The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 12 Historical Gardens

Curators of the Chelsea Physic Garden

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Even in its early days the Apothecaries found the Garden expensive to keep up. When in 1685 it cost them �130, besides the Curator's salary, they made an arrangement, by which they paid him �100 a year, out of which he had to keep up the Garden, and was allowed to sell the plants. Watt was the first Curator under this new plan, and Doody, a botanist of some standing who succeeded him, was under the same conditions. Philip Miller was appointed Curator, after the land had been given by Sir Hans Sloane, and other well-known men have been connected with it. After 1724, besides the Curator, a, "Pr�fectus Horti," or Director, was appointed to visit and inspect the Garden, and report on its condition to the Company. Sometimes there was a little rivalry between the two, and at one time this occasioned two lists of the plants contained in the Garden being published, one by Isaac Rand, the other by Philip Miller. Among the famous names in botany or horticulture connected with the Garden are Dr. Dale, Mrs. Elizabeth Blackwell, James Sherard and his brother William, Joseph Millar, William Curtis, Forsyth, Robert Fortune and Dr. Lindley, and Nathaniel Ward, the inventor of "Wardian Cases." But of all the Curators, Philip Miller was one of the most eminent, and did most for the Garden. His Dictionary was for years the standard work on horticulture, and went through numerous editions and translations. He published a catalogue of plants in the Physic Garden in 1730. The last "Prefectus Horti" was Lindley, who held the office from 1835 to 1853. During that time the expenses were getting too heavy for the Society, and after his death no successor was appointed. Thomas Moore, who was co-editor with Lindley of the well-known "Treasury of Botany," and author of several works on British ferns, continued alone as Curator. He held the office from 1848 to 1887. During his later years the Garden gradually declined for want of funds, and after his death no new appointment was made by the Apothecaries, and a labourer looked after the grounds. With the advent of the new authority and great expansion of work, the office was once more bestowed on a competent man, William Hales, the present Curator, who ably maintains the old traditions of the garden.