Emily NashThe Duchess of Cambridge delivered on her promise to plant a sunflower in memory of one little boy at The Nook children's hospice near Norwich on Thursday
The Duchess of Cambridge brought sunshine to a children's hospice last week as she joined families to plant a new patio garden. Keen gardener Kate came up with the idea to transform the terrace area at The Nook, near Norwich, and sourced sensory plants and flowers for it ahead of her visit on Thursday.
WATCH: Kate helps children and families to plant flowers at children's hospice
And despite wearing a pretty Marie-Louise floral dress by Faithfull the Brand– in a shade that complemented the garden's calming lilac colour scheme - she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. She crouched down to pot fragrant bay, rosemary and her favourite lavender and laughed as she made "a big mess" while trying to repot a large sunflower, dropping soil on the floor.
Planting more sunflowers with the Pope-Saunders family, she told them how Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis have been doing the same in the garden at Anmer Hall. And it seems her children have inherited some of their parents' famous love of competition. "The children are really enjoying growing their sunflowers," she remarked. "Louis's is winning so George is a little grumpy about that!"
Star, 11, Hudson, eight and six-year-old Sonny Pope-Saunders helped her transform the shady spot with terracotta containers full of strawberries, geraniums, hydrangeas and rock hyssop and herbs including sage, chives and tarragon. With her eldest son George due to turn seven on 22 July, the Duchess no doubt felt huge empathy for Kelly and Jordan Pope-Saunders, who were visiting the hospice for the first time with Sonny, who was a normal healthy boy until he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour shortly after his birthday in February. But there were plenty of smiles as she met the little boy.
Tracy Rennie, acting chief executive of EACH, told her: "Sonny’s got you a present!" as he held out a white wristband inscribed with his fundraising slogan "Sonny Smiles" for her to take. Crouching down to chat to him, Kate said: "Hi Sonny, Wow, is that for me? Thank you very much Sonny, am I allowed to take it? Are you going to give it to me later?" After handing it to her with a smile, she popped it straight onto her right wrist.
"Is this your first time here? What do you think, have you had a look around?" she asked the family. "It’s lovely," said mum Kelly, 31. She told Kate how she had taken her son to see the GP in February because he wasn’t himself. Within days he had been diagnosed with the difficult-to-treat brain tumour.
"It all happened quite quickly," said the Duchess, who looked visibly moved and shook her head as Kelly added: “And then lockdown hit."
The family had planned to take Sonny to Disneyland Paris in April and had to postpone but as his illness is now more advanced, it may no longer be possible. Jordan told Kate Sonny is a huge fan of Sir Elton John and the film Rocketman, and wants to meet him. "Does he? Because of his amazing music?" asked Kate. "We'll have to make sure that happens! Once lockdown has finished."
She told the family: "I'm always so blown away by families like yours, particularly having to go through all of this in lockdown. You show such resilience and bravery. You're such an inspiration to us all. More people in the country should meet families like you, there's a huge amount of change for you all to take on and you have coped fantastically."
Afterwards Kelly said: "It was so nice to see her – and in such a lovely dress too – getting stuck in. She's so down to earth, the kids really loved doing the gardening and planting with her."
The Duchess also re-potted a sunflower she had brought in memory of Fraser Delf, nine, who died at EACH's Milton hospice in January. Earlier in the week she had joined the Duchess of Cornwall on a video call to Fraser’s family, and the royal women congratulated his brother Stuie for running a sponsored 5km every day in May to raise more than £18,500 for the charity.
At the Nook, Kate also met Liam and Lisa Page, whose three-month-old son Connor was born with severe brain damage on March 5. They have been living at the hospice for more than 13 weeks. She sympathised: "Going through lockdown at the same time, when you can't see your loved ones, you can't share with people – there aren’t other families necessarily here that you can share your experience with…"
Dad Liam replied: "It’s been very difficult, the staff here have been supporting us but it has been a difficult journey. We're very grateful that he’s got this far."
Kate, who launched the appeal to build the seven-bedroom Nook nearly six years ago, also heard from staff how Children’s Hospices have struggled during the pandemic with fundraising severely hit and families unable to use the facilities.
Tracy Rennie, EACH's acting chief executive said: "The Duchess wanted to support Children's Hospice Week and when she suggested creating a new garden at the Nook, I said: 'fantastic!'. I gave her a brief to include plants with smells and bright colours and she delivered the brief brilliantly."
Tracy continued: "She chose many of the plants herself from Fakenham nursery and supported what is a local business for us by sending a whole lot more on Wednesday, including the terracotta pots."
The Duchess had surprised shoppers at the garden centre on June 18 as she stopped to chat, even revealing how she was missing her own family.
She told customers: "I've yet to see my family as they're about three hours away in Berkshire, so I haven't seen them and I miss them."
Speaking about her enthusiasm at The Nook, Tracy added: "She was absolutely prepared to get her hands dirty – she didn't need the gardening gloves we offered her – and even plunged her hands into the earth with that massive engagement ring on!
"She goes up in my estimation every day. She is such a good advocate of the work we do, she's amazing with the families, so compassionate and understanding. She really still doesn't realise the impact she has on creating memories for these families who meet her. Those that met her here today will remember it for the rest of their lives. Many people are perhaps put off coming to hospices as they worry it's a place to die but actually it's a place for support and a lot of fun and laughter."
In a message for Children's Hospice Week, Kate said: "I'd like to thank the amazing staff for all the work that you do in children's hospices around the UK. The care and the nurture that you provide children and families in the most unimaginable circumstances is just awe inspiring.
"I'd also like to pay tribute to all those families out there who are caring for and looking after a child with a life-limiting illness. You do the most extraordinary job and I know it's particularly hard at the moment so my thoughts go out to you all."
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