Chances are you've driven by Period Garden Park as you've zoomed down East Gorham Street. The park, located on the corner of East Gorham and North Pinckney in the Mansion Hill District, is easy to miss because it's higher than the street. But if you take the time to wander through, you'll find a patch of heaven.
Plantings scheduled to bloom throughout the spring into fall flourish thanks to Joseph Bonardi and a small group of volunteers. Bonardi, a downtown resident for 30 years, took over the care of the 10,000-square-foot park four years ago from the Madison Parks Division because the city couldn't afford to care for it.
"This beautiful Victorian garden had gone into disrepair," Bonardi recalls. "It was full of weeds and overgrown trees. Addicts and homeless were camping out there. I found many used needles and a lot of broken glass as I was cleaning out the grounds."
Bonardi, the owner of Genre Hair Studio, now spends 20 hours per week from April to October planting, mulching, weeding and watering. Though he calls himself an amateur gardener, the well-manicured results look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens.
"The majority of the perennials, shrubs and trees that I've bought were purchased locally from the downtown Farmers' Market vendors and local nurseries," says Bonardi. He figures that $10,000 worth of plantings, including 3,000 spring flowering bulbs, have been added since he took over.
Money for plantings, park improvements and maintenance comes from private donations and grants which Bonardi coordinates. Currently in need of more volunteers as well as donations to keep the park thriving, he wants to raise $4,500 to buy a circulating pump for the water fountain which is showcased in a round rock garden in the center of the park. (Visit here to learn how to make a tax deductible monetary donation or volunteer.)
To commemorate the gardens, Bonardi has planned a blessing ceremony scheduled for Saturday, June 13 at 1:00 p.m. Domo Geshe Rinpoche, a practicing Buddhist and a somewhat controversial figure in Buddhist community, will lead the ceremony. And here's where the story gets really interesting.
Domo Geshe Rinpoche began life in January 1946 as Tara Wangchuk, an American woman who came to be embodied by an enlightened Tibetan man. This occurred through the Drungchuk transference of consciousness, a sacred Buddhist ritual and a rare occurrence.
"I am the ninth Domo Geshe and also the eighth Domo Geshe," Rinpoche explains. Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche Ngawang Gyalten Jigme Choekyi Wangchuk, the eighth Domo Geshe passed away on Sept. 10, 2001, at age 64. But before his passing he transferred his conscience and his seven earlier incarnations into Wangchuk's body.
"In this case, due to my extensive education and the needs of living beings, I did not go to a baby body but to an adult," says Rinpoche. "This is controversial because a male lineage usually doesn't go into a female body incarnation and the incarnation is an adult arisal rather than through the birth of a baby."
The extensive education that Rinpoche refers to are the teachings learned when she was a student of Kyabje Domo Geshe at the Dungkar Gonpa Society located in New York State. Kyabje started the society and ordained Wangchuk as a nun in 1993; she was his only Western student to be ordained.
Rinpoche founded White Conch Monastery and Dharma Center in Santa Rosa, California in 2001. She resides in California when not traveling around the world sharing Kyabye's knowledge about the Buddhist path to enlightenment. White Conch has locations in West Allis, Wisconsin and New Mexico, Illinois, and Canada.
She also founded Joyful Path Monastery in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. Her writings can be found at her blog, Satisfied Buddhist, and in two soon-to-be-published books: Mystery of Emptiness & Love and Red Lotus Buddhist Wisdom.
Rinpoche says she is not interested in any of Kyabye's possessions, including an estate in upstate New York worth $11 million. Challenging her claim to be the incarnation of Kyabje Domo Geshe are two families who also claim to have children both enthroned as the Domo Geshe. "I will not get involved but I am the actual Domo Geshe," says Rinpoche, "the only actual one."
Domo Geshe Rinpoche will recite prayers at the Period Garden Park blessing, with prayer sheets so attendees can participate. It will include prayers from different world religions and countries.
"I will also do inner prayer to make the space alive with blessings of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who compassionately care for all living beings," she says. "May all who come to the park, regardless of religious beliefs find it peaceful. I will also pray that community continues to come together in harmony as demonstrated by this wonderful garden that deserves special notice."