Green is the new black

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Green is the new black

A shelf features different styles of curated plants at Et Cetera in southern Seoul's Gangnam District, which is known for its bunjae or bonsai. The story is temporarily closed as it is moving locations. [LEE SUN-MIN]

A shelf features different styles of curated plants at Et Cetera in southern Seoul's Gangnam District, which is known for its bunjae or bonsai. The story is temporarily closed as it is moving locations. [LEE SUN-MIN]

 
With people conscious about spending time outside their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, the new trend is bringing nature inside. 
 
Words like "planterior" and "plantfluencer" are popping up on social media with posts that give tips and tricks for decorating with plants and how to take care of them. 
 
“Usually people tended to buy a bunch of flowers when they had time or money to spare, but these days people are buying flowers in order to bring themselves some comfort and inner peace,” said Shin Woon-seub of Shin-Flower at Yangjae Flower Market, a wholesale market that sells a variety of plants and flowers.
 
“Although not too conspicuous, consumers are showing changes in their behavior and looking for options that they can enjoy for a longer time at home and that fit their own style.”
 
For those who want more curated options instead of searching wholesalers on their own, many cafes with green themes not only display a variety of plants and flowers but also sell what's on show. Some even provide aftercare for an additional fee to help novice growers learn how to properly manage their new “pet” plants. 
 
For those who are more confident about their skills, bunjae, more commonly known by their Japanese name bonsai, are a popular choice as well as outdoor gardening.
 
If you still feel like you're lacking a green thumb but want to decorate your home with plants or flowers, there are plenty of artificial options that require no care apart from some dusting from time to time. 
 
 
 
A hobby for the young 


Younger generations may have previously associated bunjae with their grandparents, who spent hours cutting the leaves and twigs of the miniature trees. But nowadays people of all ages are becoming interested in bunjae to decorate their homes, especially considering they're spending more time inside because of Covid-19. Bunjae are particularly popular among those who want to add an Asian element to the décor of their homes.  
 
A bunjae tree is displayed at Sejong National Arboretum. [LEE SUN-MIN]

A bunjae tree is displayed at Sejong National Arboretum. [LEE SUN-MIN]

Bunjae literally means having a living plant in a pot, but is more about creating a miniature landscape. The color and design of the pot, different types of stones and moss are all taken into account when it comes to creating bunjae.   
 
Cho Nam-seong, director of Sejong National Arboretum’s administration department said, although many consider bunjae as something of Japanese heritage, as Japan developed the concept more consistently in centuries gone by, both Korea and China also have a long history of creating such mini landscapes. The arboretum has a separate section for bunjae, where the plants and how they are cared for is studied as well as how Korea has developed its own style related to the pastime. 
 
“There can be different viewpoints about what bunjae or bonsai is really about, but one thing is that it can be a way to keep the trees alive for longer because more care is given to their roots and branches so the trees can stay healthy instead of just growing taller,” said Cho.  
 
Miniature versions of pine trees or juniper trees (also known as hyangnamu in Korean) are popular because they don't change much from season to season, while maple trees and cherry blossoms are sought after by those who want to witness a change with each season. 


Choi Yoon-seok of Et Cetera, who is currently moving the location of his bunjae store within southern Seoul’s Gangnam District, is an expert who has been trying to encourage the younger generations to try their hands at the pastime. Choi, who learned the basics of styling miniature trees in Japan, has been researching different species of local trees that would be suitable for bunjae.
 
“Bunjae is all about giving constant care for years, and I’m still amazed every day even after a few years of doing it at how much return the trees show depending on how much more time and effort I give to them,” said Choi who works with his wife Erika Bang. Et Cetera is temporarily closed to move into the new space where the couple can focus more on taking care of plants.  
 
“It doesn’t really matter which style of bunjae [or bonsai] we choose — what we want to do is make a culture of keeping plants close and show that plant-growing is a high-end hobby that constitutes as an element of overall interior design,” Bang said.  
 
