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Ronald McDonald House features new garden and playground
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Ronald McDonald House features new garden and playground

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Many gardens are intentionally designed for a specified space, taking into consideration exposure, surrounding landscape and use. But sometimes a garden's conception is dynamic — based on fluidity and circumstance. A newly-completed meditative garden at the Winston-Salem Ronald McDonald House is one such dynamic space, born from fluctuation and functionality.

To best understand the design and purpose of the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) Meditative Garden, a little background is in order. The RMH is on Hawthorne Road, adjacent to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“Our mission at the Ronald McDonald House is to provide a home away from home for families with children who are receiving medical care in our community,” said RMH Executive Director Chuck Kraft.

The RMH consists of multiple houses that have a total of 35 bedrooms for families. A neighboring property was acquired in 2016, which would allow for much needed parking during periods of high occupancy. Much time was spent on zoning the property and developing a plan that would best suit the needs of the RMH. RMH worked with local landscape architecture, civil engineering and land planning firm Stimmel Associates to design the space.

Work finally began this year on expanding the parking, relocating the existing playground and figuring out the challenges of a steep slope. From street-level at Hawthorne to the parking lot behind the RMH, there ended up being a 19-foot drop — a "downhill" battle, if you will. The result was more than anyone hoped for, though, as a new, modern playground was created, as well as a beautiful street-level meditative garden.

“From the plans to simply grow our parking lot and landscape, then finding out we had to relocate our playground and the 19-foot differential — that's when the garden idea came in. And that would be our contribution back to the community,” Kraft said. “To give back to the neighborhood who have been great neighbors, we decided to make the meditative garden a community garden.”

The RMH Meditative Garden is a small, uncomplicated space with a big purpose. At its core is the intricate mosaic pathway that leads visitors throughout. The garden is right beside Hawthorne Road, a busy thoroughfare with plenty of street noise and sirens from emergency vehicles. If a meditation garden was the goal of the space, then it would have to creatively incorporate elements to distract from the street. Which is exactly what designer Richard Phillips did.

“Obviously, one of the challenges for this space was a meditation garden right next to the road,” said Richard Phillips, Stimmel Associates Landscape Architect. “So my thought was to have the path actually be the thing you're looking at and not what's around you. That led me to think it would be cool if we could do a mosaic path. Fortunately, we're lucky enough to have an artisan like Ian in the area.”

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Ian Byers of Ian Scapes LLC is the artisan Phillips referenced, a local landscape designer who specializes in stone pathways, patios and mosaics. Byers and his crew created an elaborate design within the specifications of the walkway, crafting the design as they went along.

“All the lines are Richard's, and he left me the middle texture,” Byers said. “With the mosaic, I wanted to hint at it from the start, and as you navigate the path, it becomes more elaborate and expansive. By the time you reach your destination point, it really opens up. With all the noise, it takes your attention into the piece.”

From the city sidewalk, Byer's mosaic pathway starts very subtly, with only a few pebbles nestled between larger stones. But further along, the pebble designs become larger and more pronounced, enticing visitors to examine more closely the craftsmanship under their feet.

The pathway winds throughout the meditative area, leading to two Zen gardens, benches and a plethora of new plantings. At the pathway's end, the mosaic pattern takes center stage, filling out almost the entirety of the stonework.

“The four guys I had helping me, I really encouraged all of them to express their own creativity in the piece,” Byers said. “They used the same consistent colors and textures, but there was a little bit of different personality in different places. A lot of it was just very intuitive, keeping in mind the design, the patterns and picking up a lot of the floral and a lot of the spiral elements.”

Although not technically part of the RMH Meditative Garden, the new playground is very much an integral part of the garden's spirit. The playground was designed by Carolina Parks and Play, with the needs of the RMH visitors in mind. The nature-themed space is completely accessible and inclusive, including wheelchair accessible equipment. Other features include accessible swings, roller slides and interactive musical instruments.

The meditative garden overlooks the RMH playground, and is a focal point for those resting on benches or inside the Zen gardens. The sound of children playing below is balanced by the white noise of the street above.

“We think the playground and the laughter and the happy sounds coming out of the playground are going to help people get lost in their thoughts,” Kraft said.

The pathway and seating areas of the RMH Meditative Garden are intermingled with holly screens, blooming shrubs and fragrant evergreens. Even in the dull days of winter, this garden shines. It truly is a tranquil space for the Ronald McDonald House families and those in the surrounding community.

Amy Dixon is an assistant horticulturist at Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon or news@wsjournal.com, with "gardening" in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101

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