Continuing the Dzamling Garden Paradise

An Interview with Alix De Fermor, designer and head gardener of the beautiful Dzamling Gar gardens. Dzamling Gar, March 6, 2022

Alix designing the new Gönpa garden.

The Mirror: Alix, you are the main gardener and architect of the beautiful gardens at the Gar. How long have you been working to create these amazing green spaces? 

Alix De Fermor: We started in the fall of 2013, so nearly nine years.

Mirror: When you began what was your original vision for the garden?

Alix: Rinpoche wanted something special at the Gar and so I tried to do something out of the ordinary. It’s not a formal garden with a unity that combines all its parts into one but there are a variety of different spaces so I think it’s quite nice because it’s very varied. There are many different types of gardens here.

Mirror: For example, now we are sitting in the Moon Garden. What are the names for some of the other gardens?

Alix: There is the Mandarava garden, the Milarepa garden, called this way after we had to take so many rocks out of the earth to make it. Then there is the Longsal garden and also the Corona garden because we created it during the winter of 2020 when there was the lockdown during the pandemic.

Mirror: Now you’re at the point where the creation of the last part of the garden is coming to an end.

Alix: Yes, although the gardens will not extend up to the gate at the side of the Gar. At the moment we are working on one of the gardens surrounding the Gönpa and are finishing the left side of the garden. Last year we worked on the right side and it went very well. Now we will soon start to plant on the left side. 

First part of the Gönpa garden before planting in early 2021.

The Gönpa garden after a year’s growth. 2022.

Mirror: After that will the gardens at the Gar be complete?

Alix: There is the place where Rinpoche was teaching (where there used to be a large white tent) and I think it is important to create something special there. Rinpoche gave many teachings in that place so it cannot become a parking lot or a basketball court. It has to be something particular. I thought it would be a good place to put a fountain because Rinpoche was the source of the teaching. Then we could put some benches around the fountain in the shade of a few trees, surrounded by perfumed flowers so that people could spend time sitting there. Looking at the water is also very nice. I actually created a design for this project a couple of years ago but I have already made some changes to it in my mind. 

Mirror: What have been some of your biggest challenges with the garden?

Alix: The climate is quite a challenge because sometimes there are very strong winds. Some bring a lot of dust but mainly they just destroy the plants and trees and whatever is beautiful is severely affected. It’s a bit of a Milarepa situation – we work hard to create the gardens, the wind destroys them and then we have to tidy up and recreate them.

Another challenge is the lack of water from the sky, the rainfall, or the lack of it. There is very little rain in this part of Tenerife and when we have the rare moments of rain, after a week everything is fresh and blooms wonderfully. The difference is truly amazing. But the rainfall is something very uncommon here.
Then it would really be helpful to work alongside people who are a little more passionate about gardens. 

Mirror: What has been your greatest joy about the garden?

Alix: My greatest joy was to see how Rinpoche enjoyed it while he was still alive. Sitting here and there, speaking about different flowers and recounting some interesting stories about the trees.

Mirror: Can you tell us about the most recent gardens you are working on.

Terracing the new Gönpa garden.

Alix: We are working on the left hand side of stairway of the Gönpa garden and have had to move and place a lot of big rocks here because it’s an area with different levels. There is an enormous difference in levels between the upper area around the Gönpa and the lower part so we have had to make different terraces using large rocks. But actually it has turned out very nicely and we are at the point where we have made the holes for the main plants and trees and have already put some compost and peat and are just waiting for the plants. Once they have been planted, the whole garden area around the Gönpa will be completed. 

Mirror: I understand that you have also planted things that people have sent you from other places.

The little forest of trees growing in one of the gardens. Photo Lesya Cherenkova.

Alix: Yes, many plants from Costa Rica  and also from other gardens. What is incredible is that so many trees that you see now have been grown from seeds that I took from different areas in Tenerife and germinated in pots. Some are already nine metres high and it has only been seven years since they have been growing. This is amazing. Even I was amazed because although we water them, there is no water coming from the sky so I think there must be something special in the earth here because I have never seen anything growing so fast. 

I’d like to take you around some parts of the garden even though it’s not the best season (winter) and many of the flowers are not blooming. 

In the Moon Garden we have a big open space where people can do practice or simply enjoy it with barbecues and other collective activities. 

The Washington palms and the opuntia cactus. Photo Lesya Chenerkova.

We can take a look at the Gönpa garden after a year of growth and also the Corona garden which in summer is very different because there are more flowers and colors. The Washington palms here were practically seeds and are a year and three months old and have grown enormously. The enormous opuntia cactus that are planted along the fence were all grown from tiny pieces that we planted here. They say that the opuntia is the food of the future because it is so resistant and needs little water. We also have a large area of aloe vera that has spread out from one tiny plant. 

Plumeria alba or frangipani

In the Gönpa garden we have several frangipani trees which have all grown from cuttings that were just placed in the ground. They have a beautiful perfume. They are also called the ‘tree of life’ because even though they may be uprooted, they continue to produce flowers. The Gönpa garden is mostly palms and succulents because we didn’t have a big budget for this garden and these plants grow quickly and well from cuttings or from a single plant. So this garden was not expensive to create since we already had most of the plants growing here. For example, there are many agave plants, all of which are ‘babies’ from other plants that we already had. Some of the plants have grown so much in a year that we have had to cut them back or remove neighboring plants. 

Creating terraces with huge rocks in the new gönpa garden.

In the newer part of the garden that we are working on at the moment, we had to make some steep type of terracing because if the earth isn’t flat, the water just flows off immediately. We had to move all the last remaining rocks from the Gar to make the terracing here and also had to take a lot of rocks from outside the Gar. When you make a garden in such a steep area, the stone walls are very evident. However, once the trees and plants start to grow they will not show so much. In the central part of this new garden I would like to plant some trees that give shade so that we can put some benches here for sitting. We will also move the fencing so that it will give protection from falls from the steeper places. This garden is very close to the Gönpa and up to now there has been no area for sitting that is in the shade. 

The butea monosperma grown from seed

Our first plant growing here came from the seed of a plant that was in Rinpoche’s garden which unfortunately died. It’s called butea monosperma (flame-of-the-forest). It’s a very nice tree that makes big red-orange flashy flowers when the branches are bare of leaves.

Mirror: How do you see the future of the garden?

Alix: There is nothing more impermanent than a garden. I hope very much that we find somebody who will have the patience and skill to continue to take care of it in the future because it took so long to create it and Rinpoche really wanted this place to be a paradise that people will be able to enjoy in the future. Let’s hope so. Many people who come to the Gar enjoy the gardens. There is also the possibility to develop different activities in the gardens, to offer tours, to have events or educational projects. However with the Covid pandemic all our projects were put on hold. I hope that we can continue with the garden projects and develop some of these ideas in the future. 

Mirror: Thank you.

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