“If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.”

So says Cicero, better known as a great Roman lawyer, statesman and letterwriter than a horticulturalist.  His famous saying asks us to reflect on a need for balance, between the busy world outside, and the internal world of reflection. Cicero uses his garden both as a retreat from politics and as a sanctuary to reflect on the nature of ‘nature’ itself.  However, the link between learning and nature goes deeper – our external environment can shape and influence our internal psychology. Without a calming natural oasis, are we capable of great leaps of intellect?

Far from being a sanctuary, nature today is more often a cause for concern for both old and young but most especially the young, with over 75% describing the future as ‘frightening’ because of the effect of climate change. From the forest fires in Europe and record breaking monthly temperatures in the UK to the ubiquity of micro-plastics, air pollution or the endangerment of remote islands (or even cities here in the UK) from rising sea levels, Mother Nature affects us all.

But how best can we look after her, and can we help ourselves at the same time?

One of the best and easiest ways is by looking after the green spaces around us, and in so doing, we look after our wellbeing.  Whether it be a local park, a garden, a roof top terrace, balcony, windowsill or yard, ‘green exercise’  – as gardening and other forms of exercise outside have become known – can contribute to an increase in physical and mental wellbeing. As little as five minutes can make a difference, and mowing, digging, planting and pruning can all count towards the 30 minutes of ‘moderate’ exercise recommended daily by the UK government (equivalent to the same duration of yoga or even badminton!). In 2021, the RHS released research that revealed those who garden every day have wellbeing scores 6.6% higher and stress levels 4.2% lower than people who don’t garden at all.  Green exercise can benefit mental as well as physical health: given that “up to 20% of people visit their GPs for what is primarily a social rather than a health problem”, the creation of pioneering social prescribing schemes at places like RHS Bridgewater can help people who need connection to improve mental health, rather than just focusing on medication alone.

The conclusion? Get outside, and get involved!

All of this is good news for us, as we are incredibly lucky that our school site encompasses so much green space and opportunity for the student body to interact with the environment around us. For learning, quiet times with friends, fun, games, outdoor lessons, (a short cut to lunch?), the Cripps, Derngate and Towerfield quads offer a more formal garden environment, enriched with herbaceous planting, shrubs, herbs and seasonal flowers, as well as the greenhouse, fountain, arbour, benches  and areas of wildflower meadow  in ‘No Mow May.’ The Creative Arts Faculty in our Senior School are soon to add a new growing space for edibles via their greenhouse. Bird feeders help the birds through winter, and our Eco Team were able to supply new feeders to replace our old ones last year; we have many nest boxes around the site, and our students enjoy contributing to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch annual surveys. Staff are encouraged to take a Wildlife Wander  to enrich their wellbeing, and we encourage citizen science in other areas, too, like the annual  Butterfly conservation surveys in the summer months.

Our Wildlife Gardening Club have won awards, learning not just Level 1 but also Level 2 in the RHS School garden campaign for their attempts to grow a range of fruit and vegetables (peas, beans and wildflowers very successfully, but marigolds and radishes less so!) Their activities have also helped the school garner the Woodland Trust’s Bronze, Silver and Gold awards, for finding out about carbon reduction in school, climate change, recycling, making decorations from foraged materials and learning more about trees and folklore traditions. This year, we’ve focused on improving mental health in the garden, and have trialled mindfulness in the courtyard, forest bathing and more art activities, such as Shakespeare’s flowers, acting A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  making garden clay sculptures and cane toppers to personalise our spaces; cherry blossom viewing and matcha tea was a personal highlight! The Wildlife Trust have awarded us their ‘Wildlife Gardening Award’ for the habitat provision we have in school, commitment to homes for bees, bugs and birds, recycling materials, providing green corridors and walls,  and composting what we can. Many thanks to past and current students in Yr 5, 6, 7, 9 and, especially, Elisha and Rishika in Yr 12 for helping to lead the club this year.

Perhaps next  we should focus on greening the inside space, too, as research has found that having house plants in office spaces can improve productivity by up to 15%, and the scent of  rosemary has indeed been proven to increase memory (great for GCSE students before exams!)

So, is NHS an oasis of calm in which students can pose rigorous academic questions whilst also taking the time to reflect and nurture their own development?

We are proud to say that our school is “a calm, happy and purposeful place in which to learn” where “pupils apply themselves readily to acquiring new skills and are willing to take risks in their learning.”

What more can we do? I am sure our students will tell us, and lead the way.

Here are their top 10 tips of things you can do for nature, wildlife and yourself:

  1. Reduce, reuse and recycle (check if you’re not sure, and don’t buy if you won’t use)
  2. Conserve water (make a rain garden? Use grey water?)
  3. Buy local (think food miles, and carbon footprint)
  4. Take a minute everyday just to breathe and listen  (appreciate what you’ve got!)
  5. Look after a houseplant
  6. Put up a bird feeder, or make your own
  7. Throw a wildflower seed bomb (or make your own)
  8. Grow some herbs on a windowsill
  9. Take a walk once a week, and list the things you see, hear and touch
  10. Everyone can do something for nature – you just have to start!


Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology, 44, 3947–395

Mrs Peto
Teacher of Latin