A mature student studying horticulture at Moulton College combined a passion for plants with her past experience as an oncologist to win a competition to design a holistic ‘cancer garden’.
Dr Jill Stewart, who played a leading role in the development of the oncology services for Milton Keynes General Hospital during her 30-year medical career, was awarded first place in the competition which was run by Cancer Partners UK’s Linford Wood Medical Centre in Milton Keynes.
The centre provides diagnostic and outpatient procedures as well as an integrated oncology unit routinely offering image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) and intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) as standard. The team wanted the centre’s holistic ethos to be extended beyond the building and into the garden, and worked in partnership with Moulton College to provide past and present horticultural students with an opportunity to work to a real and challenging brief.
Linford Wood Medical Centre’s business development manager, Simon Lewis, said: “When we launched the competition we hosted site visits and worked with the students to provide them with an understanding into the particular needs of oncology patients. We didn’t expect to find out one of the students had such a wealth of knowledge, but were delighted to hear she shared her insight with her fellow-students!”
The judging panel included Cath Smith, head of facilities with the charity Penny Brohn Cancer Care which provides counselling support and evidence-based complementary therapies to cancer patients being treated at Linford Wood; and Ian Walker who runs Thomas Redding Garden Services in nearby Newport Pagnell.
Simon continued: “It was tough choosing a winner as everyone came up with unique and interesting perspectives, but Jill’s design really did shine. We liked the way she grasped the ethos of the medical centre, although it was actually the particular attention she paid to the garden’s aspect from the chemotherapy treatment area which made her design stand out from the crowd. Her design will bring the outside inside, which will undoubtedly raise the spirits of patients as they undergo treatment.”
In addition to seeing her winning design being created and developed over the coming weeks, Jill received a VIP day out for two to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in London which takes place later this month.
Jill, who has always had an interest in plants and botanical art, decided to take a complete change of direction on retirement and began to study for a degree in horticulture and garden design. She said: “I was delighted the judges liked my design. I’ve always enjoyed gardening and found it relaxing after a busy day at work.
“I would hope the garden will delight not only through glass but also entice people out into its heart to see and hear what is about. Scents are part of a garden and one of its pleasures. For those who may be short on stamina because of their treatment side-effects having an escape route into nature can really lift spirits.”
Runner-up prizes went to Georgina Kirkpatrick and Robert Stratford. Georgina was praised for her use of a soothing, tranquil water feature, while Robert showed a deep awareness plants thought to have healing qualities, some of which will be incorporated into Jill’s design.
Robert, a first year student who lives in Fenny Stratford, concluded: “This has been an exciting opportunity to do something to help people being treated with cancer in a positive, subtle and calming way using plants and flowers. It’s been quite challenging, especially meeting the timeframe, and I’m pleased that some of my planting ideas are being used.”