Picking up where I left off with tales of visiting some of the great public and private gardens around London and into southern England. After two days of doing the typical tourist things in London, the horticultural part of the trip began in earnest with an early morning visit to the internationally famous Chelsea Flower Show sponsored annually by the Royal Horticultural Society. Our tour guide was Nan Sinton, a transplanted Irishwoman and garden designer/plants woman with Horticulture Magazine out of Boston, Massachusetts.
When we arrived at the Chelsea Flower Show the crowds were at a minimum because this was the day that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were to take their traditional stroll through the exhibits. Most of the plant exhibits were under the Grand Pavilion. Garden designers, horticultural societies, nurseries painstakingly planted and maintained exhibits of the flowers, shrubs, perennials and annuals that they grew for use in private and public gardens. Here's the Grand Pavilion entrance with its glorious clematis tower:
Or this planting of ferns edged by delicate spring flowers and anchored by this vine covered bench, painted the black-green common in England's gardens and exteriors:
Another example of a mixed fern bed included gunnera, a dinosaur-sized plant. Legend has it that farmers' wives planted gunnera so that their young chicks could hide under the huge leaves to escape hawks:
Of course, it being May, the show was a riot of blooms from the bulb bed in photo above to the new David Austen roses, including this Ambridge Rose:
to these lupine "soldiers':
After the hubbub and excitement of the Chelsea Show it was a great relief and surprise to be able to walk just a short distance and find ourselves in another time and place. Tucked behind high walls in southern London we found the Physic Garden, a collection of over 5,000 plants dedicated to the science of healing. Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, the garden has always been planted with rare medicinal plants and herbs that can be used to treat all manner of human illnesses. Back in the late 1600s the garden gained a benefactor,Sir Hans Sloane, who set an annual rent of 5 pounds (approximately $10 U.S.) for the Physic Garden so long as it maintained its pharmaceutical mission, payable from his estate even to modern times! Here he guards his investment:
Keeping in mind that there are over 5,000 plants growing in a small city space, the garden beds were laid out geometrically with narrow grass walking paths between the beds--narrow enough so that the visitor could see the precise labeling of each plant:
Invasive plants such as mint or those that grow from underground runners were cleverly planted in clay, bottomless pots and then sunk in the ground:
This is a white and pink variety of the Seven Sister's Rose, which is several hundred years old:
This ancient wooden greenhouse protects tropical and sub-tropical plants that are too tender for London winters. It also houses a tea shop where we enjoyed a good cup of English tea and scone with clotted cream:Every bit of space was planted, including a waterway for reeds and, look closely for the ducks:
If you look over the wall you can see the busy London traffic rushing by. Amazing that the Physic Garden exists in all its medieval glory in the middle of a modern city:
After a day of total plant absorption, a few members of the tour group and I enjoyed a Greek dinner of souvla (grilled lamb and potato), Greek salad, and baklava. We ended the evening with a late night stroll through Piccadilly. Tomorrow morning we're on the bus early, traveling into East Sussex to see grand castles and estate gardens and natural forests where azaleas and rhododendrons were in full bloom. Check back next week for leg three of the English Gardens tour.