Free admission to the Chelsea Physical Garden to see the restored greenhouses

Three hundred and fifty years ago, a new medical garden was established in Chelsea. One hundred years ago, the garden acquired a number of greenhouses for its plants. Zero years ago, the greenhouses were reopened after much restoration work.

This is the Chelsea Physical Garden, which opened in 1673, greatly expanded in 1722, and spent most of its time as a private medical and scientific research garden, opening to the public for the first time in 1987. Today, it remains hidden away. It’s behind high walls, which help protect the plants and trap heat, with only a small door and an outside sign as an indication that you can go inside.

In 2005, the gardens were only open a few days a week, and this has slowly expanded to the point where they are now open six days a week, but strangely enough they are usually closed on Saturdays. Except for one Saturday later this month, when visiting will also be free. More on that later.

Returning to the greenhouses, which were built in the early 1900s and were showing their age, a recent restoration project has also restored and improved them to make them not only suitable for the modern era, but without changing their appearance excessively.

Made from Burmese teak, the same wood could not be used in the restoration, as it was now a protected plant, so they tied British sweet chestnut almost invisibly to the damaged wooden frames to repair it. The paths have also been improved to make it easier for people to get around, and the Tropical Trail is now more tropical with the addition of a water spray.

New interpretive signs finally explain what each greenhouse does, why, and the quirks of the plants in it.

It doesn’t really sound possible, but the seven greenhouses are home to 1,200 plants, although each plant is roughly one pot, which is how a lot of plants are packed into the spaces.

I also learned that the edible vanilla plant is a species of orchid, the only species known to produce edible fruits. It makes me think about ice cream in a completely different way. Speaking of cream, Fern shocked me a bit when I learned of the origins of custard cream cookies.

The tree that stood in the middle of the garden had to be cut down as it was about to fall, but growing around the tree was an old climbing rose, so look out for the new metal sculpture created which will one day be covered with the recovering climbing rose.

The rest of the gardens are laid out in zones, focusing mainly on the uses that humans have found for plants, often as origins for medicinal treatments. There is one park I liked the most because of the warning signs, which is the toxic plants area, with lots of notices not to eat the plants.

If you’re a plant lover, there’s a huge collection to see, and if you’re a “that looks nice, but I’d kill it if I had one” kind of plant, then the gardens are big enough to spend a few hours wandering around.

Fortunately, there is plenty of seating, and a café, because of course there is.

Entry costs to the parks:

grown ups: £14.50*/£12.50
Students and youth (5-18): £6.50*/£5
Privileges: £6.50*/£5
Family ticket (two adults and three children): £40* / £37
Children under 5 years old free

*Includes voluntary donation

Tickets can be purchased on the same day, or booked in advance here.

However, later this month, the Chelsea History Festival will also take place, and the Chelsea Physical Garden will be open for two days free – This includes a rare opening on Saturday. To book a free ticket, go here.

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