Inventory Site Record

Chelsea Physic Garden * (Kensington & Chelsea)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

London's oldest botanical garden, Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries on a site fronting the Thames to train apprentices in the study of medicinal plants. In decline by the early C18th, the physic garden was essentially re-founded after the Apothecaries were granted a lease in virtual perpetuity by Sir Hans Sloane, who had purchased the Chelsea Manor in 1712. Sloane appointed Philip Miller as Gardener; numerous notable horticulturists are associated with the Physic Garden. The garden contains probably the oldest man-made rock garden in Europe and other features include a Historical Walk of plants introduced by past curators, Victorian fernhouse and glasshouses with Mediterranean plant collections.

Practical Information
Site location:
66 Royal Hospital Road/Chelsea Embankment/Swan Walk
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Botanical Institution
Kensington & Chelsea
Open to public?
Opening times:
To 31 Oct 2016: Sun/Tue-Fri 11am-6pm. 2017: 31 Jan-31 Mar & 31 Oct-31 Dec Mon-Fri 11am-3pm. 2 Apr-29 Oct 11am-6pm or dusk if earlier.
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 6 times, most recently in 2012.
Special conditions:
Admission charge: Adults £10.50 children, students or and job seekers £6.95; max 2 children per adult, no ball games or wheeled toys
Educational facilities
Educational activities; annual Christmas Fair 26&27 November 2016
Public transport:
Tube: Sloane Square (District, Circle). Bus: 170; 11, 19, 22, 44, 49, 137, 211, 319, 345, 360, 452, C1
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

Chelsea Physic Garden was founded by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries in 1673, leasing a 3.5 acre plot with a 100m river frontage on the Thames. The Apothecaries' Hall (q.v.) had been established at Black Friars in 1632, having gained its charter in 1617. At that time the riverside village of Chelsea had notable gardens and orchards surrounding the great houses that had belonged to, among others, Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More and Sir John Danvers. The access was generally from the river; the physic garden had steps to the river at its southern gate. A boathouse was built in the south-east corner and once housed the Apothecaries' livery barge. With completion of the Chelsea Embankment in 1874 the river frontage was cut off and the area of garden reduced to its present area in c.1900 when Royal Hospital Road was re-aligned. The remaining boathouse has no access to the river and is a replica constructed c.1958 following bomb damage in WWII. The garden is bounded by Swan Walk, to the east. The first gardener, John Watts, imported 4 cedars of Lebanon, among the first in this country, the last of which died in 1904. The garden has always been concerned with the collection, study and dissemination of plants with medicinal value.

The physic garden declined and was virtually re-founded in the early C18th when Sir Hans Sloane, a leading physician and former student here, bought the Manor of Chelsea in 1712 from Lord Cheyne and in 1722 granted the Apothecaries a conditional lease in virtual perpetuity at a nominal rent. Sloane appointed Philip Miller as Gardener, who made it world-famous during his nearly 50 years here. Miller was influential by his example, through his correspondence with leading botanists of his day who brought many plants to this country for the time for cultivation at Chelsea, and through his writings such as his 'Gardeners Dictionary'. Among those he trained were William Aiton, first Gardener at Kew, and William Forsyth after whom Forsythia is named, who succeeded him at Chelsea. Sir Hans Sloane is commemorated in the garden with a statue; the present statue is a replica of Michael Rysbrack's statue of Sloane of 1733 erected in 1748 at the crossing of the two main paths in the centre of the garden. The original was removed in 1984 to the British Museum, the replica erected here in July 1985.

Other notable horticulturists associated with the Physic Garden include John Martyn, William Curtis, Sir Joseph Banks, John Lindley, Robert Fortune, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward and E A Bowles. The small rockery, which is listed, to the north-east of Sloane's statue is formed from lava from Iceland brought back by Banks in 1772 and supplemented by rubble from the Tower of London, probably the first European rockery built consciously as a habitat for rock plants. Having declined somewhat in the intervening years, in 1899 the garden came into the care of the Trustees of the London Parochial Charities who revitalized its scientific and educational activities but closed it to the public.

The Chelsea Physic Garden Company was formed in 1982 and administration then passed to a new body of trustees, the Management Council of the Chelsea Physic Garden Company; from 1983 it was opened to the public. In the latter part of the C20th the garden's role as a centre for plant research was confirmed; it annually supplies thousands of plant specimens to other teaching institutions, and is a centre for general instruction in aspects of botany and horticulture. The environment provides a favourable micro-climate for many Mediterranean plants including a large olive tree which still flowers most years, and plants of similar ecology from other parts of the world.

The original late C17th layout was geometrical with straight paths dividing a series of rectangular beds arranged as teaching beds ('pulvilli'). In 1732-33 a greenhouse with library and meeting rooms above was built along the north wall, replaced in 1900-02 by other greenhouses, a curator's house and offices. In the late C19th and early C20th the original layout was modified with replacement of some of the geometrical beds by areas within curving paths, and since then the layout has not greatly changed. Many trees were lost or damaged in the storms of October 1987. Large areas of systematic order beds demonstrate the botanical relationship of plants and most plants are labelled with their botanical classification and natural origin. By the Embankment is a wilder area of flowering shrubs and rare peonies.

Sources consulted:

Chelsea Physic Garden leaflet, 1998; Sue Minter 'The Apothecaries' Garden. A History of Chelsea Physic Garden', Sutton Publishing, 2003. See EH Register: Country Life, 19 December 1957, pp1372-3; Garden History III, 2, 1975, pp68-73, and IX, 1, 1981, pp55-56; The Chelsea Physic Garden (guidebook) (n.d.); Field and Semple 'Memoirs of the Botanic Garden at Chelsea', 1878; J Macgregor, 'Gardens of Celebrities . . In . . London', 1918 pp114-138; Earl of Morton 'Chelsea Physic Garden', 1985; G Taylor 'Old London Gardens', 1977, pp127-138; Arabella Lennox-Boyd, 'Private Gardens of London', London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990. See www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ276777 (527710,177788)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
The Chelsea Physic Garden Company
Site management:
The Chelsea Physic Garden Company. Friends of Chelsea Physic Garden
Listed structures:
LBII: Gates and piers on Chelsea Embankment; Statue of Sir Hans Sloane
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade I
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Royal Hospital
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Borough Importance I
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Thames Policy Area
Other LA designation:
Area of Metropolitan Importance

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