Flower festivals flourish

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Flower festivals flourish

I have a vivid memory of the first garden I ever visited ― Busch Gardens in Virginia. It was a family trip, and my siblings and I were as cranky as three kids stuck in a car for hours can be. But the gardens silenced us. That and ice cream.
What is it about flowers and blooms? Will flowers make a person happy? Will a rose really heal angry words? Will cherry trees bring international friendship?
Two flower festivals open this weekend, offering very different environments for enjoying spring blooms. The upstart 2003 Anmyeondo Flower Festival has a peace garden and gorgeous scenery just off the coast of Chungcheong province. The World Flower Exhibition in Goyang is much older, close to Seoul, and more of a trade show. Choose the show that’s right for you, or choose both ― you’ll get to check out millions of the finest blooms on the peninsula.

A vista of flowers and sea, like a watercolor painting

Anmyeon Island,
South Chungcheong
Choi Gyeong-suk shouldn’t be here. The 2003 Anmyeondo Flower Festival doesn’t open for several days. So, confronted by a security guard, she opts for a white lie. “I’m here with a busload of women and I told them I’d ask someone inside if we could see the festival.”
But Ms. Choi and her friend are deep inside the festival grounds, nowhere near the information booth and looking quite conspicuous. If they wanted to blend in, they should have worn white plastic ponchos.
Everyone who has anything to do with the festival is wearing waterproof gear. The gardeners are in white ponchos, with plastic boots. The organizers are in white ponchos. The guards are in white ponchos. Even I am in a white poncho. It’s pouring outside. The wind is so strong that signs are being knocked over.
It’s possibly the worst condition to see a flower festival. The rain started an hour after the bus departed from Nambu Bus Terminal in Seoul. I was already on the road and there was nothing I could do. But even with the rain, people like Ms. Choi and friend were trying to get a sneak preview.
The two women missed the flower festival in Anmyeon Island last year, but have visited the festival in Goyang several times. “Goyang definitely has a lot of flowers, but this place takes advantage of nature,” Ms. Choi says, before slowly making her way out.
Anmyeondo hosted its first flower festival last year, Floritopia 2002. It was supposed to be a one-time event, but its success prompted organizers to stage another flower festival this year, running from tomorrow to May 11.
From the hill we’re standing on, the sea is clearly visible. I’m on this hill because Hah Chang-ho, one of the organizers, said it was the place with the best view. It’s not the sight of distant beds of flowers that is powerful, but rather the entire vista.
From here, as small as the hill is, the festival ground seems to fall into the sea. The sky, even with the rain, seems endless. Two large rock formations jut out of the middle of the sea, adding tension to an otherwise unbound horizon. Nature seems so close.
In reality, a narrow road and a small beach lie between the grounds and the water. The area used to be a lonesome beach. It was developed for the festival. During the summer, people pitch tents on the grounds. But even with the development, there’s something lonely about the view.
I walk down the hill. The rain has lessened. I pass beds of tulips and roses in rich colors. Someone points to an herb garden. Poppies are on display. Against one side of the hill are several straw huts. Yellow flowers bloom at the foot of the huts.
Toward the center of the festival grounds is the centerpiece of the festival, the Garden of Peace. The idea came into germination last year. Lilies, tulips, carnations, not to mention irises, cacti, azaleas and chrysanthemums, are bedded in soil from 10 different battlefields. A sign reads that if the 20th century had any common theme, it was war. The Garden of Peace commemorates the lives of those who died in war, from the Battle of Verdun in France to the Battle of Tannenberg in Poland to the Siege of Stalingrad in Russia to the Gulf War in the Middle East to the Incheon amphibious landing in Korea.
If only flowers really could bring peace.
I head back for the indoors, when I run into Mr. Hah. He pulls me aside, past the parking lot. “You have to see this,” he says.
A stone’s throw away, two rock formations jut out of the ocean. The locals call them the Halmi and the Harabi Rocks, Grandma and Granddaddy.
During the Unified Silla dynasty, admiral Jang Bogo led a naval force north from here. His wife, Mido, kept watch on the rock. He never returned. At an old age, she died, and the rock was named Halmi, after her devotion. Soon after, a storm swept over the island, and lightning struck it, leaving behind a boulder next to the Halmi Rock. When the tide recedes, a pathway opens between the two rocks.
I ask if the pathway opens once a month, or only during one season. Mr. Hah laughs and says the spirits of the couple are able to meet quite often. When it’s not raining, a couple times a week.
Before heading out, I look out at the sea one more time. I’ll be in a bus, hitting Friday Seoul traffic in a couple of hours. But for a few moments, the rain blurs the scene of flowers and sea, like a watercolor painting.

