By Alys Hewitt 

Yesterday the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, unveiled a verdant garden that she had designed in time for the annual Chelsea Flower Show, which begins on the 21st of May. The outdoor space has been aptly named the ‘Back to Nature’ garden, in a nod to Kate’s belief in the benefits of the natural world, and her intentions to ‘inspire children, families and communities to enjoy the great outdoors’.

In an age of screens, it is all too easy to become distracted and disenfranchised, and therefore to overlook the potent power of the great outdoors for our wellbeing. But taking time out of your day to enjoy nature, whether that be near or far from home, is abundant in benefits. The sense of peace in the natural world is palpable – I am consistently struck by how calming it feels to be surrounded by nature, whether that be wandering through a city park, on a nearby beach or exploring a forest.

Spending time outdoors allows us to respect and connect with nature, a connection that we are arguably at risk of losing in the modern age, particularly in the midst of mass (and man-made) destruction to our planet. There is a fear that we are growing increasingly detached from our environment, and the best way to remedy this is to spend more time immersing ourselves in it.

It is also important to foster this sense of connection with our environment for generations to come. The Duchess’s vision in designing the garden was strongly influenced by her belief in the impact that exposure to nature can have on childhood development, saying “I really feel that nature and being interactive outdoors has huge benefits on our physical and mental wellbeing, particularly for young children”. Nature can bring out the childlike wonder in all of us – but it is important, especially, to expose children to nature from a young age. Gardens are an immersive, multi-sensory experience, which makes them the perfect space for children to learn as well as play.

And what about the social and cultural significance of gardens? In art, literature and music they have long been hailed as a symbol of peace, solace, comfort and tranquillity. Public and community gardens emphasise the inherent sense of connection in nature – it brings people together and affords them with a sense of shared experience. Gardens are also accessible spaces for many different types of people; even if you don’t boast a botanical paradise in your backyard, parks and public gardens are always there to explore, and many of them are free to visit. Far more than an aesthetic feature, gardens are used to preserve heritage and tell the stories of people and places through nature. And, most importantly, both visiting gardens and the act of gardening itself is especially cathartic for our mental health, helping to combat stress, loneliness, and low moods – both momentarily and in the long-term. With our moods being so intertwined with our environment, an escape from the relentless rhythm of town or city life can present a welcome change and peace of mind.

Kate Middleton’s ‘Back to Nature’ garden reinforces the idea of gardens and the outdoors as an outlet of learning, growth and positivity. The effects of being outdoors are undeniable, and we can all benefit from being in nature, particularly at a time when we are becoming increasingly out-of-touch with it.

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