The Princess of Wales made a surprise appearance at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on its opening day on Monday, where she joined school pupils at the event's first ever Children’s Picnic.
Kate, wearing a repeat pink ME+EM shirt dress, met youngsters from ten schools taking part in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening as they sat down to eat, before visiting three of this year's Show Gardens with them.
The Children's picnic, which is set to become an annual event at the Show, was inspired by a conversation the Princess had with the RHS in 2019 when she unveiled her Back to Nature Garden. She told organisers she felt it would be nice to involve more children in the event.
On her first visit to the world-famous horticultural show since 2019, the future queen and the children took part in a bug hunt, helped to plan a home-grown meal and discovered how gardens can support wellbeing – something the Princess has been highlighting for several years. See what Kate had to say as she arrived...
Upon arrival, Kate sat down on a picnic blanket with children from St Augustine's Primary School in Hammersmith, asking them: “Are any of you keen gardeners? Do you get the chance to plant things at school? What sort of things do you grow and then do you get to eat them?
She added: "It's so rewarding isn't it, when you see plants growing and then you have them on your plate."
The children discussed vegetables and herbs and the Princess told them: "There's a plant that smells like chocolate. I remember my granny showing me that when I was little. It has very dark leaves and you rub it and it smells like chocolate."
Told the pupils were growing sunflowers at school, she said: "They get so big, don’t they?" revealing: "Louis is growing broad beans at school. You put them in a cup and you can see them roots growing. They get big quickly like sunflowers."
Picking up a favourite theme, Kate extolled the virtues of spending time outdoors, telling the children: "It’s so good for our bodies and our minds."
She then joined another group from Alec Reed Primary School in Northolt to discuss flowers and plants, admitting that: "Lots of the names are in Latin and I can never remember them."
She asked the children: "Is this different to your normal lessons? It's a different way of learning today."
Kate was shown bug hotels the pupils had made from bundles of hollow bamboo tied with string and before moving on, asked the children to write to her after their visit to tell her "how we can make it even better for the kiddies next time".
This is the first time the RHS has invited schoolchildren to the event at such a large scale and the hope is that the annual picnic will inspire a future generation of gardeners.
At the Savills garden, the Princess and a group of children from St George's Church of England Primary School in Camberwell joined designer Mark Gregory to explore the “edimental” garden.
Kate crouched down to pick fennel, mint and other herbs, telling the youngsters, “If you rub it between your fingers you can smell it.”
She also pointed out a foxglove, showing the children where the bees climb in to access pollen. "The bees love that," she said.
Asked what her favourite colour was, she encouraged the children to guess, grinning as they correctly answered "green".
Meanwhile one of the pupils asked her about being a member of the royal family. She replied: "You have to work hard, but you know the best thing about it is meeting kiddies like you."
Pressed on what the royal family does, she said: "They help support all the different people in the country, showcase all the amazing work being done and look after everyone."
One curious child asked if she made the law, but she told her: "The Prime Minister makes the laws."
There was laughter as the Princess interrupted a group of Chelsea pensioners who were enjoying a starter of chargrilled peas with herbs made by chefs in the walled kitchen garden. When she asked what was on the menu, gallant diner Harry Puttick, 94, formerly of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers told her: "The peas are forgettable – you are not."
With the chef nearby he joked afterwards: "I'd better say the peas were wonderful but it was fantastic to meet the future Queen."
Later speaking to Mark about her children she said: "My kids love being in the natural world but not all kids have access to that."
In the Samaritans garden, the Princess joined pupils from St George’s Church of England Primary School in Wandsworth and Holy Trinity Church of England School in Chelsea.
She pointed out small rocks suspended from a pergola over the walkway, saying: "That makes you feel a bit nervous and anxious, doesn't it?"
Gesturing to the seating under the tree where they were chatting, she added: "And then you can come and sit here and it's all really calm and feels secure."
Designed by Darren Hawkes, the space represents an emotional journey, moving from chaos and overwhelm through to a calming and tranquil area. Sculptural oak seats serve as places to talk and listen or reflect on conversations.
Parts of the garden are destined for a permanent site at Samaritans in Truro, with more plants being sent to other branches of the charity.
Finally, Kate joined designer Tom Massey in the Royal Entomological Society's garden, where children from St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Islington and Glenbrook Primary School in Brixton were identifying bugs and beetles that have entered via the permeable modules in the wall.
"Bees are already coming in after just three weeks," the Princess told the young visitors.
The children, however, were equally keen to have a souvenir from their VIP meeting, asking Kate to sign their sketches.
"I can't write my name," she told them, "but I can draw." She drew a flower for Ruby Mann, seven, a tree for another girl and a pond surrounded by plants for a third child.
Asked again about her name, she said: "My name's Catherine. I'm not allowed to write my signature, it's just one of those rules."
She attempted to draw a palm tree, telling the children, "My kiddies like palm trees," but added that hers looked more like Holly.
Speaking to Glenbrook's headteacher Jane Scarsbrook, she said: "It's so great that the kids are here. At the time [of her 2019 garden], children weren't allowed on the site.
"It's so inspiring for them, for their creativity. It's a total haven for them and they learn in a different way."
She then joined a group of children at the garden's pond, where Solyana Dane, eight, picked some pieces of tree pollen from the Princess's hair, earning herself a thank you.
Saron Fikremariam, 11, said afterwards: "I asked her what's the first thing she is going to do when she becomes Queen and she said she is going to help kids."
Solyana asked the Princess whether she enjoyed gardening. "She said she does and it's her calm place,” she said.
Headteacher Jane said of the Princess: "She was really engaging. She was saying how great it was that the children were being invited for the first time – she was really happy about that."
Pupils taking part in the picnic came from schools including Cameron Vale School, Alec Reed Academy, St George's CofE Primary School, St Augustine's CofE Primary, Falconbrook Primary School, Christ Church CofE Primary School, Glenbrook Primary School, St Mary's CofE Primary School, St George's Church of England Primary School and Laycock Primary School.
The picnic aims to bring gardening and nature into the lives of more children, a topic Kate has been passionate about for several years.
In 2019 she launched her RHS Back to Nature gardens at Chelsea and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, in collaboration with the landscape architects Davies White, to highlight the importance of spending time outdoors to a child's development.
She later opened a permanent Back to Nature play garden at RHS Garden Wisley.
Spending time outdoors allows children to build their confidence, develop independence and learn how to forge relationships with others, all skills which help shape their adult lives.
This year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show features 12 show gardens and more than 70 nurseries in the Great Pavilion.
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