Sometimes I really need to get out of London. Often I don’t have the time. This is a slightly sorry state of affairs but it’s just how things are at the moment. However it’s also a situation which can lead to wonderful discoveries such as the Chelsea Physic Garden.
My gardening knowledge is generally pretty poor. I’ve lived for the past few years in a top floor flat where pottering about in my own enchanted plot was merely a dream. I’ve been learning plenty at Clapham Common Bandstand Beds and now I have a concrete courtyard with, thanks to my genius ma and pa, a pot of lavender and silene, a bird feeder and a couple of chairs. Watch this space. I am also a relatively recent convert to the joy that is a weekly dose of Gardener’s World (yes, I’m 24 – no shame) and, this place has been featured a couple of times in the current series. So on Bank Holiday Monday, I ventured over the river to explore this delightful patch of calm nestled amidst the noise and bustle of the big bad city.
What a treat. The Garden is relatively small (approximately 3.5 acres according to the fruits of my diligent online research) but oh so perfectly formed. There are glasshouses, several veg patches (The Garden of Edible Plants), a Tropical Corridor, a space dedicated to plants that trap things, bee hives and The Garden of Useful Plants. There is so much to discover. And it’s all highly Instagrammable if that’s your bag.
The Garden was established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as the Apothecaries Garden used for training apprentices in plant identification and has been an important resource for botanists, scientists and other similarly-interested gardeney types ever since. Reflecting its rich history, there is a dedicated Garden of Medicinal Plants which contains a fascinating collection of plants used to treat a range of ailments both historically and now. My parents both work in healthcare and were suitably enthused.
There’s also a bloody good café – the Tangerine Dream Café, run by River Café-trained Limpet Barron and co-chef David Hughes. Come hungry. There’s a super choice of thoughtful, (mostly) seasonal dishes and it’s all brilliantly executed. I opted for the chicken escalope. Its light but crisp coating was lemony, salty and all kinds of yum and it was served with a fresh salad of tiny Jersey Royals, some mixed leaves and sunny burst of grilled lemon. The perfect dish for enjoying outside when the weather’s good and the tulips are blooming.
We’d clocked an enticing array of sweet baked goods during lunch and it would really have been rude not to have returned to the Tangerine Dream at the end of our day for a little something something before heading out into the Big Smoke. My mum’s a sucker for marzipan and opted for a vibrant piece of Battenburg – it was light and rather lovely. My dad chose a beautiful piece of courgette, walnut and honey cake. I had almond tart served with rhubarb compote and crème fraiche. Oh man. Where to start? The buttery pastry, the almost sticky almond filling, the tangy shock of the bright pink rhubarb? Even the crème fraiche was delicious.
I can’t think of a better way to while away a few hours than at the Physic Garden – already looking forward to my return trip.