"Physic Garden Opened to the Wounded"

May 15, 2014 4:41 pm Published by

The First World War was disruptive to normal activity in the Garden. It affected production of the seed list which stopped altogether in 1916 due to paper economy and disrupted postal services, although seed of medicinal plants were widely supplied due to war need.  As a result of external pressures, the Committee allowed patients from military hospitals in the vicinity to visit the Garden  for ‘rest and recuperation’.

The Committee minutes from 18 June 1914 discuss a letter from Victoria Hospital for Children, Tite Street, Chelsea. The letter asked for an Order of Admission to the Garden for the use of the Resident Staff of the hospital. However this request was turned down and the minutes state that “The Garden is maintained exclusively for the promotion of the study of Botany and for the provision of material and opportunity for Botanical investigations.” The next recorded request of this nature came in 1915 and requested that nurses working for the Canadian Red Cross be allowed access to the Garden. Again this request was declined.

It was not until 1916 when Mrs Mitchison wrote her letter that the Committee considered such a request. Mrs Mitchison lived at Clock House, 8 Chelsea Embankment and opened her home as an auxiliary hospital. Between June 1916 and April 1918 the hospital treated 366 patients including those suffering from shell shock, and it was those suffering from shell shock that Mrs Mitchison thought would benefit from time in the Garden. Mrs Mitchison wrote a letter to The Times, asking for support in her request to the Garden.

Mrs Mitchison's letter


The letter and its accompanying petition signed by twenty four residents raised the issue of allowing war hospital patients into the Garden to the Committee. The Chairman suggested that a Sub-Committee be appointed to put together rules and regulations for the use of the Garden during the War by hospitals in the vicinity.

Minutes v 1

Minutes page 2


The regulations set out by the committee were as follows:


An article in The Times from Thursday June 1 1916, which poetically describes the Garden as a “haunt of ancient peace”, describes the ways in which soldiers were to benefit from being allowed into the Garden.

“Here, surely, is the place for a few – only a few – nerve-shattered or sadly injured men to sit out in the sun and forget the din, the danger and the pain.”

“It is a botanical garden, intended for the practical study of botany in all its forms and implications; and to be entered, in normal times, only by those who want to work and not merely to gaze.

But although it is a place for study, not for show, its formality cannot but soothe men fresh from the vast untidiness of the front; its air of quiet, beneficent growth cannot but hearten those snatched from loud orgies of destruction.”

Read the full article below:



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This post was written by Lynn Scrivener

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