Chelsea garden brings taste of South Korea

After a 10-year break, the inspirational Korean artist Jihae Hwang will be bringing a garden to the 2023 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The Main Avenue garden will raise the role of medicinal plants and the primeval form of natural landscapes with a focus on landscape and ecological destruction.

The garden’s important message about stopping landscape destruction for the benefit of people, plants and places, will feature through “A Letter from a Million Years Past” an evocation of the Jiri Mountains in South Korea.

Culturally, this is one of the most important places in South Korea and home to some 1,500 species of native Korean plants that have medicinal value, many of which have been threatened with extinction.

Jihae explains: “The garden’s large rocks represent over 2 billion years of time. These rocks, which existed even before the birth of mankind, have been keeping a certain form of love within them for millions of years. With little plants and flowers blossoming within the crevices and cracks between the rocks, this love has been illustrated. Therefore, these rocks and plants will look like special letters sent to us from millions of years ago.”

The garden is a direct message from the mountain which asks visitors to examine the garden closely; to view a landscape where medicinal plants proliferate and have rewilded in a bid to heal the landscape.

The central point of the garden will be a traditional Korean herb drying tower, crafted by Alex Gibbons from Cumbria. Alex is one of the remaining craftspeople in the UK who creates earth-buildings, using mud, straw and sand to build bespoke creations. The tower references similar buildings in South Korea, used to dry and store herbs.

Throughout the garden Scottish rocks will link the planting and spaces – large boulders, small stones, rocky outcrops. There will be 200 tonnes delivered to site so the expert team can put them together by hand and with great skill.

Jihae says: “We hope to convey the meaning of biodiversity and the preservation of species through the growing environment of medicinal plants, in a primitive environment with no human interference. In the East, the human body and nature are not separated – we believe that nature forms the human body. All plants tend to want to return to their original form, so I believe that returning what was originally of theirs is a true consideration for nature, an order, and a respect for human life.”

At the end of the show, some of the plants from the garden will be donated to the Maggie’s Centre in Nottingham and other plants may be sold to fundraise for the cancer charity.

Jihae is a leading environmental artist and designer. She has been working for more than 25 years making gardens and installations around the world. In 2012 Jihae was awarded the President’s Award for her “DMZ Garden” at the Chelsea Flower Show – a poignant and moving expression of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from 23rd to 27th May 2023.