Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Relaxing Summer's Afternoon at the Chelsea Physic Garden

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I am making quick progress on Potter--hoping to finish the Half-Blood Prince in the next couple of days. I like it most of all the ones I have read so far and it is quickly marching to a conclusion. I read about fifty pages when I awoke this morning, after which I proofread my blog and left for the 9 am mass at St. Etheldreda's Church. Yes, I was going back to a Catholic service after a long while and to his church after several weeks, but I really did not have the energy this morning to go scouting on the web for a new church to visit.

Right after Mass, I returned home to have my cereal breakfast. Then, I sat at my PC and made Eurostar bookings for the trip to France that I will be doing with Llew at the end of July. I was fortunate to get tickets for the dates I wanted because most of them seem to have sold already and my choices were slim. Then, I emailed our French friends to let them know about our plans and I am still awaiting their responses. Still, it feels good to know that I have taken care of that element of our July plans.

These past few weeks have been just gorgeous here and I feel grateful for these spectacular days. The perfect weather is all the more welcome as it appears as if the English had a lousy summer last year with endless rain and chilly temperatures. This summer is certainly making up for the last one. Droves of Londoners can be found all over the city's parks and gardens. Indeed wherever there is a green patch, you can be sure to find a sunbather or a picnicer. We all know the English obsession with the sun and all I see everywhere I look are people soaking it in and let the cancer warnings be damned!

I met Barbara at church this morning and because she knows that I am always looking for sight- seeing ideas, she told me about the Open Garden Square Weekend. I googled it and discovered that all the private gardens (usually built around square residential terraced properties) that are usually accessible only with keys, are kept wide open this weekend for the perusing pleasure of anyone who cares to visit them. Since I am not going on my Houses and Gardens Tour this week, I figured this would be a good way to see a couple of London gardens--so I decided to start at the Chelsea Physic Garden which I have wanted to visit for a long while.

Soaking in Summer at the Chelsea Physic Garden:
Though Llew and I have wonderful memories of summer holidays we have spent in Chelsea when his brother was posted by his bank to London, about ten years ago, we had not visited these famed gardens. For one thing, they are only open to the public twice a week (on Wednesdays and Sundays) and for another, we always had more exciting things to do such as theater, museum and restaurant hopping.

So, I was pleased to have the chance to browse through this centuries-old garden on a day which seemed tailor-made for lazing in a green grove. I had spent a good part of the afternoon browsing in the thrift shops on the King's Road in Chelsea and made a couple of good finds: a set of Coalport bone china place card holders and a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses. But, for the most part, the shops were closed or the prices were atrocious! When I was tired of traipsing from store to store, I took a bus to the garden and enjoyed walking through the beautiful Georgian terraced homes that make up this area before I arrived at the hidden garden gate.

Summer flowers are out everywhere--lavender scents the air softly, roses the size of quarter plates wave airily from towering stems, carnations appear sprinkled in flower beds like pink confetti, fox gloves sprout tall and stately and delphiniums add grace and stature to every herbaceous border. The Chelsea Physic Garden (so-called because it was created in the 18th century to grow plants that aided in the creation of remedies for the use of apothecaries) has a collection of plants with an emphasis on herbs and medicinal specimens from around the world, but there was enough color and interest in the beds to keep the home gardener happy.

Though rather small in terms of acreage, it is very well constructed to maximize use of space. Green pathways link the various sections together and landscaping is rare and unobtrusive. There is an ornamental pond or two and stone has been used sparingly in creating stepped tiers, but, overall, the space has been allowed to develop naturally. There is a stone sculpture of Sir Hans Sloan in the center of the garden--he, undoubtedly, was responsible for the development of horticultural interest in plants that were not native to the UK. Much of his botany collection is on display in the British Museum in the room entitled 'The Enlightenment'. Indeed, we owe so much to the obsession that the Neo-Classical era had in learning and nowhere is this better illustrated than in a completely natural space such as the Chelsea Physic Garden.

When I had strolled through the beds and borders and taken a bunch of pictures, it was time for a cuppa in the tea garden where chairs and tables had been set out welcomingly to entice the weary. I had a pot of Darjeeling (I love the fact that tea is always served in pots in the UK--when, oh when, will we learn to do likewise in the States?) and a thick slice of fruit cake that was served with a luxurious dollop of creme fraiche and seated myself at a table where I sipped and nibbled and enjoyed the buzzing of bees and the distant chirping of birds. Indeed, it was blissful out there on this glorious afternoon and I felt blessed to be able to enjoy this much leisure.

I have often said that there is nothing more beautiful than a summer's day in England and I know why Shakespeare once wrote:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate...

This is the essential difference between a summer's day in England and one on the North Atlantic coast. If we are very lucky, it will be both lovely and temperate in Connecticut or in New York. In most cases, it is blazing hot and oppressive and after five minutes in the open air, one is rushing inside to find relief in the coolness of air conditioning! It is the extremes in Connecticut weather that I find so difficult to endure--the biting ruthlessness of those endless winters and then the humidity of the summer when sweat runs down my back and I feel at the end of a walk like a fried chip--and I mean a soggy one!

At 6 pm, when the garden closed, I found a seat on Bus Number 11 and returned home--still tired and with a restless tummy (perhaps from having overeaten last night). At any rate, email, blogging, transcribing an interview I did with Dorothy in Wembley and reading a bit more Potter kept me busy as did a call to Llew. I decided to stay light and skipped dinner and made a fairly early night of it.

Ah, I do LOVE summer in England!

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