Nov 28, 2023 | Grant Stories, News

Ballarat, Victoria

‘Just put your hands in the dirt and let the magic happen’, is the advice Lou Ridsdale gives the young people at her workshop before they embark on making a mini-garden terrarium. She urges them to have fun, be creative and make something they love, that is theirs to keep. Many of the participants, suffering from mental illness and associated issues, don’t have much of their own and little chance to establish a garden. Lou changes that.

Lou, the founder of volunteer-powered Food is Free Inc. in Ballarat, doesn’t get bogged down in fancy terracotta gardening pots and exotic plants. Instead, she encourages the residents at Barnagnen, a youth residential mental health recovery service in Ballarat, to get their hands in the dirt and connect to nature.

Her recent terrarium-making workshop at Barnagnen, run with support from Highways and Byways, was a great success with participants throwing their energy and creativity into making terrariums using large recycled jars.

“It’s a wonderful experience to be part of, watching the young people loving making something that is theirs and they can take with them to whatever place they move onto. It’s as if the world fades away for a few hours and they are immersed in their small garden space,” Lou said. “There’s a lot of evidence about the mental health benefits of gardening and making terrariums also gives people ownership and control of their little garden space.”

As well as creating their terrariums, Lou also talks about keeping plants alive and how they have to have food, water and the right place to stay alive. “It’s a message these young folks can certainly relate to. I also share information about making gardening cheap and accessible and using what you have to get started.”

“When they first walked into the room, they looked horrified at the thought of having to create a small garden. But they thrived and there was so much joy in it for them because they were given permission to make something that was theirs and there were no rules or expectations about how it should look.”

“We then got talking about gardens and how they are lovely places to sit with visitors or just to sit in peace. We decided a garden here at Barnagnen could be that space so that’s the project we are now working on. It all came from making mini gardens,” Lou said.


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