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Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe: Lunch in London’s Oldest Botanical Garden

by | Aug 14, 2019

Chelsea Physic Garden, London

Chelsea Physic Garden is just a short walk from Sloane Square tube and the shops on the King’s Road. This historically significant and tranquil walled garden is the oldest botanical garden in London.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Wander around the garden and enjoy lunch in Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe

Chelsea Physic Garden is an oasis of calm discreetly tucked away beside the River Thames. It is one of those sacred places in London where you can find peace and tranquillity in the heart of the city.

The garden attracts green-fingered visitors but it’s also a place of learning for medical professionals, students and historians.  It offers the opportunity to explore the fascinating history and properties of plants as medicine.

If you’re interested in food history, you can learn about Chelsea Physic Garden’s special connections with chocolate and gin.

For many, especially Chelsea regulars, the garden is a popular lunch spot. On the menu at Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe, dishes created using fresh seasonal produce.  All you need is a sunny day, a table on the terrace and a glass of rosé.

My top tip – make the most of your visit by taking one of the regular free garden tours or follow the self-guided #foodismedicine trail.

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History of Chelsea Physic Garden

Behind an inconspicuous wooden door, you’ll find this enchanting 4-acre walled garden.

It was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as a place for its apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants. Chelsea Physic Garden became one of the most important centres of botany and plant exchange in the world.

Follow the Food Is Medicine Garden Trail

Garden visitors can pick up a leaflet and map for the self-guided Food is Medicine trail. It doesn’t taken long and will help you discover twenty different plants that support health and well-being. You can also join one of the free guided tours of the garden that run throughout the day.

trunk and bark of a Cupressacae tree with species label

Give Thanks to Sir Hans Sloane

Proudly overseeing the garden, you’ll find a statue of Sir Hans Sloane, an early benefactor. It’s thanks to him that the recipe for milk chocolate came to Britain. He brought it back from Jamaica where he’d worked as the physician to the Island Governor.

Statue of Sir Hans Sloane in Chelsea Physic Garden London

Sir Hans Sloane was an early benefactor

In Jamaica Sir Hans Sloane saw chocolate being given to young children as a medicinal drink. Mixed with water, the taste was so unpalatable to him, he added milk instead. On his return, his recipe was sold to an apothecary and later, used by Cadbury’s when they starting making chocolate.

Purple allium flowers

Explore the Edible Garden

In the Edible Garden, admire the sculptural beauty of artichokes as they get ready to flower and the delicate purple petals of the allium. Garlic is a powerful immune booster and it can help to balance bacteria in the gut (find out more at the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm).

You’ll find individual beds dedicated to edible oils, forest fruits, vegetables and alcohol. You’ll be able to make the connection between the tipples you enjoy and the plants used to flavour them.

Artichoke plants growing in the Edible garden at Chelsea Physic Garden


Discover for example, that wormwood is used to flavour vermouth and that the flowering tops of heather can be used to make heather ale.

You might be surprised to learn that hops, the cone-shaped female flowers used to flavour and preserve beer have young shoots that can be eaten as a vegetable. At chef Tom Kerridge’s pub, the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, he’s likes to poach chicken in a hop stock.

Discover the Garden’s Connection With Beefeater Gin

Visitors on the Beefeater Gin Distillery Tour will know that James Burrough, its founder, studied at Chelsea Physic Garden. To celebrate his special connection with the garden, the company  distilled a new and exclusive gin variety known as London Garden Gin (available to buy in the gift shop).

Bottles of Beefeater London Garden gin in the Chelsea Physic Garden shop

Eat Lunch in Chelsea Physic Garden Café

The coiffed ladies of Chelsea will want to keep this a secret but, after a wander around the garden, lunch in the Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe is a delight. If it’s a sunny day, sit outside at one of the wooden tables.

People enjoying a summer lunch at Chelsea Physic Garden cafe

Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe in the summer

The garden cafe is now run by the same company who manage The Quince Tree Cafe at Clifton Nurseries in Maida Vale, London’s oldest garden nursery. The menu has daily specials and offers diners fresh seasonal lunch dishes.

Dig into superfood salads packed full of goodness or perhaps oven-grilled lamb cutlets with Greek salad and tzatski. To complement your lunch, a bottle of wine or maybe a Pimm’s or aperol spritz.

Salad dishes at Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe London

Step Inside The Historic Glasshouses

Many of the important plants first introduced to Chelsea Physic Garden, such as cotton, cocoa and coffee, are still cultivated by the resident gardeners. After lunch, take a look inside the garden’s historic Victorian glasshouses.

One glasshouse is dedicated to pelargoniums which originally come from South Africa. More commonly known as geraniums, the garden was one of the first places in the UK to cultivate pelargoniums with records dating back to 1724.

Potted geraniums in the Victorian glasshouse

Shop For Gardening Gifts in the Gift Shop

Pop into the gift shop before you leave. It has been beautifully curated with stylish gifts and gardening accessories. On display, greetings cards adorned with nostalgic Eric Ravilious prints, colourful notebooks and jars of golden honey produced from the garden’s own hives. As you’d expect, the gardening book selection is expertly chosen.

Interior of the gift shop at Chelsea Physic Garden

Sign Up For a Gardening Course or Workshop

Throughout the year, there’s an excellent programme of gardening courses and workshops focused on the #foodismedicine theme. Try your hand at a tree identification seminar, learn about the History of Chelsea Physic Garden in 10 Objects or take a garden photography course.

Make a Date For Special Events at Chelsea Physic Garden

Highlights in the garden’s annual events calendar include celebrating when the first snowdrops appear in January. Seeing these delicate white flowers peep through the soil offers Londoners the promise of spring. The Chelsea Physic Garden Christmas Fair is also popular and worth a visit if you like to seek out unique and interesting gifts.

  • The evening supper talks are good. Guest speakers in the past have included Chantal Coady, founder of Rococo Chocolate, and Desmond Payne, Master Distiller at the Beefeater Distillery in Stockwell
  • If you buy annual RHS Membership, you gain free entry into the Physic Garden at specified times
  • Next door to the garden is Gordon Ramsay’s flagship Chelsea restaurant (booking essential)
  • Visit the Natural History Museum and you’ll see the cocoa specimen brought back from Jamaica by Sir Hans Sloane

Dog Policy Mr Hendricks says, “Chelsea Physic Garden tell me that only Guide Dogs are permitted to visit the garden”.

How to Find Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4HS


Chelsea Physic Garden

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Pink poppy at Chelsea Physic Garden London
The Foodie Travel Guide

The Foodie Travel Guide

Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures. 

Chelsea Physic Garden Entrance - Save Money With a London Pass

  • Entrance to over 80 top London attractions
  • Includes entrance to Chelsea Physic Garden
  • Great value for money
  • Beat the queues
  • Hop-on, hop-off bus

RHS Membership

  • One year’s RHS Gift membership – Perfect for one or two people
  • Entrance to the four RHS Gardens and over 200 partner gardens
  • Includes entrance to Chelsea Physic Garden
  • Special discounts and offers, RHS bag and a complimentary £5 voucher

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