In this section
The Historical Walk, laid out along the western side of the garden in the 1980s, has been planted to show the work of some of the best known people associated with the Garden’s history, through plants introduced or first named by them. To set the scene it begins with plants introduced into cultivation in Britain before the establishment of the Physic Garden by the Society of Apothecaries in 1673. Many of these plants, such as Rosmarinus officinale, and Jasminum officinale, had been in cultivation for several centuries. The majority of the introductions are from Europe, but there are also a number from North America, such as Aster tradescantii and Tradescantia virginiana, commemorating the two John Tradescants, and Yucca filamentosa introduced by 1656. Some early garden cultivars are included, such as the Rose Plantain, Plantago major ‘Rosularis’. Exact dates of introduction are difficult to establish, and are gleaned from the books of the period, including Turner’s ‘A New Herbal‘ and Parkinson’s ‘Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris‘.
The next section, starting as the bed widens out in front of you. contains plants that would have been familiar to the apothecaries of the early 18th century. They are the plants from which they prepared their medicines, the ‘simples’ that they had to learn to distinguish and use, the majority of which were native plants. Regular herborizing expeditions, both local and further afield, were being organised by the Society of Apothecaries even before this garden was established. Rosa sherardii commemorates James Sherard, an apothecary who was a member of the Garden’s Management Committee (1732-37), and brother to the more famous William, a fellow at St. John’s College, Oxford
This section commemorates Philip Miller, gardener to the society of Apothecaries (1722-70), in whose care the Chelsea Physic Garden became an outstanding botanic garden, renowned throughout Europe particularly for its North American plants. Miller’s Gardeners’ Dictionary, eight editions and various abridgements of which appeared in his lifetime, was an enormously popular work, both in Britain and abroad. He trained many who later held prominent positions in the botanical world. The beds are arranged geographically, with plants introduced from Europe, Far East and the Americas.
This collection of plants relates to William Hudson, who was appointed Demonstrator of Plants and Praefectus Horti in 1765. His immensely popular Flora Anglica, the first book on the British flora to employ the new system of classification and binomial nomenclature proposed by Linnaeus, had appeared in 1762. He remained at the garden until 1771. Plants first named by him in Flora Anglica include Mentha longifolia, Orchis purpurea (the Early Purple Orchid), Primula vulgaris (Primrose) and, prominent at the front of the bed, Carex pendula.
Sir Joseph Banks
These plantings are associated with Sir Joseph Banks. Banks is best remembered for his exploration of the natural history of Newfoundland and Australia, also as a long-serving President of the Royal Society, and, in particular, for his work in establishing the King’s botanical collections at Kew, now the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
As a young man Banks was encouraged in his studies by Miller. In return he contributed much to the garden, donating seeds from many countries and, more unusually, lava from Iceland, collected in his travels. This lava was used in the construction of the rock garden in the centre of the Garden, one of the first of its kind in Europe. The display includes plants first named by or named after Banks, and ones introduced into cultivation by him, both directly as a result of his voyages (Dianella caerulea from Australia), and through his support of others (Magnolia denudata). Several species of Banksia are also displayed here. At the far end near the Cool Fernery is a loquat, Eriobotrya japonica, a species introduced by Banks in 1787.
One of Miller’s pupils, William Forsyth succeeded him as a gardener in 1771 and remained at Chelsea until 1784. He was particularly interested in the cultivation of and diseases of fruit and forest trees. He is commemorated here by a display of cordon apples, all cultivars listed in his Treatise on Cultivation and Management of Fruit Trees (1802). The genus Forsythia is named in his honour.
William Curtis was demonstrator of plants and Praefectus Horti from 1771 to 1777. He was the author of Flora Londinensis and as the originator of the Botanical Magazine, which he started in 1787 and is still in publication (as Kew Magazine since 1984) Curtis is commemorated here by plants named after him, plants he first named and by plants he introduced into cultivation. There is also a display of plants that appeared in the early numbers of the Botanical Magazine.
Robert Fortune was Curator at the Chelsea Physic Garden form 1846 to 1848. His collecting trips to China for the Horticultural Society of London vastly increased the range of species available to gardeners. Fortune left the garden in 1848 in order to undertake another trip to China on behalf of the East India Company, to collect tea plants for cultivation in the northern hills of India. He also pioneered the use of the Wardian Case, a miniature glasshouse for the safe transport of plants by sea. A tea plant and a reconstruction of a Wardian Case are exhibited in the Cool Fernery, with several of the more tender of Fortune’s introductions.
Thomas Moore was Curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1848 to 1887. The Thomas Moore Fernery was built in 1907, on the site of the original of 1862-3. It contains a display of ferns described by him, many cultivars particularly popular in the high-Victorian period. In one corner of the fernery, is a closed case containing filmy ferns, whose fronds are only one cell thick. These plants can only survive in conditions of constant, high humidity, such as are found near waterfalls. During his term of office the garden saw a fifty percent increase in the number of species cultivated.
Lindley was the last to hold the office of Praefectus Horti from 1836 to 1853, when the post was abolished and the garden left in the care of Thomas Moore. He was energetic in his management and supervised a considerable revision of the arrangement of plants in the garden. The display includes a number of plants named by Lindley.