Staff and students from the University of Greenwich (London) Landscape Architecture programmes are helping to make gardens for the school. The design of the Druk White Lotus/Padma Karpo School, by Arup Associates, is based on a Tibetan mandala.
‘Mandala’ is a Sanskrit word. It was used for the sections of the Rig Veda and became associated with a visual symbol, based on a circle and square, used for the layout of temples and the design of stupas and many other sacred objects. The school and campus were severely damaged by a mudslide in 2010. The site is in a cold desert and there is a great need for a garden and landscape environment. Our hope is to pioneer an approach to cold desert landscape design which will have a wider relevance in the Himalayan region. Global warming is causing the glaciers to retreat and putting the whole area at risk. A University of Greenwich landscape architecture student began work on Druk Padma Karpo in 2012.
The Dragon Garden will transform the school’s environment from a barren desert into a lush and sustainable garden that will be used for learning, playing, sports and food production.
What is special about the Dragon Garden?
‘Druk’ means ‘Dragon’ and is a Buddhist symbol. Ladakh is one of the last places where traditional Buddhist culture survives and its philosophy has influenced the design.
Few young Ladakhis are enthusiastic about the back-breaking agricultural work endured by their parents and grandparents. They see other opportunities as more attractive, notably in the tourism industry. The best continuation of the ancestral link with the land will be through modern horticulture and gardens. The Dragon Garden will enable some of the younger generation to be inspired and gain relevant hands-on experience. A video about the landscape and garden design is available on YouTube: http://youtu.be/eGIE-qBQPnc
Urbanisation is consuming previously cultivated land. The Dragon Garden is located in barren desert and will be an exemplar of what can be achieved to bring barren land into productive use with appropriate know-how. Our Landscape and Gardens Strategy is one of sustainability, including elements of conservation, habitat creation and biodiversity. Local people – both adults and children - will be able to experience what this means. By increasing the biomass through extensive planting, the garden will sequester a modest amount of carbon – and set a precedent for the Himalayan region. The school is already engaged in carbon offsetting through its solar energy scheme.
How will the Dragon Garden help children?
The residential students will live in a sustainable environment 24/7, the day pupils during school hours. During their time on campus their cultural heritage and identity will be reinforced by a 'learning through growing' scheme using a plant nursery, greenhouse and residential gardens. 'Learning through play' is a theme in the various gardens on site, using the adventure playground, infant playground and the sports facilities (Multi-Use Games Area, MUGA), cricket field, soccer pitches, athletics field, basketball court and archery range.
Student participation in domestic production of fruit and vegetables will in due course introduce them to good horticultural and environmental practices - a modern version of their own heritage – and equip them with useful livelihood skills. The garden will influence students’ values by engendering respect for natural habitats, ecosystems and resources.
The Dragon Garden will be an external classroom for teachers to bring lessons to life, where children can learn by ‘doing’, experiencing the joy of seeds growing and seeing various curriculum topics manifesting in nature.
How can the Dragon Garden encourage awareness of and help prepare for climate change?
Education is the answer. Some reputable scientists forecast that the lowest temperatures in 2070 on the Indian sub-continent will be higher than the highest temperatures today. If that turns out to be true, people will face enormous challenges with regard to food production, water availability and many aspects of life. They will need a keen awareness and expertise to find solutions. Students on the campus live with the consequences of a devastating mudslide triggered by unusual climate variations, and have an opportunity to learn relevant knowledge and skills in formal classes and from the external environment.
What can the Dragon Garden teach about conservation?
Being located in a desert area, the top resource to be conserved is water. The school's latrines, for example, are out of the water cycle and use dry composting. Water is used mindfully and we will use drip irrigation to increase the efficiency of water use from about 20% in traditional systems to around 80%.
We aim to extend recycling so that all compostable waste is used to create soil, and other items are directed to suitable channels. Small-scale examples foster awareness and help train students, staff and visitors.
What is the link between the Dragon Garden and biodiversity?
The Garden is located in a desert area, with relatively little wildlife in the immediate vicinity. We will increase the biomass and extend the vegetated area, and hope the orchards and shelterbelt will provide a good habitat for birds. Through proximity to diverse plant and animal species (possibly through a small school farm in due course), the students will become aware of biodiversity and will take that awareness with them into adult life.
Who is developing the Dragon Garden?
A Ladakhi non-profit society, Druk Padma Karpo Educational Society (DPKES), is responsible for the school. DPKES has worked with Drukpa Trust, a UK charity, since 1997. They work with the Landscape Department of the School of Architecture, Design and Construction at the University of Greenwich, London.
How can I participate?
You can volunteer to come and help our team to dig, plant and create ... or you can help pay for our landscape team and the materials they need.
What funding is needed?
