This guest blog series showcases how different people use nature in their daily lives to overcome barriers to health and wellbeing. Today’s author is garden designer Renee Brailsford: garden designer and plantswoman who specialises in gardens for wellbeing.
Her work is inspired by the restorative powers of the outdoors and wild spaces, combined with a love of mindfulness. She aims to find creative ways to engage and connect people with nature in sustainable, thoughtful and beautiful ways to design joyful spaces for play and learning, as well as therapeutic spaces for connecting & relaxing.
As a garden designer, nature is a central part of my life. I spend at least a couple of days a week out in lovely Derbyshire gardens with my hands in the soil; gardening and growing things. But for me nature offers so much more than that. I’m continually blown away by the restorative effect the outdoors has on my wellbeing and, living on the edge of the magnificent Peak District, I spend a good amount of my free time exploring the landscape. I walk, meander, potter, sit and breathe it in.
Occasionally I make a special plan to head for a particular spot, to see the sunrise or sunset, but more often I follow my nose and find a stream or an interesting tree to enjoy. I ponder on how we share the air we breathe, the water, and how we’re all essentially made of the same building blocks – we are nature. I have favourite places which I visit regularly, where I’m able to observe the changing seasons and build a real connection to a place.
The landscape here is so varied, the horizon lines change, as you travel, one hill recedes and morphs into another. Early mornings offer stunning misty valleys and cloud inversions. I also notice the details; cobwebs, new buds forming, the colours of the leaves against the blue sky, I enjoy the air on my skin, the sound of a stream. I slow down, quieten my thinking mind and my senses awaken.
I enjoy this both with and without my children – and they inspire me too. They were never told not to get muddy, or that they shouldn’t climb trees for fear of hurting themselves. Watching them in the woods is a joy and sometimes, I copy them in an effort to challenge myself and to ‘re wild’.
Often, nature induces a sense of calm, a good couple of hours at the allotment, or a stomp across the Derbyshire hills will leave me feeling a heavy satisfaction of having unplugged – or recharged – depending on which way you chose to see it.
Walking helps you think – creative ideas tend to come when I’m relaxed, bored or applied to something else – and least when I am striving for them. Which means I can justify a certain amount of wandering outdoors as helpful to my work – not just my wellbeing.
I, (as most gardeners do) have a bad back, which can be problematic with some of the more physical aspects of my work – interestingly a good cross country walk can really help – the irregularity of the stride seems to make a difference in resetting my alignment where walking on paved surfaces doesn’t. In the winter I also enjoy a little barefoot walking – when bad weather comes and I get cabin fever and I realise how many days it is since I got my ‘fix’.
Sometimes, nature makes me feel seen & heard, there are areas of woodland where I feel greeted back by the community of trees and connected to something bigger – to sense that my own personal dramas aren’t such a big deal. Eco psychologists, and some ancient cultures practice medicine walks – a or rite of passage where individuals can deeply connect with nature to reach revelations or wisdom.
As is considered typical, nature lovers become quite protective of nature and engage in what experts call ‘pro environmental behaviours’. I feel fiercely protective of my local wild spaces especially, and of the soil – I struggle to see fields sprayed with weedkiller, and diggers and machines carving up soil structure.
Getting outdoors is good for you certainly, but if you can slow down, tune in and be mindful the benefits are supercharged.