Cancer Care Entrance & Courtyard – Interview with Sue Lindley

Following on from my recent post about the Cancer Care Entrance and Courtyard project that I worked on (you can read about it here), I also wanted to share a bit more about the actual Courtyard design as this was the main feature of the whole project.  I thought it would be nice to interview the lovely Sue Lindley from Gardens Green Designs as she was the Courtyard Designer and if it wasn’t for all her hard work and dedication the Courtyard wouldn’t have happened!  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Sue and really hope we get to work on many more exciting projects together some day!

As a little reminder, this is the beautiful Courtyard that Sue designedCourtyard_3

Please can you tell me a little about your background and how you became a Garden Designer?

Originally, I was a Music and English teacher in a secondary school! After moving house I discovered how much I enjoyed designing my new garden so after having my two children I retrained and have been working as a garden designer for 15 years.

How did you get the opportunity to work on the Courtyard project?

Alan Rose, the Chairman of the York Teaching Hospital Trust, knew the courtyard garden I had designed for the women’s Sarah Coggles shop in York and asked me to design his garden. That was in 2008. Since then he has seen other projects I’ve been involved with, realised that I might be interested in working on a ‘healing garden’ – and approached me.

What inspired your design for the Courtyard?

Generally, I find that inspiration comes from practical considerations such as the site itself, the needs of the users and their brief. My imagination is inspired by the parameters set up by the whole brief. Here there were lots of restrictions – problems to solve – so this project despite appearances was not an empty canvas! A couple of gardens had some influence – a private garden where the restricted colour palette is calm and pleasing, and Cambridge Botanic Garden’s Dry Garden where tough plants provide variety and interest with just a hint of formality. Inspiration for the fairy lights came from my Christmas visits to Norway where I have seen lovely simple uses of white fairy lights in gardens. Other inspiration came from my research on ‘healing gardens’.

Cancer Care Courtyard Design_Sue Lindley

Did you come up against any obstacles during the project and if so, what were they?

I prefer to think of ‘obstacles’ as ‘challenges’ and problems that can be solved! I came up against quite a few challenges, some of which were new to me – such as the need to keep the number of bees to a minimum (because cancer sufferers’ low immune systems find bee stings very difficult to cope with) while making sure there was colour and interest in the garden throughout the year! Limiting the number of flowering plants attractive to bees (most are), using double-flowered varieties, providing interest through contrasting foliage and adding movement with grasses all helped. The garden had to be designed for wheelchair access – and the odd stretcher-and also usable by the infirm, so we needed hard surfacing, a ramp, and handrails – but the brief was for a ‘natural’ garden not a large area of hard-standing! A curve helped plus an informal planting style. I could mention several more ‘challenges’ but will limit myself to one more – creating a calm, supportive environment within a harsh re-bricked two-storied enclosure: a limited colour palette, for hard and soft materials, that didn’t fight against the colour of the red brick helped here.

Courtyard BeforeHow the space looked before Sue worked her magic!Courtyard Before_1Courtyard_1aWork on the courtyard in progress

What did you enjoy the most about working on the project?

Working with the ‘Core Group’ at the Hospital responsible for the development of the garden because normally I work by myself; also, creating something that (I hope) will be of such value to people in need. Working with Rebecca on the design of the metalwork was great – and I love the way her security barrier and double gates form an unusual, relevant and beautiful backdrop to the garden when seen from within the space.  One detail of the garden that pleased me and I hope others will enjoy – I included a standard lamp next to the bench in the covered seating area as it is both an inside and an outside space!Courtyard GatesCancer Care Courtyard

Are you pleased with the finished result and the feedback you’ve received?

On the whole – yes! Tom and his company, Wild Landscapes did a good job of building the garden. I’m delighted that some things which were a bit of a risk pulled off – like the beautiful Urbis planters, the concrete block edging and the step warning strips turned out to be all a similar charcoal as I’d hoped, providing unity across the site. Similarly, the concrete paving and the large sandstone plaque – the visual and spiritual focus of the garden – are also very alike in colour. I’m pleased that in a small space I have managed to provide 3 separate seating areas and that you can walk around the garden going in via the ramp and coming back via the steps – or the other way round. Choice creates interest. The feedback has been pretty positive which is lovely – though I did hear one couple comment on the lack of plants in flower not realising that bees are a problem….!Courtyard_5FlowerCourtyard_6

What do you hope users of the space will gain from it?

I hope visitors will gain some sort of peace from the garden. Jane, the Manager of the Cancer Care Centre, told me that on the afternoon after the lunchtime Opening 2 families spent a long time wrapped in blankets in the garden while they began to deal with the bad news they had been given. I was pleased that the garden was able to be of use so soon after its Opening.Courtyard_7

What are you working on next?

An awkward steeply-sloping back garden!


I’d like to say a huge thank you to Sue Lindley from Gardens Green Designs for taking the time to answer my questions and allow us a deeper insight into the design, planning and construction of the beautiful Courtyard.  Sue is currently working on a new website but if you’d like to contact her or are interested in working with her then please do pop over to her website.



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