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A secret garden goes public

A London garden that has been a secret place for more than three centuries is at last open to the general public. The Chelsea Physic Garden, four acres crammed with rare and exotic plants from around the world, will throw open its gates every year from April to October starting this year. For (STR)1 (about $1.50), anyone will be able to wander within its high brick walls and examine more than 6,000 varieties of plants.

It was from the Chelsea Physic Garden that cotton seeds were first sent for planting in the American state of Georgia. Today the garden has a flourishing program of plant exchanges with such nations as China, the Soviet Union, and countries of Africa and Latin America.

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The garden was founded by the Society of Apothecaries in 1673 in the very heart of Chelsea. The land belonged to Sir Hans Sloane, an explorer who gave his name to Sloane Square and owned virtually all of Chelsea.

Originally the garden concentrated on medicinal herbs; now it is a botanical garden in a much wider sense. Ten years ago it looked as if rising costs would close its doors. Eventually a philanthropist from the island of Guernsey offered to put up the (STR)60,000 ($90,000) a year needed to pay the small staff and fuel and maintain the heated greenhouses.

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