Physic garden recalls days when monks pursued medicines

Updated Apr 11, 2016
Photo: Thorbjorn AnderssonPhoto: Thorbjorn Andersson

A global healthcare company based in Switzerland is taking a leaf out of the monks’ book, adding a medieval medicinal garden to its new campus.

Known as a physic garden, the design is based on how monasteries used to have laboratories outdoors and monks worked to discover the pharmaceutical properties of plants.

These gardens were hidden from the public; so, likewise, this modern take on a physic garden is organized like a labyrinth. The visitor has to weave among the yew and beech hedges before reaching a sunken planting bed.

Landscape architect Thorbjörn Andersson designed the space and worked with engineering firm Sweco.

“The physic garden displays plants important to the development of the pharmaceutical industry,” Andersson wrote in the project’s description. “In that sense, the physic garden can be said to represent the cradle of the company’s products and the soul of its activities.”

The project features 83 plant species. The garden is arranged in a striped pattern that can be viewed from lightweight bridges that cross above it.

Photo: SwecoPhoto: Sweco

Depending on the season, different plants are blooming and they all feature medicinal properties. The strips of plants are labeled by an engraved bronze plaque that follows the low granite wall around the planting bed.

The green space serves as a space for the scientists to take a break. Wooden log racks with benches attached allow them to rest in the area while pondering their next breakthrough.

While some medieval medical practices were tragically misguided, it’s a good idea to remember that much of history’s best medical research began in a garden, just as many of our most effective medicines – then as now – began with plants.

Photo: SwecoPhoto: Sweco Photo: SwecoPhoto: Sweco
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