We have developed a Landscape and Gardens Plan that embraces landscape architecture, garden design and sports facilities. It will enhance the award-winning building architecture by creating gardens and intimate spaces for activity, leisure and study, as well as larger sports areas. In view of the scale of the campus (around 11.5 hectares), we are developing the vision step-by-step over a number of years.
Landscape and Garden Master Plan
Water. Water is the fundamental prerequisite for landscape development in Ladakh. The traditional approach involves irrigation channels that conduct melt water to small fields and orchards for flood irrigation. Though the system is well-understood and beautiful, it has several disadvantages: distributing water within fields is labour-intensive; water use efficiency is only about 20%. We are therefore installing a drip-irrigation network on the Druk Padma Karpo campus, which can supply the water necessary for landscape development in an efficient manner and exemplify a sustainable approach in Ladakh.
Soils. The campus is built on the edge of an outwash fan. The area is strewn with granite boulders. It has minimal soil development, with low chemical weathering, and a relative absence of humus and sparse vegetation. To establish a vegetation cover it will be necessary to: encourage or create a vegetable soil with a good range of particle sizes, including sand, silt and clay; improve the availability of nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and trace elements; and build up the humus content of the soil. Kitchen waste, composted toilet waste and any organic material will be treated as treasure.
Microclimate. The growing season in Ladakh is short but productive, with relatively high summer temperatures, much sunshine and a relatively good water supply to the cultivated land. Strong winds and dust storms can however hinder plant growth. Walls, fences, shelterbelts, mulching and ground-covering plants can ameliorate the microclimate and create a virtuous circle for plant establishment.
Vegetation and wildlife. With water, soil and shelter, there is every likelihood that a lush cover of vegetation can be established within the mudslide defence wall around the campus. The traditional Ladakh vegetation types can be created within the site boundary. Horticulturally, they will represent Ladakh’s landscape, comparable to the ideal landscape representations on a ‘mandala’ (a representation of the universe).
Aesthetics and symbolism. The aesthetic character of the school landscape will be influenced by Lakakhi land management traditions, technical and functional issues, the social use of the school grounds, the mandala plan on which the architecture of the school is based, and the Buddhist approach to landscapes and gardens, see YouTube: http://youtu.be/eGIE-qBQPnc
Environmental sustainability. The people of Ladakh have sustained their local environment for thousands of years, but it is now being affected by climate change. Amid such change, it will be important to conserve what can be conserved while learning from the emerging technologies of a sustainable approach to environmental design - the outdoor equivalents of the award-winning trombe walls and solar-assisted toilets.
Wildlife and biodiversity. Planting on the campus is being planned to enhance biodiversity, with special consideration for creating ornithological habitats because birds serve as marker and indicator species for habitat types, and because birds are a delightful component of a school environment.
Environmental and vocational education. The school external environment will be a teaching and learning resource. This approach has been fostered by the Learning Through Landscapes Trust in the UK. The campus can be a teaching resource, a research resource, a preparation for careers in landscape management, eco-tourism and cultural tourism - and an exemplary project for the Himalayan region.
This is a small project in terms of area, but a highly significant demonstration project for the future of Ladakh. We aim to create a sustainable landscape and garden environment relating to Tibetan Buddhist culture, which students, local people and visitors can enjoy and learn from. We will establish:
new habitats for native flora and fauna, where people can learn about nature, and develop an awareness of climate change, biodiversity and conservation;
good quality sports facilities to foster personal health and team work; and
opportunities for young people to get ‘hands-on’ experience of gardening, hopefully be inspired by it, develop a love for nature, and take their passion and livelihood skills on their life journey.
Plant Nursery. Ladakh does not have a developed horticultural industry that can supply plants. The school therefore requires its own plant nursery and we initiated our own in 2012. This is an on-going developmental project that can potentially give some of the children commercially useful skills.
Drip Irrigation. This is a pioneering opportunity to develop the use of modern drip-irrigation technology in a cold desert and to spread knowledge of its use to the homes and farms of the families who send their children to the school. We have invested in the core system and need continual expansion.
Garden Team. The head gardener and gardener care for the features created with help from international volunteers. They also maintain the gardens, plants, landscape infrastructure and sports facilities throughout the year. They are key to the whole process.
Adventure Playground. The adventure playground is under construction using natural materials that encourage students to run, climb and play – experiencing different textures and sounds.
Residential Courtyard Gardens. In each of the four residential courtyards, window planters will be complemented by external seating areas and other features.
Dragon shelterbelt. The School will benefit from protection by shelterbelts planted with Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) and the Ladakh Rose (Rosa macrophylla).
Fruit orchard. With drip irrigation instead of flood irrigation, a range of fruit trees can be grown on the campus, including apricots and apples. We plan to plant and irrigate 9,000m2 in this way.
