As we mark World Environment Day and prepare to rebuild our Chelsea Flower Show garden at our Tunbridge Wells site, Richard Anstead, Director of Business Development at Aspens, reflects on the importance of access to green spaces and nature to the wellbeing of our community. 

I clearly remember hearing all about people being asked to move on from a green space in London during one of the extended COVID-19 lockdowns. I am sure we can all remember reading similar reports. My initial reaction was all about the risk that these people were putting themselves and others at, that they were breaking social distancing guidelines, meeting up with others from outside their household or ‘bubble’, acting without responsibility.

A few well-meaning comments on social media reminded me that whilst we were all ‘in the same boat’ during lockdown, my boat, or at least my back garden was a fair bit bigger than others. When I need to get out and grab some much-needed fresh air or to enjoy time in our green and pleasant land, I could do so with ease. I could simply step through my kitchen door and into my garden, I could enjoy watching birds feed on their feeder, check to see how the rhubarb and asparagus was growing, even pick the odd flower. I could readily access nature to help manage my rising anxiety, keep a lid on my depression and recharge.

The need to access nature and green spaces as a resource to manage our mental health is clear as we all struggle from time to time. Research from 2019 reminds us how important it is for us to create opportunities for people with autism and learning disabilities to do the same. A staggering seven out of 10 people who are autistic also experience mental health conditions (Autistica, 2019), including depression and anxiety.

For these reasons our team at Aspens, in partnership with Camellia Taylor of The Garden Taylor and Project Giving Back, designed and built The Natural Affinity Garden for Aspens which was first exhibited at last month’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The garden was visited by hundreds and featured across national and local media and we hope has raised awareness around the therapeutic value of nature through engaging with each of our seven senses. 

Each planting zone of Camellia’s design targets specific senses and every aspect of the planting has been included for sensory stimulation. The dominant use of green in the garden provides an overall feeling of calm for those with hyper-sensitivity (sensory avoidant) and subtle additions of purple and yellow provide stimulation and interaction for those with hyposensitivity (sensory seeking). 

The show is now over, and the garden is now entering its next exciting chapter as the plants, shrubs and trees are carefully tended to by our horticultural team until the garden is rebuilt at our site in Tunbridge Wells, Kent for our wider community to use. It will nestle in the middle of our 150-acre site, right next door to the homes of people with autism and learning disabilities and not far from our horticulture team’s HQ.

This amazing site gives our community the chance to invest in their mental health, to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers and to pick up valuable life skills that will support them into the future. Aspens is passionate about using this amazing resource to benefit as many people as possible, as we did during the pandemic, keeping our site open and accessible for as long as possible, to as many people as possible. 

As we continue to rebuild from a tough few years, our rehomed RHS Chelsea Garden, a gift from Project Giving Back will allow us to offer others this green space, manage our mental health and to build back better.

It also gives us the energy to go further, to look to what we can do next, to where we can take our lovely site and amazing services. 

We would love people to come on this journey with us. We can offer you as many chances to weed, dig, grow and plant, feed an animal as you might like!

Come down to our site and get stuck in, we will always give you a warm welcome.

Richard Anstead

The Natural Affinity Community Project Appeal

Help us build on the legacy started with our RHS Chelsea Garden through the development of our Natural Affinity Community Project appeal.

Our vision is to take full advantage of the glorious countryside and natural features of the Tunbridge Wells site, which includes ponds, meadows and woodland, to help our community to engage more in nature and green spaces, unlocking the positive impact this can have and utilising our unique location with an area of outstanding beauty in the heart of the Kent countryside.

We would like to provide:

  • An outdoor experience for the people we support and the local community to enjoy through horticulture and animal husbandry opportunities.
  • A space with activities for those attending our Day Opportunities and friends and families of those who live on the site.
  • Educational workshops for visiting schools and the local community through the development of the Forest School.

Whether you are able to support us with a donation or would like to join in a strategic partnership as a major donor we would love to hear from you!

Support Aspens Natural Affinity Community Project appeal here

Further information

If you'd like to find out more and see how you can support this project, please contact Jo Dennis at [email protected] or 07719087636.