The Chelsea Physic Garden was established in 1673 and now is the second-oldest botanical garden in Britain. Its rock garden is the oldest English garden devoted to alpine plants and the largest fruiting olive tree in Britain is also there, protected by the garden’s heat-trapping high brick walls, along with what is doubtless the world’s northernmost grapefruit growing outdoors.
A physic garden is a type of herb garden with medicinal plants. Botanical gardens have developed from them. These gardens may be informal patches of plants, or they may be carefully designed, even to the point of arranging and clipping the plants to form specific patterns, as in a knot garden.
The Chelsea Physic Garden was originally established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in 1673. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries initially established the garden on a leased site of Sir John Danvers’ well-established garden. The house, called Danvers House, adjoined the mansion that had once been the house of Sir Thomas More.
n 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, 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 2000 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 programme 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. Parts of the classic garden have been lost to the “development” of 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-acre (1.4-ha) patch in the heart of London.