Korea’s gardens at the height of their seasonal glory
When you need a distraction from your daily routine, maybe you meet a few friends and chat with them over a nice cup of tea, go to the movies, or have fun at an amusement park. But this time of the year, perhaps you should consider heading outside, to enjoy Seoul’s arboretums and botanical gardens at the peak of their seasonal beauty.
Season of the iris
In particular, you could head out to see the iris, which is in full bloom in May and June. As its name, which means “rainbow” in Greek, implies, the iris comes in a nearly endless palette of colors. And there’s a staggering variety on display at the Seoul Iris Garden, nestled between Mount Dobong and Mount Surak in northern Seoul. The garden, operated by the Seoul city government, stretches over 52,000 square meters (560,000 square feet) and is home to 130 species of iris, 78 species of herbs and 57 species of trees.
The facility celebrates its first anniversary on June 7.
“When we just opened, the visitors were mostly residents of this neighborhood, but these days there are an increasing number of outside visitors, particularly those who visit this area for mountain climbing,” said Lee Yeon-jung, the Seoul government official in charge of managing the garden.
“Here you can see not only irises, but also various kinds of herbs, which is why we have a group of school kids coming to learn about the diversity of plants and nature.”
“I have been a regular visitor here since its opening last year, and today I have brought some of my friends to show them there is a nice place like this,” said Yoon, a resident of Dobong, who visited the garden late Thursday afternoon with several friends her age after climbing Mount Dobong together.
“I’m glad that we have such a place as this in Seoul. I had lived in Jamsil until I moved to this area a couple of years ago, and I just love this area with mountains and places like this where I can enjoy nature,” she added.
“Our first official event since the opening last year was the Iris Festival, which was held last weekend. While there are no other events currently in the pipeline, we will come up with more diverse events in coming years to let more people know about this place,” said Lee at the Seoul Iris Garden.
Though the Iris Festival has ended, visitors will still be able to enjoy the splendid flowers near the garden’s ponds until late June. The best way to reach the garden is by subway. It’s located right across the street from exit 2 of Dobongsan Station, lines No. 1 or 7, and it’s open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (02) 954-0031.
No longer members only
The Chollipo Arboretum in Taean, South Chungcheong was established in 1970 by the late Min Byung-gal, an American who was naturalized as a Korean in 1979. It was designated as an arboretum of merit by the International Dendrology Society in 2000, the first in Asia and only the 12th in the world.
The arboretum has about 12,000 species of plants - the most at any single arboretum in the country. Chollipo, considered Korea’s first private arboretum, was opened to members only until March 1 last year, when its doors were opened to the public.
One of the species worthy of note here is the magnolia, which recently finished blooming, and the weeping willow, a number of which stand beautifully around a water garden inside the arboretum.
The facility is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the year except public holidays. Admission is 7,000 won ($6) on weekdays and 8,000 won on weekends. There is even a guesthouse, divided into four-person rooms, where you can stay the night for 100,000 won. For more information, call (041) 672-9982 or visit www.chollipo.org.
A vast, nurtured ecosystem
The Hantaek Botanical Garden in Yongin, Gyeonggi, opened seven years ago and is the largest botanical garden in the country, covering 600 square kilometers including the 230-square-kilometer East Garden, which is open to the public. Because of the size, visits need to be carefully planned.
Kim Jin-bong, an official at the garden, said, “I advise you to head east starting from the hill in the west of the garden.”
The botanical gardens are open from 9 a.m. until sundown throughout the year. Ticket sales end at 6 p.m. Admission is 8,500 won. For more information, call (031) 333-3558 or visit www.hantaek.co.kr.
The subtle scent of the iris
The Yoo Botanic Garden in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, is, like the Seoul Iris Garden, dedicated to the iris, and since it opened in summer last year, the garden has already acquired a startling variety from around the world. With about 1,000 different species of irises on 200 square kilometers of land, Yoo surpasses its Seoul counterpart in terms of both its area and diversity.
“We have about 70 percent of all the species of iris from around the world,” said Yoo Sang-hyuk, the owner of the garden. Thanks to his dedication to the flower over the past two decades, Yoo’s garden now has its own hybrid irises, which number around 500.
Cross a white iris and a violet iris, Yoo said, and you will get a pink iris - that’s why there are irises of so many colors. There is even a festival showcasing irises of new colors held every spring in Europe and, according to the gardener, the flowers vary in scent as well as hue.
“Blue irises have the smell of the sea, while chocolate-colored irises actually smell sweet,” he said.
The Yoo Botanic Garden is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is 5,000 won. An advance reservation is required. For more information, call (031) 536-9922 or visit www.yoo
Preserving Korea’s botanical heritage
The Korea Botanic Garden in Pyeongchang, Gangwon is unique in that it cultivate only flowers and trees native to Korea. Here you can see the species Iris odaesanensis, which exists in the wild only on Mount Odae and nowhere else in the world, along with many endangered species of plants, most of which call the more frigid, remote corners of the peninsula home.
Besides a special preservation facility for rare specimens, there is a spacious garden of 100,000 square meters along one side of Mount Odae where you can take in a sweeping landscape of native flowers, stretching like a natural trail up the side of the mountain. In summer, the Aster koraiensis, or Korean starwort, are in full bloom, turning the foot of the mountain into a vast sea of lavender and green. There is also a garden of poisonous plants, including noxious herbs actually used in nefarious plots during the Joseon period.
The garden is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31. Admission is 5,000 won. For more information, call (033) 332-8069 or visit www.kbotanic.co.kr.
It may be hard for the layperson to tell the difference between an arboretum and a botanical garden, since both have flowers and trees. However, there is a difference: An arboretum serves primarily as a research center, while plants in a botanical garden are there first for viewing purposes. That’s why Korea’s arboretums fall under the jurisdiction of the Korea Forest Service, while its botanical gardens are operated by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
A private garden of 3 hectares of land or more with over 1,000 species of plants is categorized under the law as a private arboreteum, which is why the Hantaek Botanical Garden and Korea Botanic Garden are classified as arboretums despite their names. There are now about 31 arboretums registered with the Korea Forest Service around the country.
By Park Sun-young, Son Min-ho [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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