The Physic Garden covers 4 acres and is home to around 5000 plants.
The garden is divided into different areas and includes the Garden of Medicinal Plants, the Pharmaceutical Garden, the Garden of Edible and Useful Plants and the World Woodland Garden.
The Chelsea Physic Garden is now run as a charity.
The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries first established the Apothecaries Garden in 1673 on land leased from Sir John Danvers.
In 1712, Sir Hans Sloane bought the adjoining Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne. A physician, naturalist, collector and president of The Royal Society, Sloane offered four acres of land on a lease to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. The payment was £5.00 a year in perpetuity – the Physic Garden still pays this amount to Sir Hans’s descendants.
Sir Hans worked as an apprentice in the Garden in the early 1680s when John Watts was Head Gardener. In 1684, Watts built the first greenhouse at Chelsea with underfloor heating. It proved a huge success with Sloane writing to John Ray the following March: ‘the artifices used by Mr. Watts had been very effectual for the preservation of his plants, insomuch that the winter, which was severe enough, has killed scarce any of his fine plants.’
Sir Hans trained as a doctor and travelled to Jamaica as physician to the new governor. On his return to England, Sir Hans brought back cocoa as he had seen it mixed with milk to treat stomach aches. The recipe was subsequently sold by Sir Hans to Cadbury for a substantial amount of money. Sloane also brought back cinchona bark, the source of quinine, used to prevent and treat malaria. Malaria was prevalent in the marshy areas of Britain in the 17th century.
Another source of Sloane’s fortune was his marriage in 1695 to the widow of sugar plantation owner Fulke Rose.
Philip Miller was appointed as Head Gardener in 1722 by Sir Hans. William Forsyth joined the Garden in 1771 and created the Pond Rockery.
In 1846, the Garden was managed by the Scottish plant hunter, Robert Fortune who made many changes to the gardens.
The City Parochial Foundation took over the running of the gardens from 1899 until 1983.
It is now run as a charity.