Sports Facilities. For earthworks and to provide materials and equipment for sports facilities for the school’s own use and to enable it to host interschool meetings. The facilities will provide for cricket (of course), soccer, athletics, basketball, traditional archery and tennis.
We also plan to develop the following features:
• Themed Gardens. Healing, music and science gardens are planned. Ladakh has a rich heritage of medicinal plants and long experience with its own Amchi tradition. A healing garden will showcase local medicinal plants. Music and science gardens will encourage the students to learn through play in these leisure spaces.
• Multi-Use Games Area, MUGA. The ground is dry and sandy, which is not ideal for many sports. A hard-surfaced MUGA will create a clean surface for various courts to be marked out. The MUGA will ease the pressure on the basketball court, which is currently the only decent hard surface for games.
• Serpentine paths. The routes between buildings are currently surfaced with sand and dust from the desert. The aim is to pave selected routes in slate.
• Dragon entrance and gates. The green bodies of the Dragon shelterbelts, which will enclose and protect the school, will meet at the entrance in the south-east corner of the site. This will be a good location for Dragon Gates, inspired by the use of dragon symbols in Ladakhi art (e.g. the Dragon Throne at Hemis).
• Lotus pond. 'Padma Karpo' translates as 'white lotus' and there is every reason to have a lotus pond on site. Nelumbo nucifera does not tolerate frost, but can flourish out of doors in summer. It will require protection in winter. Sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, the lotus is the national flower of India. Filled by seasonal meltwater, the pond will be a haven for wildlife and plant life in summers and a place for the children to ice-skate in winter.
• Outdoor theatre/amphitheatre. Built using mud-brick and rammed earth, an amphitheatre will provide the school with the facilities for music, dance and drama, as well as being a platform for public events.
This week has seen more preparation of the vegetable beds by the landscape team.
We have also been planting up more seeds into beds and trays. The upside of planting into trays is being able to monitor and control them from the more negative impact of the flooding water irrigation regime, which can be quite harsh on emergent seedlings. The downside is that they need watering twice a day but this isn’t unusual for smaller containers in any climate and has been easy enough to achieve so far. I am wondering about seeing if there are any residential children who may be interested in a spot of light Sunday / weekend seedling watering for when I am not here. The seedlings will be potted on or transplanted soon enough.
It was school planting and gardening afternoon on Saturday towards the gardening competition, which was boisterous and productive. I prepared an A4 sheet of very simple garden criteria for each classroom to have. Karma walked me around the classrooms and I distributed a few little plants and seeds as well as talked about the children’s plans for their gardens. I look forward to watching the gardens develop but it will be Stuart who will judge them later on in the year.
Basset from JAINS also arrived on Saturday for an initial analysis of remaining works to the irrigation system. Mathura, Tsetan and I walked around the site with him assessing the installation and we also discussed the pump installation with Angdus. Basset did not seem to think there were any great hurdles and estimated a fully operational system within a month.
See what can be done in one year below.
The Plant Nursery Spring 2013, first fruit trees The Plant Nursery Spring 2014, fruit trees blossoming
The tree stock in the nursery is coming into leaf and following a few light rainy periods everything is looking a little cleaner and less dusty than usual.
The week has been focused on beginning to purchase seeds and flower and vegetable seedlings and plant them into the nursery or distribute them to the house mothers and classrooms around the school. We have tried to buy alfalfa three times now from the agricultural department in Leh but have had the misfortune to arrive at just the wrong time to get the right chap to give us the ticket to take away some of this precious commodity.
I met with Angdus to discuss remedial and new construction works for the play area. We looked at a variety of different tyre-based features that should be easy enough to build. This structure will be somewhat dependant on how many tyres we can source in the meantime.
I arranged for a children’s planting day in the classroom gardens for the garden competition.
Tsetan and Ritzen collected the willow for the spine on Monday morning and set about planting it for the rest of the week.
Wednesday was a residents gardening afternoon and there was a whirlwind few hours when the children and house mothers set about digging the soil in the Spine and planting it with (French) marigold seed around the grasses.
Watering seems to be under control but it is time consuming and requires some thought to get it all done especially as we begin to plant up more and more bays in the nursery and it gets warmer and warmer.
I have been planting more seeds with a view to increasing flower and seed stock and have been experimenting with a mix of planting in containers in the office and in the outdoor soil bays.
I am also experimenting with creating some permeable shade (and dog proofing) in the outdoor bays using the dead poplar and willow stems and buckthorn.
It’s much warmer now and the second polythene roof of the polytunnel has been taken down.
The poplar and willow replant has continued.
The majority of the vegetable beds in front of the plant nursery have been dug over with manure and reshaped into bays in preparation of planting them up, below left.
