AS of this week, one of England's most interesting and unusual gardens will, for the first time, be oepn to the public on a regular basis.
I refer to the Chelsea Physic Garden which is tucked away, though occupying nearly four acres, at the Embankment end of Royal Hospital Road and is entered from beautiful Swan Walk.
It is open every Wednesday and Sunday (until October 20) from 2pm to 5pm and teas are served on Sundays. During Chelsea Flower Show Week, in three weeks time, it will be open from Tuesday to Friday from 12 noon to 5pm.
Its name is admittedly puzzling. Among early botanic gardens, that of Chelsea — the second oldest in the country — it is the only one to have retained its original epithet.
It was founded by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries in 1673 when the word physic still has its original meaning of "pertaining to things natural" as distinct from the metaphysical.
The world's current association primarily with doctors makes visitors expect a garden solely devoted to the culture of medicinal herbs. In fact, the garden is still what it always was, a centre for the study of horticultural, and, into the bargain, a delight to stroll in and behold.
Sir Hans Sloane bought the Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne in 1712. Both names are well commemorated in this part of London, but the latter's memorials lie more truely in the Physic Garden, where his statue stands, and with the British Museum which was founded with his collections.
As an oasis of peace and beauty in the heart of London, the Physic Garden takes some beating.
A mighty man
IT WAS a great pleasure to meet Dr Otto von Habsburg on his recent visit to London when he came to give a lecture at the invitation of the Anglo-Jewish Association at the Institute of Directors.
It was a star-studded affair and Dr Habsburg's theme was "East-West Relations: Their Impact on Human Rights". He is an extremely powerful speaker and his clarion call to a more vocal commitment to what one might almost call "militant" democracy was loudly cheered.
had seen very little of the Archduke-who-never-was since his wedding day over 30 years ago in Nancy. It was an unforgettable occasion on which the delightful capital of Lorraine, one of the most charming cities of all France, was en fete for the occasion with overflowing crowds, flowers and good cheer.
The year was 1951 and his radiant bride was Regina, Princess of Sachsen-Meinegen.
Dr Habsburg would of course have been Emperor of AustriaHungary in succession to his father the Archduke Charles, had not that once great Empire not disappeared after the first world war.
His father has often been spoken of as a candidate for possible cononisation. He died comparatively young in Madeira but his widow, the gallant and indomitable Empress Zita, who has never abandoned her style and title, is still alive at over 90 and lives mostly in Switzerland.
. The Habsburg were, in the early days of the post-war Republic, exiled from their homeland. But the right of return was obtained in 1966 by a verdict of the Administrative Supreme Court.
Otto von Habsburg had, in the meantime, lived in many different countries and is a brilliant linguist.
Since 1933 he fought National Socialism with such intensity that, after the Nazi occupation of Austria in 1938, a warrant was issued for his arrest and then confiscation of all his property was ordered. What could he do then?
He joined the Pan-European Union and was on its board at the side of its founder, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi. He represented the Union in Washington from 1940 to 1944 and has been its President since the death of Coudenhove in 1973.
A spiritually and politically united democratic Europe has been his dream long before the concept was taken up by others. He has never been bitter or
resentful about the loss of his imperial throne.
Lesser (and perhaps more snobbish) mortals have been more nostalgic about the past than he, who is an eloquent and courageous realist.
He is seemingly inexhaustible and travels widely giving lectures. This he combines with membership of the European Parliament, as an Independent representative of Bavaria on the list of the Christian Social Union.
Since 1953 he has written a weekly column of world affairs which has appeared in five languages in 21 daily papers.
He stands out among the ex(or would-be) royal figures of Europe in having hurled himself into non-stop activity on behalf of the Christian, democratic and Parliamentary ideal in which he so passionately believes. His many books touch on this theme indirectly or directly. His great hero in history is the Emperor Charles V on whom he wrote a mighty tome.
He is himself a mighty man.
United in death
TALKING of former royalty if it's not too boring — Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, better known by her fourth name of Ena, was reburied this week in the royal mausoleum of the massive Escorial outside Madrid.
She died in Lausanne in 1969, soon after which I was asked to write her life story.
But it was obviciusly necessary to wait at least ten years before embarking on such a project for 1969 was a year of incipient crisis for General Franco (whom Ena never liked) and there were too many other painful subjects involved.
The last 15 years have seen total transformation and the eventual book, published last year, has just been reprinted in time, by coincidence, for the historic ceremony in Spain.
The first signal that such a thing might eventually happen was when Etta's husband, Alfonso XIII, who had died in Rome in 1941, was returned to the mighty family vault at the Escorial for reburial.
Now Queen Ena has been buried with him, even though much of their life together was unhappy. Over it, among other things, had hung the terrible shadow of haemophilia, originating with Queen Victoria and transmitted by Ena, her last granddaughter, to two of her sons, including, most tragically of all, the beloved heir, Alfonso, Prince of Asturias.
The latter led a miserable life and eventually died in America, far from his family. The second son, Don Jaime, suffered a double mastoiditis at the age of four and was thereafter deaf and almost dumb. Another son, Don Gonzalo, died in his teens, front bleeding brought on by a car crash.
All these three sons are now buried with their mother. The family is united irti death as, in a sense, it could never really be in ,life.
The surviving son, Don Juan, Count of Barcelona, might have been King had he been willing to fall in with Franco. But he was not, and so was excluded from the throne. His son is now the
King and is immensely able, charming and popular.
Indeed Spain's native genius and charm have flowered so abundantly in recent years that the past tragedies and divisions, for which only foolish "historians" try to blame any one particular party or faction, have almost been forgotten.
The Spain of the past was its own prisoner to a great extent owing to the existence, for so long, of what were virtually "two Spains", a division kept alive by the recurring claims of Carlism.
Alfonso's reign nearly saw a resolution of past differences. But personal tragedies stood in the way. Ena even felt her former English Protestant friends had cursed her for abandoning her Anglican religion to become a Queen..
The bloodless "revolution" of 1931, causing the exile of Alfonso and Ena, saw the setting up of a Republic whose first President was a Catholic and a Conservative.
Some claim that this Republic could have succeeded along moderate lines had it not been for subversion from rightist elements which in turn produced a fierce leftist and ultimately militant communist backlash. The resultant civil war was one of the most horrible events in modern European history.
When, in 1969, 1 first looked round Madrid's Royal Palace, and walked through the rooms once occupied by the recently dead Ena, old wounds were still tender.
But Ena, on her last visit to Spain in 1967, had been tumultuously cheered, nowhere more loudly than in the street in which she and her bridegroom were nearly blown to pieces by a terrorist's bomb on their wedding day in 1906.
This week's reburial in pomp and state marks the final triumph of a woman who suffered much but was never for a moment, during her long life, disloyal to her adopted country, her family or her husband.