Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Poisonous plants and a modernist masterpiece

In the depths of midwinter, it's good to look back at the brighter days of summer. Courtesy of a visit during Open Gardens Weekend, let's wander round the colourful garden and Grade I-listed building of the Royal College of Physicians. 

Plants are central to medicine: they are the source of many of our drugs, and have been for millennia. The RCP's garden of medicinal plants unites key species from around the world - 1,500 of them. A key theme of our guided tour was that most of these plants are highly poisonous if consumed other than in small, medicinal doses. From opium poppies to digitalis, most are capable of harming or killing. Tread warily!

The gardens were replanted in 2005, but date from 1965. The current headquarters opened a year earlier, although the RCP was founded in 1518, and are an interesting contrast to their neighbours on the edge of Regent's Park. This modernist building was designed by the Le Corbusier-influenced Sir Denys Lasdun; it hardly blends with its neighbours, but does offer an interesting counterpoint to them. Even on a cloudy June day, its bright, clean lines were striking.

Around the same time, Lasdun's National Theatre was also built. While opinion on his work in London is divided, RIBA recognised its quality when they awarded Lasdun their Trustees' Medal. The RCP are currently celebrating him with an exhibition in their landmark building, which runs until 13 February 2015


Ralph Hancock said...

The physicians were well advised to put a warning on the mandrake, as its screams when uprooted will drive you mad. It is traditional, though cruel, to send a dog to dig it up while you cower safely out of earshot.

CarolineLD said...

Thank you - I knew of the legend that mandrakes scream, but not that dogs were used to dig them up!

Björn H said...

I went there for a guided tour about a year ago, but it was only within the building. Very fascinating.

I also highly recommend the guided tour of Chelsea Physic Garden in the summer months. They go through many types of plants there and do it with great flair and humour

CarolineLD said...

Oh, Chelsea Physic Garden is on my 'to visit' list - hopefully I'll get there this summer!