from the 1600s
On a trip to Europe in 2002 we
visited three remarkable gardens that date from the
They were first established to grow medicine plants and to train doctors and apothocaries in plant identification and use. Until recently there was seen to be a direct connection between medicine and the natural world of plants. Doctors needed to learn to use the plants that were availble to treat disease. Now we use manufactured drugs to treat disease and the link to plants seems broken. However experts say that still fully 50% of the drugs we use come from natural plant sources. Unexplored species of plants still offer the possibility of break through treatments of disease. As a reminder, the Chelsea Physic Garden has growing in it a plant known as the rosy perwinkle, a Madagascar native that in recent decades has produced a life-saving drug to treat childhood leukemia.
These gardens were fun to visit as they are all reminders of the time when new plants were as exciting and exotic as the exploration of Mars. Each of them has grown into the dense fabric of the urban areas that surround them. And each had an opportunity to personally relate to historic events, to see a clamshell brought to London by Captian Cook, to touch a palm planted three hundred years ago, and to appreciate the fascination Linnaeus had for his favorite flower linnea borealis:He even decorated his tea set with its image.
I urge you to visit these historic links with the past.
Chelsea Physic Garden, London
Founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries, Chelsea Physic Garden is a small, only 3.5 acre. It's wedged in between Royal Hospital Road and the banks of the Thames in South West London. It was private most of its life, only opening to the public in 1983. Even now it can be an elusive engagement as it is only open 12-5p on Wednesdays and 2-6p on Sundays between April and October.
It has a long and storied history with direct connections to some of Britians most famous garderners and naturalists. Here is its website: Chelsea Physic Garden.
Here is a view from inside the garden towards the town homes to the East along Swan Walk. Except for the Southern exposure, Chelsea Physic is surrounded by buildings. This contributes to its ability to grow plants that are not native to the British Isles. In the garden is the largest outdoor olive tree in Britain.
Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam
Since 1682, Hortus Botanicus has been located in the Plantage district of Amsterdam. It was orginal started in 1638 as a medical garden, a hortus medicus. It is now a small oasis of nature within urban Amsterdam. In the 1990s a large glass conservatory was built to enable a large collection of tropical plants. Other buildings contain cycad palms and yet another houses a collection of live butterflies.
Here is the garden's website in English: Hortus Botanicus.
Linnträdgården (Linnaeus' Botanical Garden), Uppsala
This garden dates from 1655, but is famous because it was the garden of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). Linnaeus was the botanist who developed the system of botanical classification that we still use today. He, along with architect Carl Harleman, built the present garden in 1745. Linnaeus lived within the garden walls in a home that is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. Here is the garden's website: Linneträdgården.
A view of the Orangery
At the rear of the Garden lies a brick Orangery that once was the winter home of citrus growing nearly at the latitude of 60 degrees north. I can only imagine what a treat it must have been to have been handed a fragrant orange in Uppsala in the 1700s. Now the Orangery serves as an exhibition space for the garden.
After visiting the garden and Linaeus' home we stayed in the First Hotel Linne, with a view of the garden. The hotel is situated on an adjacent street and takes full advantage of its location with views from the rooms, roof deck and dining room.