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Chelsea Physic Garden

The Chelsea Physic Garden ('physic' in the former sense of 'the science of healing'), established by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe (second oldest in Britain), and its rock garden is the oldest English garden devoted to alpine plants. The largest fruiting olive tree in Britain is there, protected by the garden's heat-trapping high brick walls, and what is doubtless the world's northernmost grapefruit growing outdoors. Jealously guarded during the tenure of the Society, in 1983 the Garden became a registered charity and was opened to the general public for the first time.

The Chelsea Physic Garden was initially established by the Society of Apothecaries on a leased site of Sir John Danvers' well established garden in Chelsea, in 1673. This house, called Danvers House, adjoined the mansion that had once been the house of Sir Thomas More. Danvers House was pulled down in 1696 to make room for Danvers Street.

In 1713 Dr.Hans Sloane purchased from Charles Cheyne the adjacent Manor of Chelsea, about 4 acres, which he leased in 1722 to the Society of Apothecaries for 5 a year in perpetuity, requiring only that the Garden supply the Royal Society, of which he was a principal, with fifty good herbarium samples per year, up to a total of 2000 plants.

That initiated the golden age of the Chelsea Physic Garden under the direction of Philip Miller 1722 - 70, when it became the world's most richly stocked botanic garden. Its seed exchange program was established following a visit in 1682 from Prof Herman, a Dutch botanist connected with the Leiden Botanical Garden and has lasted till the present day. The seed exchange program's greatest feat may be the introduction of cotton into the colony of Georgia) and more recently, the worldwide spread of the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharantus roseus).

Isaac Rand, a member and a fellow of the Royal Society published a condensed catalog of the Garden in 1730, Index plantarum officinalium, quas ad materiae medicae scientiam promovendam, in horto Chelseiano. Elizabth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal 1737 - 1739, was illustrated partly from examples taken from the Chelsea Physic Garden.

In all the pressures to 'develop' this classic garden, only the river bank, lost to the construction of the Embankment in 1874 and a strip of the garden to allow widening of Royal Hospital Road have reduced its 3.5 acres, now in the heart of London.

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