Master Gardeners at Ronald McDonald House

Master Gardeners at Ronald McDonald House

By Lynne McCarthy and Lisa Renner, Master Gardeners


Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC), 62 Juno Street in Winnipeg, is a home away from home for rural Manitobans and out-of-province families with a child requiring treatment at a nearby hospital.

On September 14, 2022, RMHC Manitoba and its supporters celebrated the grand opening of its new Ronald McDonald House facility.

Photo: RMHC. Ronald McDonald House volunteers, master gardeners Lisa Renner and Lynne McCarthy.

Some years ago, a Manitoba Master Gardener intern, who worked at the original Ronald McDonald House on Bannatyne Avenue, began the conversation about creating a container garden in the courtyard with the help of members of the MMGA. At this time, Co-chair Diana Dhaliwal and Volunteer Director Dawn Hicks visited the house to ensure that there was scope for a project that included an educational component.

We, Lisa Renner, at that time a newly transferred MG from Ontario, and Lynne McCarthy, an intern who met Lisa at their study group meetings, partnered for the project and have volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House project since it began in 2017.

Photo: Lisa Renner. Raised beds.

The project included growing vegetables in the raised garden bed that was developed and beautifying the small, shady space with annuals and herbs grown in containers in order to create a welcoming atmosphere for the families. At times we were able to offer an activity for the children, like sprouting beans in a glass jar or carving pumpkins. The work was largely done without a budget. Containers were either there or recycled, plants were donated by a nursery, fellow MGs, and ourselves. For additional, usually small expenses we were readily reimbursed.

Photo: Lisa Renner. Ronald McDonald House gardening containers.

With the opening of the new facility in 2022, the scope has evolved. The House itself is significantly larger, with more families, more volunteers, and more staff. The courtyard is also significantly larger with space for four raised beds, four distinct garden beds planted with low-maintenance shrubs and vines, a pergola that shades a seating area, and a large play area with a play structure.

Photo: Lisa Renner.
Ronald McDonald House planting day.

Our focus during the first season was on the raised beds which were planted in a square-foot manner with vegetables, herbs, and flowering plants. Occasional help was provided to ensure timely weeding of the garden beds to prevent the weed roots from growing through the landscape fabric

The season was wrapped up on October 23, 2023, a week before the first snowfall. A last harvest of curly and Italian parsley and pineapple sage was set out in the communal kitchen to be used as were our previous harvests of kohlrabi, snow peas, beans, basil, and cherry tomatoes.

We took inventory of successes and failures. One notable failure was the bush delicata squash which took up a lot of room and produced just a few fruit, whereas in Lisa’s garden, the plants grown from the same seed source carried ample fruit. The failure of fruit set, we concluded, was most likely due to a lack of pollinators in the area. We plan to improve this situation with the addition of pollinator-friendly plants in the gardens.

Photo: Lynne McCarthy. Snow peas.

While gardening, we have engaged with many of the families, staff, and volunteers who have an interest in learning about or already have expertise in gardening. These conversations allow for many cultural and educational exchanges which go both ways. As MGs, we learn about different uses of plants in other cultures such as the use of pineapple sage in chai tea. In return, we teach about good gardening practices and introduce easy-to-grow vegetables like kohlrabi and snow peas. Some of the conversations also led to new ideas for the next gardening season: among others, to include plants in the gardens that are significant to the indigenous community with the advice of the on-site Knowledge Keeper, and to consult with the staff responsible for meal planning for the house residents in choosing what vegetables and herbs to plant, particularly vegetables that can be served as healthy snacks.

Photo: Lynne McCarthy. Ronald McDonald House tomoto harvest.

Lynne and Lisa are excited to be part of this evolving project at RMDH. The staff is always supportive and open to new ideas and the exchange with families and their children heartwarming and rewarding. Every year we look forward to the new gardening season and the promises it holds.