Chelsea Physic Garden (London’s secret spots)

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Hiding behind mighty walls opposite the Embankment on the Royal hospital road just off the busy King’s Road is one of London’s best kept secrets—the Chelsea Physic Garden. A perfect spot to relax that overworked mind and enjoy some tranquility. The Garden is one of the oldest botanical gardens of London. It was started by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries for the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants in 1673.

From 1722 to 1770, chief gardener Philip Miller obtained plants from all over the world, many of which were cultivated first in the Garden. Today, the Physic Garden proves that gardens are more than plants and flowers. It remains an important centre of education. Here, you will find more than 5,000 different useful, medicinal and historical plants and a new half-acre bed of edible plants, which opened only this May. It is one of the oldest of its type in the world, preceded only by the Physic Garden in Pisa, Italy and the Oxford Botanic Garden. Hence, it is of little wonder that this bountiful garden continues to entice botany experts, artists and nature lovers alike.

On entering the Garden, a rather imposing statue of Sir Hans Sloane welcomes you. A businessman, physician and philanthropist but his greatest contribution to society could well be bringing the art of drinking chocolate and its secret recipe to Europe.

Sloane chanced upon cocoa whilst in Jamaica, where the locals drank it mixed with water. But he found cocoa nauseating. Sloane devised the idea of mixing it with milk to make it more appetising. When he returned to Chelsea, the recipe was initially manufactured and sold by apothecaries as a medicine for children. By the 19th century, Cadbury brothers brought the recipe. The garden still houses this original recipe.

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With its long narrow beds separated by grassy ribbons and flowering plants, this Grade II structure looks similar to a monastery garden. In the centre is the oldest rock garden in England, made with basalt from erupted volcanoes in Iceland, bricks, flint and stones from the Tower of London. The rock garden was built in 1771 when apothecaries discovered that plants thrived in stony soil. However, they could only afford to get builder’s rubble. This assortment became the rock garden.

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The garden offers a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of London. Walk along its many paths, indulge in the in-house Tangerine café or get lost in your favourite book. Alternatively, do nothing but cherish the serene atmosphere that surrounds you.

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