I have planted some more flower seedlings and some of the previously planted seedlings are beginning to come through, which is jolly exciting. There’s sunflower,
English marigold and a few as yet un-identified species.
Many of the residences are preparing their flower beds in advance of the garden
competition. It is great to see that many are looking really very neat.
This week has mostly been about planting poplar to replace the dead stock. We have re-planted in the plant nursery, at the top of the residential spine, at the visitor centre and the long strip adjacent to Rancho's cafe as planned.
I am working on a watering rota to discuss with Tsetan as there is now a fair amount to manage ahead of JAINS arrival to get the drip irrigation system tested and commissioned.
A few gaps in the plant nursery fence have been fixed to try to prevent dog incursion. If this works it will avoid needing a whole new fence. The knock-on effect is that the kitchen green waste isn’t getting eaten by the dogs but it is getting a bit smelly so we will need to think about that.
We have got some great shelves in the landscape office and the skeleton of a small table I pulled out of the scrap heap has had a new top put on to it. Everybody wants to use the Landscape Office now.
The Poplar cuttings arrived for planned planting next week. We have put them in the water storage basin ahead of planting. They were almost immediately a prop for lots of birds, which was lovely to see and hear.
Tsetan and I went to Nimo nursery on Wednesday to collect some more apricot trees, We managed to get 120 trees. This brings our fruit trees total to about 200.
The plan was to take three days to plant these trees into the nursery and to mulch them and clear up. We got 100 in by the end of Friday, which is pretty good work, especially as it is hard work and although the soil in the nursery has been worked previously there are lots of rocks, some very big, to dig out, and there are other watering duties to do.
I arrived on Saturday morning to discover that the polythene cover to the large polytunnel had blown off in the high winds the previous night and knocked a bunch of pots off with it. It looked like quite a big job to fix but all of a sudden a load of children and their house-mother appeared and made very light work of it in about 5 minutes.
I arrived into Ley safely and with all my luggage and limbs intact. We were taken to the Botho Guesthouse in Shey and rested up on Friday.
Over the week I have met with most of the construction team and school staff and everybody has been really very friendly.
Sadly there is a large loss of trees that were planted last season.
Tsetan showed me around the nursery which is clean and tidy and we had a good walk around site when he showed me areas that he thought needed attention – such as some willow to pollard and reposition and a few soil level changes and plant losses. He talked with me about the planting season for trees, flowers and food and we talked about the season ahead.
Other tasks completed this week include seed collection across site so now we have a healthy supply of ornamental seed.
We have cleared the front nursery beds in preparation (I hope) of planting more fruit tree stock.
Lots of spinach was harvested and sold to the kitchen.
The nursery greenhouse painted and prepared for the visit of His Holiness
The imminent arrival of His Holiness and the ADC event at the end of the week brought about a re¬newed energy and enthusiasm on site this week.
Positive work has continued in the nursery. We have painted the gates and both greenhouses. We have also buried all unnecessary surface irrigation pipework. The store room, shelves and pathways have been cleared and tidied.
Signs were made for the compost bays and I also labelled the vegetables and fruit trees.
Compost bays covered and labelled for ADC event
The Blessing and Inauguration of the Dragon Garden went ahead incredibly well. I had organised for His Holiness to plant an Apple tree in the plant nursery with two of the children to mark the event. His Holiness was very very interested in what had been achieved in the Plant Nursery and what the plans were for the future.
Both His Eminence and His Holiness also delivered speeches which were fully supportive of the work which is happening towards the establishment of the Dragon Garden and implementation of the Mas¬terplan.
The evening was rounded off with a very well prepared dinner in the dining hall.
Figure 1: Clearing works in the classroom area and backfilling of irrigation trenches
Arlene and I finished off the painting of the inside of the walls in the playground area. I have had several conversations with Mohua (the art teacher) about painting dragon murals on these walls. We have agreed that we will do this with the children in September after the ADC.
Figure 2: Red cabbage in the plant nursery
Tsetan and Dorje continue to look after the plants and vegeta¬bles very well and the whole place looks incredibly good for its first planted season.
I think that the landscape project really needs someone who believes in the benefits of the scheme we are trying to implement. Someone who can manage and drive the project forward and understands that the landscape is equally as important as the built form of the school. Effectively a landscape manager to work alongside the Resident Landscape Architects as they come and go and to provide continuity and impetus in the absence of the RLA.
Figure 3: More evidence of healthy vegetable production in the plant nursery.
Work in the adventure playground with St Christopher School
This week we have had the benefit of several pupils from St Christopher school in Hertfordshire who helped in the playground for two days. St Christopher School children assisted Arlene, Tsetan and Paddy with the task of backfilling the irrigation trenches in this area. We were also able to start to paint the internal walls with whitewash.
Upper level of treehouse completed