A new trail in the RCP garden of medicinal plants leads visitors around plants and flowers grown by the 17th-century physician and collector Sir Thomas Browne. Written by the RCP head gardener and horticultural curator, Jane Knowles, and based on research done by Dr Harriet Phillips of Queen Mary University of London, the trail accompanies the current exhibition ‘A cabinet of rarities’: the curious collections of Sir Thomas Browne.
Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) – physician, philosopher, collector and polymath – saw the extraordinary in the ordinary, and with his writings introduced over 700 new words to the English language. His work and collections reveal a fascinating perspective on 17th-century scientific and medical research.
Plants were central to early modern medicine. Thomas Browne studied in the university botanical gardens in Padua, Montpellier and Leiden as part of his training. Later, he cultivated his own garden in Norwich and it provided herbal medicine for his patients as well as food for his family.
Browne’s own work on plants, The Garden of Cyrus (1658), takes the quincunx – a five-pointed geometrical plantation pattern – as the starting point for an exploration of the chaotic abundance of nature.