I’ve been waiting for February, snowdrop season, so I could write about my first visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden almost three years ago. That day, in spite of a blustery London rainstorm, I was determined to find the garden on Swan Walk.
I rode the tube to Sloane Square and marched the length of Chelsea Bridge Road, leaning into the wind, no umbrella, just a scarf on my head. I was about to give up when a young man came along with an umbrella and asked if I needed help. We were just a few meters from Swan Walk, that hidden alleyway with stone walls, and he guessed, “You must be going to the snowdrop event. We’re a bit late, but it’s still on.” He offered his arm and a place under his umbrella. Snowdrops? I was hoping to see the medicinal herb beds, even if they were dormant.
Robert, a member of the garden society, kindly offered to bring me in as his guest, waiving the fee. A tour was about to begin and we joined the others at the statue of Hans Sloane. After a visit to the greenhouse, we walked the garden pathways to see the sweet, small white snowdrops. Nestled in the grass, their numbers created an impression lovelier than the individual flowers. Along the way were carts, like puppet theatres, each with three tiers that held small pots of the drops so we could examine their tiny faces closely and see that the blossoms wore a variety of “faces” — smiling, grumpy, shy, coquettish.
The guide, in her woodsy tan and leather jacket and thick boots, pointed us to a white tent where hundreds of small pots were set out: snowdrops, tiny violets both purple and yellow. The aroma in the tent was a lightly pungent perfume mixed with wet soil, an aphorodisiac after the winter months. The rain let up. Robert and I went to the tea house and shared a large pot. We talked of our love of gardens. My dream of a large medicinal garden like the Chelsea; his dream to work at the Chelsea.
As we left, we inquired about volunteering to work in the gardens. I live much too far away, but Robert lives closer and he is a professional gardener. I like to think he works there now. Each February I think of that splendid garden visit. It inspires me that such a place exists in the heart of such a great city: the oldest botanical garden in London, founded in 1673, by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries that allows us to walk amongst medicinal plants, exotic trees, and snowdrops.