The last few decades of the 20th century have seen a rapid change in attitudes towards nature in the urban environment, which reflects greater awareness of nature amongst the general public as well as landscape professionals. As a result, a fashion towards the production of more natural landscapes in urban areas emerged among landscape professionals, and an increasing amount of landscape practices in urban areas has involved the use of 'naturalistic' styles. At the same time, the possible benefits of contact with nature have been explored by environmental psychologists, and it has tended to be assumed that such contact is fundamental for human health and well-being and that this form of landscape represented ethical and aesthetic progress. However, there is also evidence that some people do not respond to natural landscapes in urban areas, and see them as unkempt, valueless or even frightening, and prefer the neat and tidy approach of formal, ornamental landscapes. This research examines the public attitudes towards urban naturalistic landscapes in contrast to more formal designs of urban green spaces. Attitudes of the general public were investigated using a site-based questionnaire survey in contrasting two public green spaces of Sheffield, UK. The results of this study led to the following conclusions. The public can distinguish between naturalistic and more obviously designed landscapes, appreciate both types, and derive some similar and some different benefits from the two. The general public perceive,nature' or 'natural' in two ways in different contexts: as the opposite of formal in a parks context and as the opposite of the built-up environment in a town/city-wide context. The public prefer both types of natural areas in an urban setting for different reasons and design styles seem to have an influence on preferences. (c) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.