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New research highlights the benefits of garden appreciation

A Swinburne student has published new research which suggests regional and rural people could improve their social wellbeing by engaging in a gardening group. Millicent Spencer reports.

Swinburne researcher Leith Symes and CHAMPAS president Sarah McHugh discuss the benefits CHAMPAS has had on the community and suggest more research into garden appreciation would be beneficial for regional communities. (Millicent Spencer).


New research suggests that taking time to stop and smell the roses can improve the wellbeing outcomes for people living in regional and remote communities.


Swinburne honours student Leith Symes was inspired to conduct the research after he noticed current studies into green spaces were city-centric and failed to consider the benefits a well-crafted garden could have on those living in the regions.


“I thought it wasn't necessarily fair that regional and rural people were left out of the scope of [the research] just because they're in an area that could be assumed to be greener and more diverse in nature,” Mr Symes said.


“I think it's easy to get carried away with the idea that regional and rural areas do have plenty of access to green space.


“A garden is [different to a paddock]; it has a diverse landscape of different flowers, bushes, shrubs, and design features.”

Research points to the positive wellbeing that can come from appreciating a well-crafted garden. (Millicent Spencer).

The subject of his research was the Colac Horticultural and Marvellous Properties Appreciation Society (CHAMPAS), a group based in regional Victoria who meet and admire gardens.


CHAMPAS president Sarah McHugh is a former dairy farmer and started the group to bring likeminded people together.


Ms McHugh said she gets a different buzz out of looking at gardens as opposed to agricultural land.


“Having been a farmer and having had hundreds of acres that needed looking after you're always going to see work,” she said.


“The rolling paddocks which tourists might find absolutely stunning in the Otways or in Gippsland... [they] won’t realise that they're looking at a hell of a lot of work.”

Mr Symes' research shows those living in the regions don’t get the same level of satisfaction when looking at their local landscape. (Millicent Spencer).

Mr Symes said while his research focused on the social benefits of human connectivity that come from a garden appreciation group such as CHAMPAS, future research could point to the environmental benefits too.


“Although [CHAMPAS] does talk about properties and design, it is still very much about the gardening aspect,” he said.


“I know so many people in CHAMPAS were inspired to work on their garden and talked about how they could bring home ideas.


“Members said that they were interested in the idea of things like permaculture gardens and finding ways they can grow vegetables.”

After a workplace injury, Sale local Jennifer Smith now shares her knowledge with others as a horticultural judge and volunteer at the local community garden. (Photo: Millicent Spencer).

Gippsland local Jennifer Smith used to be a prolific gardener but after a workplace injury she had to re-evaluate her relationship with gardening.


Ms Smith said after her injury she trained as a horticultural judge and now travels the country appreciating gardens.


“There are ways to engage with the garden without growing,” she said.


“I love looking at gardens… it makes you aware of the sun, rain, birds, and the living world.


Ms Smith said judging gardens has given her a new lease on life and her appreciation of gardens has improved her wellbeing.


“I struggle not having family, not having a job, and having my injury, but judging gets me out of the house by taking me to all the different shows,” she said.


“Gardens give you that appreciation of the world around you. It’s the best medicine.”

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