Samuel Johnson had suggested, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” He hated being alone, and enjoyed what this buzzing city had to offer. But this was in 1777, so I wonder if he would had argued the same, if he were ever to be stuck in traffic on the Westminster Bridge, or squeezed between tipsy businessmen in an airless carriage.
Indeed, there are many sides to London. It is merciful for those souls who resemble “The Scream” painting of Edvard Munch. For us introverts, the uneasy feeling of being sucked into the void strikes at times when we face with the intensity of urban life. Then, we long for some space where we can breath again.
Breathing… This is all it takes to be. So effortless that, if I told you to stop being, you possibly could not. But, there are moments when I struggle to feel alive. So I grab my book, pack my bag, and go somewhere serene. One of these calming spots is a secret garden beside the Thames: Chelsea Physic Garden.
I get off at Victoria Station and walk along the Pimlico Road. I appreciate this village for its unique persona; tastefully curated to inspire the bon viveur with independent art galleries, antique and interior design shops. As I scan through the boutiques, I make my way to Daylesford Farm. This is an organic market and café, selling farm-sourced groceries and artisanal baked goods. I prepare a modest picnic bag: pumpernickel loaf, apples, turmeric houmous and nuts. I save my morning coffee for later.
When I arrive at Chelsea Physic Garden, first thing I do is take a deep inhalation. This rather small garden has been a great source for medical botany for five centuries and, fills one’s body with joy the moment you step in. I take a seat outside of the Tangerine Dream Café to bath in spring’s sweet warmth. The birds here are friendly, so I share my bread with them. I always get surprised how everything taste better in this peaceful environment.
Before I lose myself in my book, I take a look at the garden’s gift shop. One can find interesting books about plants and nature there. I especially like the ones with pictures in them. In a childish manner, I go through couple of those books. If I have not written a card for a while, I buy one or two postcards to send my friends living elsewhere. For friends in Sweden, I especially mention the relation of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to this garden.
I dedicate my entire day to reading. I switch from one bench to another to have a different perspective. I tune my ears and eyes to the world around me and take some notes on my diary. I find myself thinking about the colours, shapes and smells as I gaze the environment. Sometimes I feel the need of capturing the gracious beauty of nature, as it were at all possible. I take out my old friend Polaroid and experiment, with no expectations of a thumbs up.
I take a free tour and learn more about the plants. There are always a bunch of elderly botanic enthusiasts in the group. I get reminded of my grandmothers who talk to their flowers. Then I reflect on our postmodern age, where people do not even have the time and courage to converse with each other. Whenever I visit this garden, I scribble a notes-to-self on my diary and it always reads the same: breath, read, connect.
The Introvert’s Reading List for Spring
- The Enchanted April (1922) by Elizabeth von Arnim: Oh Portofino! Four English women, who are strangers to each other, take a vacation in the idyllic Italian riviera. As they enjoy the sun and the beauty of nature around them, they become alive within, and gain new perspectives towards life. This novel is great to get rid of the winter heaviness, and transform yourself into a butterfly.
- Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman: In spring time, poems become more meaningful, especially if they are those which celebrate the spring itself! This poem collection will fill a romantic’s heart with joy.
- The Elements of Eloquence (2013) by Mark Forsyth: Fiction is all good but the witty readers need their guide books as well. The author gives a detailed insight to classical rhetoric, by scrutinising the writings of Shakespeare. After reading this book, one will have adequate technical knowledge to evaluate any literary work.
Chelsea Physic Garden
66 Royal Hospital Road
London, SW3 4HS