From 'Morning Calm' November 1999.Best Life Partner/2002.1.

Shades of Green


A curving pavilion roof blends in with maple trees, their leaves active with the color of spring.

One of the most striking aspects of Korea when traveling the countryside is the natural beauty and serenity of its gardens.This is paticularly true of gardens attached to temple, which often seem to grow out of the surrounding landscape as if their exquisite trees and plant and shrubbery have somehow landed there quite naturally. But it is also true of gardens attached to old royal residences, to scholar-official's halls, and even to farmhouses.


Nature always has the upper hand.

 The essence of a Korean garden is a simulation of the natural landscape with hills, streams and fields.They are usually small-scale, but they have in them an ideal harmony between nature and man.The landscape is not kept at a distance by the concept of walls as boundaries.The picturesque walls allow for trees and plants to grow over them, to be seen over them, to be included.


Carefully planned and subtly created terraces in  the hillside allow pavilions to have the best possible view of the surrounding landscape.

 Similarly the nature within the walls is not sharply manicured and trained, as in japan.The appearance of a Korean garden is of complete naturalness and ease. In Korean philosophy nature is already perfect and an absolute entity that regenerates and sustains life. It already produces in its natural state everything that life needs.


Elegant stairs lead into the Biwon,or Secret Garden.

 Therefore, adding man-made elements to the Korean garden is considered almost a violation and something to be approached very carefully.The idea behind the Korean art of garden design is to make the garden appear more natural than nature itself. Of course, on closer inspection, what may seem to be natural is the result of very careful planning, but the overall feeling is of submission to nature rather than domination of it. Korea has a long history of gardens.The oldest records date to the Three Kingdoms Period (57BC-935AD), during which an important early history The History of the Three  Kingdoms, mentioned royal palace gardens on several occasions. During the reign of King Mu (600-647), a square pond was made to the south of the royal palace, willow trees were planted all along the banks, and in the center of the pond was a miniature island named after a legendary mountain in China where Taoist gods were said to dwell. This pond still exists in Buyeo, the old capital of the Baekje kingdom.


Willow trees line the banks of the Kungnamji pond in Puyo. In its center is a small island representing one of three sacred Taoist mountains,home to immortals.

 The best preserved of all ancient place gardens is Anapchi pond in Gyeongju, once the capital of the Shilla Kingdom (57BC-935AD). Built as part of the detached palace of the crown prince during the reign of King Munmu (661-681), the pond had five buildings along its shore, each situated to command a full view across the water. In the middle of the pond were three small islands alluding again to Taoist mountains.


Terraced gardens contain a chimney from the palace's heating system. 

 The History of the Three Kingdoms records that "a pond was made with mountain-islands, flowering plants were grown, and rare birds and strange animals were raised in the palace". When Anapchi was drained and excavated in 1975, many relics dating to the period were found.They included a wooden frame which is believed to have been designed to grow lotus. Anapchi and the surrounding area were designed to symbolize in microcosm the dwellings of Taoist spirits, and arranged so as to create the effect of a landscape painting.


Entering a peaceful world.

 Another important Shilla garden in Gyeongju still exists at the site of a detached palace in the southern valley of Mount Namsan. Poseokjeong Pavilion's main significance lies in the water channel stir rounding it, along which wine cups floated during royal feasts.The channel defines an abalone-shaped area, in which bamboo, pine and zelkova trees flourished. Many succeeding royal gardens continued the practice of incorporating a water channel for floating wine cups. the Chosen-period (1392-1910) Changdokkung Palace in Seoul. Comprising some 300,000 square meters of the entire 400,000 square meters of the palace grounds, the garden is beautifully laid out with picturesque pavilions and halls, lotus ponds, fantastically shaped rocks, stone bridges, stairways, water troughs and springs scattered among thick woods (all elements of a traditional Korean garden).


Perfect harmony.
  The first thing that strikes you when walking in Changdeokgung is the angles and juxtaposition of the man-made pavilions and halls with the deceptively natural landscape. It's as if the Taejojon Hall had somehow grown out of the earth with its flanking cedars and junipers intact, mirroring the upswept eaves and surging roofs.The secret garden (Biwon) of Changdeokgung was first built in 1405, but by the early 17th century most of the early buildings and pavilions had been destroyed by war or fire. The current pavilions were rebuilt from 1623 onwards by King Injo and his successors. As a typical palace rear garden, Biwon took advantage of the natural terrain.Trees and flowers, ponds and buildings were established in harmony with the natural surroundings, so that kings, queens and other members of the royal household could rest, study and give parties in the gardens. Nowadays a great variety of rare trees and shrubs grow there.


Azalias in full bloom,House of Eunbo.

   Yangban (scholar-officials) villas were once to be found throughout the Korean peninsula.Although few still exist today, some idea of the gardens that accompanied them and of the fusion of Confucian idealism and Taoist nature worship that inspired them can still be found in Changdeokgung Palace and in places such as Seoswaewon Garden,Damyang (Jeonnam province), and in Gangneung on the east coast. Seoswaewon, for example, is typical of the gardens built during the middle of the Chosen period. It was constructed by Yang San-bo (1503-1577) on a 4,060-square-meter site after his mentor, Jo Gwang-jo (1482-1519), was expelled from the government. A stone-and-mud wall encloses the garden, which includes a pond, two lovely pavilions, a bamboo grove, aged pines, zelkovas, maples and other attractive trees.


The romantic Namwon garden,where the famous Korean Juliet, Chun-hyang,met her Romeo,Lee Mong-ryong.
 Forty-eight poems to Soswaewon's limpid beauty by the poet Kim In-hu are hung in the Jewoldang Pavilion. Approached through long arched gateways of bamboo, these gardens have rapid streams burbling down rocky valleys and alongside pavilions, lotus ponds and water mills.They are adorned with trees and shrubs including paulownias, plums (the plum tree at Changdeokgung is 400 years old), pine trees, maples, plantains, gingko trees, orchids, chrysanthemums and lotuses, all favorite plants among Koreans not only for their appearance but also for their symbolic, usually health-giving properties. Such idyllic gardens inspired many Korean writers, poets and aristocrats through the centuries. They shared with Changdeokgung a taste for simplicity, and above all for naturalness. Indeed, a taste for naturalness was the hallmark of the traditional Korean garden, and it still is.