Chelsea Physic Garden

 In Bulbous plants, Bulbs, Gardens Visited, Visit Britain

Chelsea Physic Garden Snowdrop Days

With time to spare before attending an event in the Palace of Westminster I made a long overdue visit to Chelsea Physic Garden.

It’s right in the heart of London and actually not far from the site on which Chelsea Flower Show is held.

chelsea physic sign

Chelsea physic sign

A little background history

Now Chelsea Physic Garden has been around a long time. It is in fact the second oldest botanical garden in the England. It’s second only to Oxford Botanical Garden.

The Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh is arguably the second oldest in Britain. However with the Chelsea Physic Garden being established as an apothecaries’ garden way back in 1673, I think that we can all agree that it is very old indeed!

chelsea physic gdn entrance

Chelsea Physic Garden entrance

I visited this time because I was curious to see the snowdrop collection that had been assembled.

This year, due to the record breaking warm [and wet] winter, the garden’s snowdrop days were brought forward by two weeks. Warm weather meant that the snowdrops were flowering earlier than normal.

Chelsea Physic Garden although small, is a perfect venue for a collection of named varieties of these delightful winter flowering plants.

If you want to see massed plantings then there are other gardens that are better suited to this [see list below].


The Snowdrop Trail

A considerable section of the garden had been revamped in recent years. It was changed to develop a woodland-like area. This new are is well suited to growing snowdrops.

The short trail is clearly marked with numbers and links to a printed guide.

snowdrop trail markers

Snowdrop trail markers

There are 500 varieties and some 16 species of snowdrops there. Most originating from the Turkish/Russian border.

The first introductions to Britain came as a result of a soldier bringing bulbs back from the Crimean War. these bulbs were given to that remarkable plantsman E. A Bowles.

On Bowles death his collection of snowdrops found their way to Chelsea Physic Garden. It is this collection that forms the core of this garden’s collection now.

It is also thought that Galanthus nivalis was in fact brought to these shores by the Romans. This species is regarded by many as a British native.

winter colour bulbs perennials

Winter colour bulbs perennials

Medicinal Properties

Of course a physic or apothecaries’ garden is a source of medicinal plants. And so you might be wondering why snowdrops feature?

Well it seems that an ingredient of snowdrops can be used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease.

I hear that Narcissi, a close relative of snowdrops, are being cultivated now for that purpose.


Other plants to see

Complimenting the snowdrops are snowflakes [Leucojum species] and many other notable winter flowering shrubs.

Grouped around the statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the centre of the garden was a magnificent display of small winter flowering and colourful bulbs and perennials.

snowdrops on sale at chelsea physic

Snowdrops on sale at Chelsea physic

Bulbs on Sale

For the short duration of the Chelsea Physic Garden Snowdrop Days a marque offered a chance to buy!

Ardent “Galanthophiles” [those most afflicted by the charm of collecting these delightful bulbs] can add to their collection here.

Over 50 varieties were on sale at the time of my visit!

These included two varieties displayed in a locked glass case. These were priced at £30 and £50 for a single small pot!

You are probably curious to know which was the most expensive variety. This was Galanthus nivalis ‘E. A. Bowles’!

But for me the best bit was a blacked-out section of the marque. This area displayed a stage of snowdrops floodlit to enchanting and magical effect!

glass cased snowdrops

Glass cased snowdrops

Snowdrop Days at Chelsea Physic Garden are now over for another year.

The Garden goes back to being closed for a while. Its normally open from April to the end of October.

I’d recommend a visit to this beautiful oasis of calm in the heart of London!



Where else to see snowdrops

There are gardens open all over Britain that feature snowdrops! Her are a few places to try.

National Trust Gardens with snowdrops –

East of England; Anglesey Abbey, Ickworth, Oxburgh Hall, Sheringham Park, Wimpole Estate.

London and the South East; Cliveden, Bateman’s, Polesden Lacey, Waddesdon, Chartwell, Petworth, Nymans, Winkworth Arboretum, Mottisfont, Sissinghurst Castle.

Midlands; Hardwick, Gunby, Croomes, Attingham’s, Belton’s, Calke Abbey, Baddesley, Dudmaston.

Northern Ireland; Springhill, Rowallane, Argory, Castle Coole, Castle Ward,

North of England; Dunham Massey, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Wallington, Beningbrough Hall, Quarry Bank, Ormesby Hall, Sizergh, Nostell.

South West; Dyrham Park, Prior Park, Newark Park, Cotehele, Glendurgan, Trelissick, Trengwainton, Greenway, Kinever, Killerton, Coleton Fishacre, Knightshayes,  Kingston Lacey, Dunster, Laycock Abbey, Stourhead.

Gardens featuring snowdrops open under the National Garden Scheme –

There are many gardens that have beautiful snowdrops. Click here for more information.

For more gardens that feature snowdrops check out the Great British Gardens site here.


More reading

I wrote a blog about snowdrops at a private garden on the edge of Exmoor here.

You might be interested to read about my visit to Broadleigh Gardens and their bulb collection.

If you’re really interested in growing bulbs then you must read about my visit to world famous Keukenhof Gardens in Holland here

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