General information

Getting there: By public transportation, take the Anmyeon Island bound bus (11,000 won) from Nambu Bus Terminal. A one-way trip takes three hours in normal traffic. From Anmyeon-do Bus Terminal, which is more of a bus stop than a terminal, take a 5-minute taxi to the festival grounds.
On the way back to Seoul, remember that the last bus departs Anmyeon at 5:55 p.m. You can purchase Seoul-bound tickets at the corner convenience store (041-673-8666).

Food: Blue crabs and raw fish. Try Anmyeondo Heo Jib (041-673-4568).

Cost: 5,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for children

Web site: www.floritopia.or.kr/sub/info_2003.htm

‘You have to love flowers as if they are your own’

GOYANG, Gyeonggi
“People used to think I was crazy,” Kang Il-chang tells me. We’re inside a makeshift building filled with orchids. It is one of the many shelters that make up part of the World Flower Exhibition in Goyang. Mr. Kang is overseeing the exhibition here of miniatures of Korean homes in a garden of flowers.
The president of the Goyang Wildflower Association fell in love two decades ago. And when Cupid pierces the heart, he really does a number. It just happened to be that the object of Mr. Kang’s passion was Korean wildflowers, which his friends found odd.
Wildflower devotees are known for being travelers. In order to grow the flowers domestically, you have to know how flowers grow in the wild. Do they enjoy shade, or direct sunlight? Do they grow underneath a tree, or in a meadow?
Mr. Kang, a resident of Goyang and a sculptor, began traveling and studying and espousing the virtue of care.
“You have to love these flowers as if they are your own,” he says. He kneels down next to a helleborine, gently smelling the pink buds of the orchid. “They’re like people. Talk to them and they’ll respond.”
For more than 10 years, Goyang, in Gyeonggi province, has annually hosted a national flower exhibition. The region is famous for flowers, particularly roses and cactus.
According to the festival organizer, Lee Sang-myo, the heart of the festival is a trade event. The first two days of the event, yesterday and today, are open to registered buyers only. From tomorrow to May 8, the public will be admitted. During those days, people can also buy flowers at a 20 percent discount.
Every three years since 1997, the festival goes international. Buyers usually arrive from the Netherlands, Germany, Japan and the United States. This year’s is the third such international event. The people behind the booths and in the gardens here are people such as Mr. Kang, flower lovers for whom the festival is a chance to show their wares in creative settings.
Korean wildflowers have not yet reached the world, Mr. Kang says. The only exception is the syringa patula, otherwise known as the Ms. Kim Lilac.
At 100 hectares (247 acres), the grounds sprawl next to Ilsan Lake. I leave Mr. Kang and walk from building to building. The buildings are made up of booths with gardeners displaying flowers from Jeju to Goyang. There are cacti, orchids and a variety of wildflowers.
Outdoors, several people are resting in the shade. A stage is set up for performances. The festival will include parades, floral fashion shows and children’s performances. There will also be international floriculture seminars and floral arrangement classes.
This year, the festival halved its exhibition space. “Too many people complained that their feet hurt from walking,” Ms. Lee says to explain the change. Now the other half of the grounds is devoted to picnickers. Picnic baskets are encouraged, although fast food will be available.
Past the buildings, the far end of the festival has three gardens: tulips, roses and a promenade.
The promenade is like a sculpture garden, but instead of sculptures, the paths are lined with bonsai plants and shaped hedges.
Next to the promenade is a spectacular rose garden. Between the garden and the indoor exhibition, there are 50 varieties of roses. White fences mark the area, which has roses in shades from yellow to pink to deep red. At the center of the garden is a gazebo.
It’s lunchtime, and several people are resting in the shade of a rose arbor. Each arbor is taken. I sit on a bench and from my backpack, pull out a baguette and goat cheese.
Flowers respond, Mr. Kang had said. Instead of talking to me, these flowers just bloom, and my heart responds. I only wish that every meal could be enjoyed in such beauty.

General information

Getting there: By public transportation, take the subway line No. 3 to Jeongbalsin Station. Make sure to tell the ticket agent your destination because the cost is more than the normal 700 won. From downtown Seoul, the ride takes about 40 minutes. Walk out of exit No. 1 and head past the Rollerblading square toward the lake. The walk takes more than 5 minutes.
Or by bus, from Sinchon, take bus 77-2 or 903-1.

Lunch: While there are many restaurants near the subway station, pickings get a lot more meager on the festival grounds.

Accommodations: Call (031) 900-6262 for reservations.

Cost: 10,000 won for adults, 4,000 won for children.

Web site: www.flower.or.kr/english/index.html

by Joe Yong-hee
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