Friend of FINDRA, Author and Columnist, Susie White on Working in the Outdoors

Friend of FINDRA, Author and Columnist, Susie White on Working in the Outdoors

We were delighted when Susie White, Guardian and My Weekly Columnist and Award Nominee came into the FINDRA Hub for a coffee.  After chatting with Alex, she agreed to participate in our Sunday Blog.  Get a coffee and put your feet up to enjoy finding out more about Susie and her work outdoors. 

Hi, please tell everyone where you are based and what you do!

I live in a quiet valley in Northumberland amongst the uplands of the North Pennines and I write about nature and gardening. With my husband David, we made a wildlife garden from scratch on an abandoned plot around a lovely old stone house and I get daily inspiration from what I see around me. It’s incredible how much biodiversity there is now where once there was nothing.

How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?

I’ve worked outdoors all my life, starting with archaeological digs just after I left art school. That’s what first brought me to Hadrian’s Wall and began my love of this wild and open landscape. I felt I had to spend my days in natural light and to feel the weather, so it was a natural progression to work as a gardener. Twenty-three years running a walled garden and nursery next to Hadrian’s Wall was a chance to hone a gardening style and to develop as a writer alongside this.

How did you start gardening, and at what point did you realise that this was going to be your life’s work?

Growing up in a house with a large and somewhat wild garden gave me a feeling for plants and wildlife. I learnt so much from my parent’s old gardener and, looking back, I realise just what an impact he has had on my life. It just takes one person like a grandparent or a teacher to ignite that spark. I don’t think I consciously thought it would be my life’s work; I just knew what made me happy and followed that. 

What is it about writing about gardening and wildlife that you specifically love?

They are so entwined, and I can’t imagine one without the other. When I see the incredibly abundant insect life that flows through my flower borders it gives me joy. Hoverflies, bees, moths, butterflies, all constantly on the move, it feels so alive and makes me feel alive too. My new book Second Nature (published by Saraband) is subtitled The Story of a Naturalist’s Garden and it draws on all this in the telling of how we made a bountiful wildlife garden from nothing.

Your column in the Guardian seems to take you on countless adventures as you bask in the glory of the natural world.  Do you have a favourite adventure or place that you visited?

Though I’ve written a monthly Country Diary for thirteen years, I’m never at a loss for subjects because there’s so much of interest out there. It’s widely ranging too, from the Northern Lights to seabirds, from the vaults of a city museum to a spring dedicated to a goddess, wild daffodils, ospreys or prehistoric rock art. Much of what I observe though is around me in the valley or in my own garden and that is where I feel most centred.

You write so beautifully about the changing seasons of Northumbria and the wider UK.  How do the British seasonal changes inspire you and if you had to pick only one, which is your favourite?

I try and enjoy it all, though sometimes that’s tough when we have a winter like the last with day after day of rain and grey skies! The lack of light affects me but I love May when there’s such vital growth in the garden and it’s all fresh and hopeful. That’s when I wish I could press pause and enjoy it fully for a bit longer. I post what I enjoy to Instagram (@cottagegardenerpics) and that’s one way of freezing the beauty of the moment. 


For many the idea of working outdoors seems wonderful until grey clouds, drizzly rain and bitter winds appear.  How do you tackle working outdoors in the worst of British weather? Do you have any secrets?

I’m lucky that my life is so flexible and that I can write when it’s really tipping it down. But there’s a real peace to putting on waterproofs and gardening in quiet rain. I think acceptance is key, there’s no point in resisting or bracing yourself against weather but going with it. It’s the same with walking which I do a lot, it’s best to just get out there and feel it all.

Have you ever been taken out of your comfort zone through your travel, and if so, was it worth it?

There was a recent chance to go down one of the old lead mines of the North Pennines and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about being a mile underground and squeezing through narrow gaps. It was a bit hairy in places – a five minute crawl at one point - but I felt such a sense of strength and achievement. I wrote about it in my Country Diary so I could inspire others to go outside of their comfort zones.

Image of Nenthead Mines by

How do you manage to find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family? 

I don’t always manage but I try! I think it’s being flexible that’s key. I like to get work in to magazines ahead of the deadline so I’m not working at the last minute. Mornings are easiest for writing and if I’m reviewing books I can sit outside to do that. And if I’m visiting somewhere to write about, it’s often a place that my husband would also enjoy such as the coast or a hill walk. 

Do you find that working and enjoying outdoors has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?

Absolutely. If I feel troubled by something I can go for a walk or garden and, without actually focusing on the problem, there’s a sifting out of thoughts, a settling and often a resolution. It’s in the seeing too, the observation of a wren or the way the light catches a fern keeps me in the moment.

When did you discover FINDRA?

My husband gave me a FINDRA top for my birthday because I like to wear merino wool and that led to another top…and a hat… and so on. When were staying in the Borders, we visited the shop in Innerleithen and enjoyed excellent coffee and cake too.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?

I’m not sure anyone ever told me or if I told myself, but to know what and want and to go for it, whatever. 

Upon writing this blog, what message would you like to highlight to our followers to inspire them to get outdoors more?

  • Beings outdoors is so much more vital to the senses. Even just sitting outside you experience a lot.
  • Have good lightweight waterproofs
  • You can retrace the same ground often and always see something new. This really came home to me during lockdown when I’d do the same walk each day.
  • Keep a daily diary of what you see. I found this invaluable when writing my book as it took me back to how I felt at the time.
  • Get kids outside so they develop a love of the outdoors. You never know where it will lead, like me they spend their working life outdoors!


Images of Susie in her Garden by Chris Atkinson

Susie is wearing the Fern Stripe Base Layer in Dark Navy/Oatmeal and Dark Navy/Mustard

Susie's Sunday Inspiration

Favourite Song

Beluga Lagoon - Still

I discovered Beluga Lagoon through the quirky TV programme Roaming in the Wild and I just love Andrew O’Donnell’s voice. There’s a mixture of sadness and uplift and Still is just one of his songs.

    Favourite Programme

    The Detectorists - BBC

    I’ve watched and re-watched Detectorists, loving its humanity, humour and the way it’s interwoven with shots of wildlife.

     Favourite Place

    The Northumberland Coast

    Because I live in the hills, the sea feels a special place and the Northumberland coast has long sandy beaches that are constantly changing as tides bring in or take out boulders, seaweed and sea coal. 

    Favourite Quote

    I think the William Morris quote “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” is also relevant to gardens. That the plants in my garden should be beautiful and also useful to the many forms of wildlife.
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