Paid a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden, a London garden dating back to 1673. It was founded by apothecaries who needed access to medicinal plants for research and to create medicines. Plant explorers like Joseph Banks were known to drop by when they were in town and plunk a few of their discoveries in the ground. Today it continues its mission as an educational and research facility.
This is a photo of what they call the "order beds"–beds in which plants are grouped according to the taxonomic order to which they belong. It is here, for instance,that you’ll see salvia, lavender,mint, and phlomis in one bed together, and reseda, cabbages, and papayas in another. You can’t learn taxonomy from a chart, and you can’t learn botany from a book. But you can learn both in this fascinating garden.
I was also surprised by how seedy the garden looked in late summer. It was fine by me; a garden’s supposed to be a little past its prime this time of year. But they deliberately don’t tidy up: they let every plant go to seed so they can save seed for their collection. (Oh, and in addition to the order beds, the garden features plants that are useful to humans in every way: as food, as medicine, as dyes, and so on, all arranged by function rather than aesthetics.)
The free tours are well worth it: no matter which tour guide you get, he or she is likely to be very funny in a very dry, British, horticulturalish sort of way. Our guide, pointing out an indigo bush in the order beds, said, "We had another one in the dye bed, but it died. But that’s gardening, isn’t it?"
Indeed. Also spotted: Massive compost bins with holes in them like this:
and if you put your hands inside, they’d be in heavy rubber gloves, like this: Now, what is this about? Any ideas? Really, I’d like to know. It couldn’t possibly be for turning the compost, because you’d only be able to reach a foot or two of the stuff. I’m mystified, and by the time I noticed it, there was no one around to ask.