A serene rectangle of peace within a busy town, the Physic Garden in Petersfield, east Hampshire, is a great place to relax, sit quietly and reflect.
This was 20th century philanthropy at its best. In 1988 Major John Bowen was so horrified by reading about a field of rare wild flowers being destroyed for housing development that he donated his entire garden – a medieval burgage plot – to the Hampshire Garden Trust to preserve as a garden for public use. It was decided to use it to create a 17th century Physic Garden, following the research of two Petersfield botanists of that time, John Goodyer and John Worlidge.
The origins of Physic Gardens go back many hundreds of years. Most medieval monasteries kept herb gardens, specifically for their healing as well as their culinary qualities. Later, such gardens were linked to Universities where medicine was taught. In 1673 the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries founded the Chelsea Physic Garden, and several towns and cities followed the idea for the benefit of their citizens.
This Physic Garden has been thoughtfully created and designed, including a topiary, orchard, knot garden and several herb beds – a lot to be admired in such a small space but without any sense of overcrowding. A glorious feature adding hugely to the sense of tranquillity is the presence of enormous trees at the northern end of the garden, their branches waving gently over the herb garden and removing any sense of noisy or bustling town beyond.
The entrance from the High Street leads to the Knot Garden, always a feature of grand gardens of the 17th century and the design is fittingly similar to the bow in the family crest of Major Bowen. You then turn into the Topiary Walk where the bay, box and yew bushes are trimmed into geometrical shapes. The tall slender Cyprus trees take the eye upwards, adding to the three-dimensional aspect of this small space.
The next feature is the Orchard where there is a surprisingly large range of fruit trees – medlar, damson, apple and quince as well as an impressive walnut tree. In Spring this area blossoms with snowdrops, crocus, aconites, fritillaries, primroses and cowslips.
Finally, the path leads you into the Herb Garden where the design is in the traditional form of four quadrants, making access to each bed possible. The plants are labelled and there are helpful leaflets to explain the nature and qualities of the plants and their use in the 17th century. Some plants are medicinal, other have been used for cooking, dyeing, perfumes and cosmetics.
There are benches dotted about where you can sit, bring coffee, read a book, watch the birds and stay for as long as time permits. It’s a haven for working residents and families with small children, but also a great place for the casual visitor looking for a quiet spot with the chance to acquire some herbal knowledge too. Petersfield was indeed fortunate to have such a thoughtful and enlightened benefactor.
Visiting Petersfield Physic Garden
Open daily from 9am - 4.30pm - open later in the summer.
There is no charge to visit.
Find the main entrance to the garden on the High Street opposite Marks & Spencer.
Find out more at the Physic Garden website >>