prince george and princess charlotte in garden

Kate Middleton reveals how her children surprised her at Chelsea Flower Show

The family made a private visit to the garden on Sunday

Emily Nash

The Duchess of Cambridge has admitted her children surprised her during their visit to her woodland garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. When she returned to the garden on Monday morning to show it to a group of schoolchildren, Kate revealed: "The children played last night in a way I hadn't imagined. They were throwing stones. I hadn't actually thought that that was what they would be doing.

"They kicked their shoes off, and wanted to paddle in the stream… using it in a way that I hadn't anticipated," she added. As she helped children from two local primary schools make little boats from reeds and launch them into the stream, Kate got down on her knees and told them: "Now we need sticks to get these ones going."

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Later as she sat by the fireside helping the youngsters to thread marshmallows on to sticks to toast over the fire, she said "I love the smell of the smoke," she said. "It's great, isn't it?" One girl, Maya Bell-Springer, six, from Christ Church primary school in Battersea, who was sitting in a mini-den made of hazel sticks, beamed with delight as she said: "It is lovely and relaxing." She said afterwards: "She helped me cook my marshmallows. It was awesome."

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Amina Hawa, seven, from Ashburnham Community School in Chelsea, said the Duchess asked her what they grew in the school allotment. "I said we've grown sunflowers, onions, pumpkins, garlic and potatoes." She said it was the first time she had eaten a toasted marshmallow. "They are delicious!" Kate seemed keen to encourage the children to enjoy the scent of the pine needles and other aromatic plants. But when she handed one boy a handful of moss to sniff, asking "Does that smell nice?" He replied: "No."

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The Duchess, who wore a white broderie anglaise shirt from MIH, culottes by Massimo Dutti and white trainers for the visit, then followed the children up the ladder into the treehouse. "Oh my goodness, there are so many people up there!" she said. Speaking to a group of parents back on the ground, she said: "It is really engaging kids to understand nature and care for it, so they can go on to protect it."

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She said that for the children to explore the woodland garden was a "sensory experience", particularly at a time when so many youngsters were obsessed with Instagram and everything is so visual. "One of the girls that was sitting by the fire said it was so lovely and relaxing… until you get a waft of smoke in your face!" she laughed. On a wall where visitors to the garden have shared their childhood memories of time spent in nature, the Duchess wrote: "Boulder hopping in the Lake District."

The Duchess returned to the garden on Monday morning

As she toured the garden, she was helped by George Hassall, 13, from Manchester, an RHS young ambassador who worked on the garden with her last week. He said: "I was doing some planting, some periwinkle and some ferns. She was really nice, really down to earth. She really got into it - she did not point, she got her hands dirty. She got stuck in." As she met the children on Monday, he said, "you could tell that she was really enjoying the interaction with the kids, seeing the passion and the enthusiasm." He said his reed boat had not been a success. "Mine was called the Titanic, for obvious reasons. It did not make it to the end."

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