A mound in the middle of the lake garden has visitors walk along a swirly path to get to the top. A blue bridge representing the Dong-cheon River connects the expo sites. / Yonhap
By Yun Suh-young
When visitors tour around the Suncheon Bay Garden Expo in the South Jeolla Province coastal town, they marvel at the imagination and effort invested in creating some of the world's most beautiful gardens.
Charles Jencks, an American landscape architect and designer, is behind the Suncheon Lake Garden, probably the most notable work at the Suncheon Expo that is a brilliant tribute to the city and the beautiful wetlands of Suncheon Bay.
It is also the largest garden at the exposition, with a huge artificial lake hugging a beautifully-tailored, cone-shaped mound that is reached by a footbridge. Jencks said the garden was an interpretation of Suncheon, its nature and surrounding landscape.
"Suncheon city and its surrounding mountains and thriving wetlands — all three were the inspiration for our design. We have miniaturized the surrounding landscape and ecology and turned them into landforms, as well as a lake and a bridge," he said. The "we" refers to his daughter Lily who works with him.
"The city of Suncheon is represented as a lake, with Bonghwa Hill rising out of the water as an island, just as it rises out of the city. The Dongcheon River, which feeds Suncheon city and its famous wetlands, is shown as a winding blue bridge. Nan-bong hill, Bonghwa Hill, Haeryong Hilll and Angmoo Hill are represented as mounds that surround the lake and mirror the real mountains seen in the distance."
His inspiration came from the traditional Korean way of designing gardens, based on the concept of "borrowing" from a landscape. By bringing distant views and surrounding landscapes into the garden's design, Jencks said he attempted to create a microcosm of the macrocosm.
"One impression westerners have of the Korean landscape is the strong contrast between the built-up city and the surrounding wild mountains. This opposition between industrial culture and raw nature is worth underlining in a park today, especially one dedicated to ecology, because it will not be sustained without a struggle," said Jencks.
When asked what the role of garden designers was, Jencks said it was to "relate the art of garden design to the bigger picture — the universe."
"Landscape architecture should show the relationship between the very big and very little, the macrocosm and microcosm," he said.
To elaborate, he cited a phrase from the William Blake poem "Auguries of Innocence:"
"To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour,"
"William Blake's comparison between the whole world and a grain of sand is typical of how we perceive the unknown in terms of the familiar — that is, through metaphor," said Jencks.
When asked what the relationship between garden design and the world was, simply put- the importance of garden design to society, he said international garden festivals are becoming more important every year because landscapers take on the broad challenge of relating culture to economic growth. But still, there is much more effort needed, he added.
In terms of the quality and recognition of Korea's garden design, Jencks said it's little known about in the West although it has a similar history to that of garden design in China.