Created in partnership with Lipton

Community Gardens Are Improving Our Mental Health — Here’s How

Last weekend, I went to my aunt’s house. She’s currently in the process of repotting the plants in her garden. After years of lockdowns and a house move, the pots were all either overgrown, dried up or full of snails. 
My family and I spent the Saturday uprooting plants, shovelling fresh potting mix into bigger pots and placing plants and off-cuts neatly in the middle before going on to the next. As I sat on the pavers, my hands covered in soil, I noticed something — I felt relaxed; more than I'd felt in ages. 
I hadn't checked my phone in hours. My grandad's favourite music played across the courtyard and as three generations of my family worked together, I realised that it was so refreshing to feel like we were away from the loud, busy world.
There have been dozens of studies on the correlation between nature and improved mental health. According to the Journal of Environmental Horticulture, increased access to green spaces reduces psychological distress, symptoms of depression, clinical anxiety and mood disorders in adults. 
Amber Rules, a psychotherapist and director of Rough Patch counselling, tells Refinery29 Australia that being around plants can “increase happiness and life satisfaction, enhance productivity, attention and memory, improve self-esteem, and help manage the effects of PTSD and dementia.” 
And while these are all important on an individual level, gardening with others — whether with your family or in community gardens — is a way to help stretch the benefits even further. 
The Victorian Department of Health notes that gardening with others in a community garden — a neighbourhood space where locals can cultivate plants and food — can “give you a sense of purpose and drive to achieve an end goal.” It also creates a sense of belonging and acceptance for those who may be feeling isolated, a common emotion as people recover from COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. 
“Community gardens encourage connection,” says Rules. “They offer meaning and sharing of information, and in some cases, improve the nutritional health and social environment of the people involved.”
Accessibility to community gardens means that people living in apartments or without a backyard are able to have a space to cultivate plants and food, reap the benefits of being in nature and get to form a closer connection with their community. This is especially important as across Australia, more people are renting cramped apartments, and research shows that access to green spaces is unequal in every Australian major city.
The studies don’t lie; community gardens are an incredible tool to find human connection, space and a slice of mental well-being in a chaotic world. This is particularly important for young people, when you consider that Gen Z and millennials are the loneliest generations. This is bolstered by research from Headspace, which shows that over half (54%) of young Australians feel lonely. That's why Lipton Ice Tea is taking community gardens in Australian cities that are in dire need of funding, and creating more uplifting communal spaces to encourage social connection and time in nature. 
In Sydney, the Randwick Community Organic Garden has been given the opportunity to thrive, to help the community find joy in gardening and in one another. This is just one of seven community gardens across Sydney and Melbourne that Lipton Ice Tea is helping to bring back to life. From new garden beds and sheds to fresh mulch, plants, tools and people power in the form of volunteers, regenerating these communal gardens can help locals access and reap the benefits of green community spaces.
In a world of instant gratification and 12-plus hours of screen time, it's clear that access to green spaces and face-to-face connection is not something that we should take for granted. 
“Any task that we do with mindful intention can be meditative,” Rules says. “Humans tend to be happy when they’re doing something that feels personally meaningful — and gardening offers a wonderful combination.”
Want to get involved? Organisations like Community Gardens Australia help people around the country find access to community gardens near them.
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