was donated by Sir Joseph Banks, it was used as ballast in his ship and was dropped off at the Chelsea Physic Garden as it sailed up the Thames. There is also the garden of World Medicine, medicinal plants ordered by culture, and the World Woodland Garden. The step-free access to Chelsea Physic Garden is through the Foyer at 66 Royal Hospital Road. Access through the Garden is via gravel and grass paths. There is a non-reservable disabled parking bay outside 66 Royal Hospital Road with dropped curb access to the pavement. They have a wheelchair for visitors at the Garden; please ring to book. Assistance dogs are allowed but no other dogs. The beehives are located in the ‘Mediterranean woodland’ and the bees provide delicious honey which will be available in the shop from mid-July. They ask all their visitors – particularly those with young children – to take great care when near the hives. The Tangerine Dream Cafe is serves delicious fare preared on site, much with produce from the garden.


Location : 66 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, SW3 4HS.

Transport: Sloane Square (District). London Buses route 170 stops directly in front of the garden.

Opening Times: Winter Season (January to March) Monday to Friday 10:00 to dusk.

From 25th March to Oct. 31st: Tuesday - Fridays, Sundays 10:00 to 18:00

Free Guided Tours provided daily.

Tickets : Adults £10.50, Students, Reg. Unemployed £6.95

Children under 5 free. Carers are free.

Tel: 020 7352 5646.