Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chelsea 2012: Plants in a Warzone

One of the most thought provoking gardens at this years RHS Chelsea Flower show is Korean designer Jihae Hwang's garden "Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden". I must admit that when we saw this garden on TV the evening before we attended we were not really sure what to make of it, was it a garden? an art installation? or a political message? In reality of course its a mixture of all three. As Chelsea is a Gardening show, it should be noted that the plant range was quite diverse, with some very interesting and unusual plants (and not to mention several rare plants too).

The Garden itself was created to reflect and commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict and contains at its centre a large watch tower. One boundary of the garden is a barbed wire fence which was host to several climbing plants (and would quite successfully keep passers by from climbing into the garden!).

On the fence hang glass bottles with messgaes in, again a real reference to the division between North and South Korea as families seperated by the fences used messages in bottles to communicate to each other.

Throughout the garden there were references to war, empty bullet cases, soldiers helmets, and other rusting items of warfare. Buttons line the pathway - in the DMZ in Korea buttons are often all that remain from the uniforms of dead soldiers.

A stream runs though the garden, which according to the designer defies the barriers of human conflict and depicting the feelings of love and tension that the real DMZ (De Militarised Zone) holds for the people of Korea.

We were fortunate to be invited to enter the garden and meet part of the build team, the realism in the garden is superb with many native Korean plants complemented by some additional European plants as well. Even up close the planting really does look very natural.

Despite the garden being placed next to Diarmuid Gavin's latest attention seeking creation, it seemed to be gaining far more attention than the 80' scaffold pyramid across the pathway.

The Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden justifiably won a Gold Medal and was a garden we came back to more than once during the day.


  1. Amazing! Looking at these photos, you'd think that this is an environment that emerged naturally over the course of time.

  2. Not what I would expect from Chelsea, but I really like this exhibit. It is thought provoking, and historically based. I can see why you would naturally be drawn back over and over again to this garden. There's something about the collision of life and death (and I think this garden depicts both) that pulls us in and won't let us go until we have it resolved in our minds (which may be never).

  3. Wonderful pictures - it was still quite grey when I was there, so it looked very forbidding. I think that's part of its success though - you can view it in a positive way, as a reminder that nature will always prevail in the face of human idiocy. Or you can see it as quite depressing - a symbol of a conflict that has been going on for so long that the remains of those who fell victim to it have already become obliterated. Fascinating.

  4. Hi Gerhard, It was beautifully put together, which combined with the subject matter made a fascinating and perhaps even slightly disturbing garden.

    Holley, I completely agree with you, very fascinating, and thought provoking, and justified to win its Medal.

    Victoria, the sunshine gave the garden quite an uplifting feel, despite the subject matter and references, I can imagine it had a very different feel on a grey day.

  5. Certainly a challenging, thought provoking garden. Did it give you any ideas for design or planting?
    Love your comment about Mr Gavin's latest. He never keeps it simple and lets the plants speak for themselves.

  6. This particular exhibit seems very profound and sad. I've been to Korea but was unable to visit the DMZ. I understand that tours nowadays are more extensive than in the past.
    I'm intrigued by the diversity of exhibits. Do the exhibits each get the same amount of space to work with?

  7. Hi Janet, Whilst it was an interesting garden, not sure I want barbed wire trellis in our own :)

    Bom - The gardens were divided into 3 types, large show gardens, then smaller artisan gardens and small modern gardens. The show gardens were mostly the same size, but some were slightly different shapes and styles.


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