Et Cetera offers everything from small, palm-sized pots shaped like hedgehogs to larger plants. Prices range from around 70,000 won ($60.80) to up to a few million won for plants that the couple has spent years investing time and energy into. Their trees sell out quickly and the store has even collaborated with larger retail outlets. It most recently held a pop-up event at Galleria Department Store’s Cheongdam branch.  
 
Another shop called Oita, located in central Seoul’s Jongno District, also offers its own style of bunjae, and even holds classes about how to keep the plants healthy and looking good.  
 
 
 
Cafes turned garden centers 


Local cafes have become more than just places to rest and get a cup of coffee. Some have become a source of inspiration for interior design and sell customers the plants and flowers they have been cultivating.
 
Overstory features a variety of plants on display that are also for sale. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Overstory features a variety of plants on display that are also for sale. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
Reservations are a must for Overstory, a cafe located in northern Seoul’s Seongbuk District. The owner sources different plants to display inside the cafe, which are also up for sale to customers. Some of the plants are potted in giwa, or the tiles that are uses to make the roofs of hanok, traditional Korean homes. Overstory is also available to rent out for private events and provides consulting services to people looking to make their residential or commercial spaces greener.
 
"We change what we have on display inside the cafe every season so that visitors can experience different seasonality each time they come," said the owner of Overstory, as adding that she thinks people come here to consume the space filled with greenery while they take their rest from daily routines. "I also want to do more collaborations with any company that has some relations to plants, such as plant-based pastry, or potteries, to offer more diverse experience to visitors."
 
 
Pots at Blute in Gangnam District, southern Seoul [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Pots at Blute in Gangnam District, southern Seoul [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
Other companies across Seoul offer similar services. Blute in southern Seoul’s Gangnam District, also offers its space, which is filled with greens and colorful flowers, for private events and offers classes on plant care. Blute has collaborated with many different retailers, including Kyobo Bookstore, for pop-up events. Employees at Blute can suggest different plants based on how much spare time you have to care for them.
 
Some local museums are holding exhibitions on gardening. Piknic in central Seoul’s Jung District is holding the “Gardening” exhibition until Oct. 24, which encourages visitors to return with the change of each season, to see how the exhibition has changed. Piknic offers 50 percent off the cost of tickets for returning visitors who made their initial reservation through Naver.  
 
The gallery also offers a cooking class about how to make salad with ingredients that can be grown at home. The documentary “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf” about globally renowned Dutch gardener Piet Oudolf, who has contributed his talents to the High Line in Manahattan and Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park, is also being screened.  
 
Piknic has also collaborated with Deux garçons, one of the most popular plant pottery brands among gardeners. Since the limited number of pottery pieces first went on sale when the exhibition opened in April, avid fans have been lining up to buy them from the early morning. 
 
 
 
No water necessary


For those who want to add some fuss-free plants to their home, artificial options are the way to go. 
 
“I want greens in my house and I enjoy the liveliness they provide, but I am so bad at giving constant care to living things,” said Lee Jung-yoon of Seocho District, who decided to buy a number of artificial trees for her new home after her attempts to care for live ones ended in disaster.  
 
Lee said the plants she chose are so realistic that her friends couldn't even differentiate if they were real or not when they came to her housewarming party. She said she decided to pay a bit more to invest in good quality artificial plants and found they were priced around 150,000 won, which is actually cheaper than what she might have paid for real plants. Lee said her home has become a showroom of man-made plants. 
 
A fake vine at a private home [LEE SUN-MIN]

A fake vine at a private home [LEE SUN-MIN]

 
“People who don't know much about how many options are out there when it comes to artificial plants and flowers are often surprised to see how real these fake ones look and how many options they can choose from,” said a merchant at Blossom Garden located inside Yangjae Flower Market.  
 
“Some people even mix and match real flowers with something fake to see something colorful amongst their greenery all year long,” the merchant said.  
 
Artificial plants can also be manipulated into different shapes. They are also popular among pet owners who might be concerned about their animals getting their paws on potentially toxic plants. 
 
BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]  
 
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