Chelsea Physic Garden

Gardens in Kensington & Hyde Park

Image by Will Jones Lonely Planet

You may bump into a wandering duck or two as you enter this walled pocket of botanical enchantment, established by the Apothecaries’ Society in 1673 for students working on medicinal plants and healing. One of Europe’s oldest of its kind, the small grounds are a compendium of botany, from carnivorous pitcher plants to rich yellow flag irises, a cork oak from Portugal, the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in the British Isles, rare trees and shrubs.

The site, not far from the river, ensures a slightly warmer microclimate to protect nonnative plants. The fascinating pharmaceutical garden grows plants used in contemporary Western medicine; the Garden of World Medicine has a selection of plants used by indigenous peoples in Australia, China, India, New Zealand and North America. There’s also a heady perfume and aromatherapy garden plus a fine cafe near the shop; enter from Swan Walk. Pick up an audio guide or join a free tour (held three or more times daily); a host of courses and lectures detail plant remedies.