My Chelsea list

While we’re all waiting for the Chelsea Flower Show to open next week and for pictures to emerge, here are a few things that I particularly liked when I visited the original Chelsea — the Chelsea Physic Garden — about a week and a half ago.

The four-acre London garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in order to grow medicinal plants and train their apprentices. It is the second oldest botanic garden in Britain, after the one at Oxford.

1. The Pond Rockery area (also shown at the top). The sides are planted in Mediterranean and alpine plants.

2. This giant fennel. It was a beacon in the Botanical Order Beds at about 8′ tall.

It did not have a label, but I have since looked it up — Ferula communes.

The species is part of the carrot family, Apiaceae. (Common fennel belongs to another genus, Foeniculum.)

This tamarix in the center of the beds was a star too.

3. The plant supports of bamboo, string, and shrub and vine cuttings.

4. This neat little kitchen garden arrangement and its beautiful cardoons.

And the nearby beehives.

5. This trunk of a Catalpa bignonioide, which is supporting a huge Rosa Brunoni or Himalayan musk rose.

The rest of the tree was cut off.  It may have died, but it may also have been too large for the space.

6. The greenhouse area.

Plants from the Canary Islands, Madeira, The Azores, and St. Helena.

7. This primrose display, which — with the giant fennel — made my “most desired” list that day (along with this).

8. My tea towel from the gift shop.

(And the café is excellent.)

Redistribution of produce

Cabbage distribution, Library of Congress
Lady Henry Somerset and T.P. O’Connor in a garden distributing cabbages to children, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915, Bain News Service, via Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Lady Henry  (born Lady Isabel Cocks) was an heiress who married the second son of the Duke of Beaufort.  After the couple separated, she turned to charity work on her various properties. She later became president of the British Women’s Temperance Association and a campaigner for birth control and women’s suffrage. In 1913, the readers of the London Evening News voted her their choice for first female prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Thomas Power O’Connor was an Irish journalist who founded and edited several newspapers in London. He was also a member of Parliament for the Irish Nationalist Party and later as an independent (representing Galway and then Liverpool).

I cannot tell what plants are growing in the flower (?) beds, but they are sectioned off — perhaps by bloom color?

King’s College, Cambridge

On a quick trip to Cambridge last week, I really liked this border of Echium pininana (or giant viper’s bugloss) along the lawn behind King’s College, here. (The building is actually part of Clare College.)


A different kind of foundation planting.


The biennials, which are native to the Canary Islands, can grow as tall as 13′ (or 4 m.). They want well-drained soil, full sun, and shelter from wind.

They are also called tower of jewels.
Looking back to the King’s College Chapel.

Trinity College

I also liked this wide walkway border of Queen’s Anne lace and long grass at the entrance to Trinity College.


The tree on the right is a grafted descendant of the apple tree that inspired Isaac Newton.

St. James’s Palace

Another garden scene from my day of walking around London last week. . .

This meadow-style planting is outside the walls of St. James’s Palace, along The Mall. The strip of ground outside the walls around Buckingham Palace (at least on the north side) is planted in the same way.

In addition to Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), there were some very dark red-purple tulips and pale blue Camassia.

Looking back toward Buckingham Palace.

“Lighting the Square”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had the opportunity to make a quick trip to London (and Cambridge) last week. Walking through Belgravia, I passed under this installation of 70 pendant lights hung in the trees around Orange Square for London Craft Week.

The lights were made in the Cornish workshop of Tom Raffield. The craftsmen used “sustainably sourced, British hardwood species similar to the trees found in this square,” according to a nearby sign.