The Physic Garden, Chelsea, and its
beekeeper, Peter James
Did you know there are bees in London's oldest botanic garden?
I WENT to see Peter James at the Physic Garden in
Chelsea on a rather overcast day in August. Having
been introduced to him, Peter quickly got into the
interview by showing me some of the honey that his
bees at home had produced.
Peter lives near the River Thames in a Victorian building
which has been converted into seven flats. In 2002, one of
his neighbours had found a swarm nestled onto a bicycle
basket locked against the railings on a busy roundabout at
the junction of Fulham Road and Fulham Palace Road.
nPeter, who did not keep bees at this time, was at home a
that day and his neighbour asked him if he would help her kaJ e
to move the bees. He managed to get them into a shoe box uS
with some honey and pollen and temporarily put them into The beehives at the Physic Garden
a greenhouse in the garden shared by the flats.
He soon bought a flat-pack hive, smoker and frames and promote beekeeping and provide a great opportunity for
became a beekeeper. children and adults to get a closer look at the bees.
LEARNING AT THE ASSOCIATION ORIGIN OF THE PHYSIC GARDEN
By joining the Twickenham and Thames Valley Beekeepers’ The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 by the
Association, Peter started to learn about beekeeping from Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Sir Hans Sloane
Chris Deaves and now has five hives at home and three recognised the value of herbs in maintaining good health
WBC hives in the Physic Garden, along with a swarm in a and wanted to improve the knowledge of the apothecaries.
nucleus hive. The hives are situated on the edge of the He put the garden into trust in 1722 at a peppercorn rent,
walled garden which is in an area with bark on the ground on condition that 50 new plants every year were submitted
and a high fruit netting wire around it so that the bees can to the Royal Society. It is now London’s oldest surviving
come and go without being disturbed by passers by. botanic garden.
Peter is currently designing The Society of Apothecaries still exists as a medicinal
a permanent observation licensing body based in Blackfriars. It is the largest of the
hive located inside a former Livery Companies; however the word ‘apothecary’ has now
entrance kiosk which was been superseded by ‘pharmacist.’ From the thirteenth
used to take the entry century, acting as traders in medicinal products the majority
money to the garden. This of which were based on herbs, the apothecaries gradually
will be next to the bees and distinguished themselves from the medieval spice dealers.
Peter hopes to have it on Apothecaries needed to be able to identify the herbs that
display soon. It will be they were buying to avoid adulteration, poisonings or
excellent to be able to ineffective treatments.
The organisation, which runs the garden on four acres of
Peter James with the land a little way from the Royal Hospital where the Chelsea
Physic Garden hives Flower Show is held, is now a charity which aims to
discover, cultivate and study plants for scientific and
medical purposes for animal and human health. It
cultivates rare and tender plants and demonstrates the
many uses of all of these plants and their importance in our
A sign by the beehives medicine chests. It has established a role in the education
gives visitors information of the public who have a renewed interest in natural
about bees and honey medicine.
Bee Craft Digital November 2008 Page 13
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