Why is everyone flocking to Chelsea’s Physic Garden? Might be to get up close and personal with Bella Donna, the poisonous berry that “ladies of the evening” would put a little of the juice in their eyes to dilate their pupils and make them more attractive. Or, maybe to sit al fresco at the Tangerine Dream Cafe to enjoy a delightful range of fresh, homemade food and the best afternoon tea in London.

Whatever the reason, the Physic Garden is the second oldest botanical garden in England. Oxford’s plantings slightly predate Chelsea.

Philanthropist Hans Sloane bought four acres of land near the River Thames from Charles Cheyne. In 1673, he leased this land to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity. The garden was established for the study and cultivation of medicinal plants.

Under Philip Miller’s direction, the Chelsea Physic Garden became world famous and, besides preserving plants from around the world, initiated the seed exchange program to other nations and organizations. For example, cottonseed, sent to the colonies, was the beginning of the American cotton industry.

School children enjoy field trips to discover pond life while adults enjoy finding a favorite plant variety.

Open from April – October, Wednesdays-Sundays from 12-6 p.m. Admission is £8 for adults.