River Garden

Funny what you can find beside a river; The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673, as the Apothecaries’ Garden, with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants.  The river proves a good transport route so by the 1700′s a growing botanic garden seed exchange system was established, putting the London Physic Garden on the map.  The location was chosen to allow plants to survive harsh British winters and boasts the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in Britain.

I visited at a time when the Chelsea Flower show was happening.  By chance a local young florist who made a dress out of flowers had just taken a prestigious silver medal for her display.  This, and the walk home, made me realise just how much flowers are used in decorating urban spaces. From the 1600s, physic gardens were used as outdoor laboratories, where apothecaries and physicians would experiment with plant-based cures. Since then flowers around London have blossomed wherever there is space (more recently this concept has been called Guerrilla Gardening).

A collective has built a modern Physic Garden on a derelict site in South London, nurturing a host of medicinal plants as well as sculptures.  Greenery gets framed between decommissioned items on London’s Union Street.  From an old ambulance surprise suppers made out of herbs are served.  Moss is mounted on a wall in the shape of a pharmacy cross and ping pong tables are free to use.

A weekly visit from a herbalist informs visitors of how plants can heal ailments. The garden is divided by diagnosis around a structural frames inspired by this pharmacy cross, creating garden rooms or hospital wards with remedies designed to assist with gastroenterology, cardiology, dermatology and psychiatry.  The Union Street garden is open to the public from June to August and is concerned with both conservation and education.

The new London Physic Garden has design elements similar to the older one. At the old Chelsea Physic Garden, environments for supporting different types of plants are built, including the pond rock garden, constructed from a variety of rock types, namely stones from the Tower of London, fused bricks and flint.  In 1983 The Chelsea Physic Garden became a registered charity and opened to the general public for the first time.

As the nearby horticultural show draws to a close, punters can take home the remains at the end with people sat on the bus with aspidestra or cycling clutching small palms or fill the tubes with lillies.  The flowers spill out all over the city thanks to obliging cab drivers.  Everyone strives to get a jaw dropping specimen.  It is an art that has eluded me but I notice the city is our oasis  and I am glad that long stalks dug into foundations with petals bubbling to the surface are also on murals and now in the modern Physic  Garden.

In looking back over the catalogue of the day there is information about winners and columns of plants I have enjoyed delighting over.  There are lists within lists of a lot I did not see.  Thankfully there is always next year.  I will be back.  Plant life is infectious.


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48 thoughts on “River Garden

  1. The places that these plants are found is fascinating to say the least, If only there were a stronger movement towards natural remedies vs drug use for healing. The world would be a far more different place huh?


    • Oh yes Andy for sure. I suppose for some it is a leap of faith. I guess if they keep being grown they will just be there forever! I had a great time reading your blissful poetry today. The image is so uplifting. 😀


      • Thank you Lita! you are always so supportive of my writing🙂 Personally I steer clear of Western medicines, natural and herbal options always worked for me best🙂


      • I know. A lot of people I run into say this now. I haven’t had Western medicine yet that has been useful but obviously everyone is different. Plants can really make a difference when you pick the right ones. There are a lot of Chinese Doctors that are so fantastic and achieve good results. Hooray for that ;-D

        Wow I just enjoyed your black and white images. How superb. They would look terrific in any gallery. Such a treat just now to enjoy them on your site.

        here’s to a great week.


      • Thank you once again Lita🙂 I love B&W photography, I’m saving up for a better camera so I can capture different subjects better, crossing fingers!

        Ya, the apothecaries are awesome, they have a very delicate balance of needed ingredients which in the end still tastes horrible but wow! the results!🙂


  2. I’m enjoying the floral them of late. The apothecary makes me think of Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter series. She was a dab hand with the medicinal and magical plants!


    • Nodding in agreement! I had a wander around a pretty garden yesterday and I saw how everyone just got more cheerful!! ;-D

      I had a great time reading your recent review of Rosie Perez book. It sounds like a good read just like your write up. Enjoy your week.


  3. Lita,

    This is a wonderful post, “River Garden”. It is interesting to see how things come full circle, from the original Chelsea Physic Garden founded in 1673 to the new London Physic Garden. I’m impressed with the weekly visit from an herbalist informing visitors of how plants can heal ailments, as well as the set-up, rather like triage center, for diagnosis and treatment. Thank you for sharing with us some alternatives in life style choices. By the way I love your tagline, “Any old world uncovered by new writing”, you do that so very well, thank you!

    Have a wonderful week,


    • Pepper,

      Thank you so much! I’m glad this offers something useful. It’s great to see in busy busy London how there is a growing availability and demand for natural remedies (with advice given).

      I had a great time discovering a beautiful poem of yours from your collection today, the image has layers of wallpaper peeling then you give great layers of rhythm to match this in your verse. Loved it!

      Enjoy your week



    • I guess it’s relative but I found it super busy! I just checked out your site, it’s beautiful! I love your photography and keen to read more of your writing. Lucky you having spent time in sunny Florida! It must be amazing to wake up to sunshine😉


    • Preeti, I am in awe of your compositions over on lenzexperiments! If I get some fab inspiration I will go for it!😉 Each time I visit I am hugely impressed by what you have posted up. I can’t wait to check out the photos you gather for your challenge!😉


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