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Chelsea Flower Show 2012: Jihae Hwang’s Korean DMZ Forbidden Garden

Sometimes, the story is more important than the pictures.  Jihae Hwang’s Chelsea 2012 garden is one of those times.  Besides the fact that the garden is a recreation of the still uninhabited De-Militarized Zone that remains after the Korean Conflict – a place which has over the years become a pristine sanctuary of native plants and wildlife, the building of the garden was affected by conflicts that still weigh in Korea.

Jihae Hwang's Quiet Time: North and South Korean DMZ Forbidden Garden
The lookout tower in the Chelsea Flower Show 2012 – Jihae Hwang’s Korean DMZ Forbidden Garden.

Jihae’s garden was to receive sponsorship from a government-sponsored arts council, but a mere four weeks before the show, the minister overseeing this funding was jailed, and the garden was left with no support.

Soldiers’ boots hang in the tower in the DMZ garden.

Dan Flynn, who owns and runs GardenLink (the builders who constructed this garden), is an old friend of mine. He built a show garden for me nearly ten years ago at Hampton Court and worked with Jihae to build this garden.  

When funding suddenly stopped (due to political turmoil), he and his team had been paid for only about half of the 220,000 GBP price tag. 

The heavy wood DMZ lookout tower would have been the tallest structure in the Chelsea Show Grounds on Any given year – except that Diarmuid Gavin built an even taller tower in his 2012 show garden.

With Chelsea’s countdown stress, Dan committed to getting this garden built, and since he couldn’t afford to pay his staff to do the work, he put up an ad on Craigslist.  The post turned up a small army of volunteers who both wanted to be involved in the building of a Chelsea flower show garden but also wanted to support the garden and its many messages about peace and healing.  

Some came from many hours away and even put themselves up in local accommodation just to help build the garden.

Dan is amazing like that.

Buttons from Soldiers in the Forbidden Garden created by Jihae Hwang at the Chelase Flower Show in 2012.

Jihae Hwang Designer’s Statement for the Forbidden Garden:

The design highlights the tensions and lasting effects of the Korean conflict.

The barbed wire fence surrounding the garden creates a feeling of mystery and unease. Carefully considered installations feature the remains of warfare, including defensive walls, trenches and charred trees. The fence is hung with cans and bottles containing letters from separated families and friends to illustrate the sense of longing felt by people kept apart by the conflict.

The watch tower reminds visitors of the surveillance of the DMZ and also provides an observation point for the garden. A memorial chair (covered in ID tags) commemorates war veterans and victims. A stream flows through the garden, defying the barriers of human conflict and depicting the feelings of love and tension that the designer believes co-exist in the DMZ.

Clematis grows over barbed wire aming old bottles in the Forbidden garden of the DMZ as presented by Jihae Hwang at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Detritus of the DMZ and military occupation in the No Man’s Land Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Dan and Jihae are still trying to cover the remaining costs of building this garden and are accepting donations here.  Perhaps you have a loved one who served and sacrificed during the Korean War conflict, or wish to offer assistance in the name of peace (the spirit of this garden), or just generally because your heart goes out professionally to good designers and garden construction people trying to do the right thing….you can make a donation to this garden here.

A bird nest in the Korean garden at the Chelsea Flower Show that was designed by Johae Hwang.

And BTW — Despite all odds, and with a crew that was found last minute via Craigslist…Jihae Hwang’s Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden took Gold….and not only that, it also just won a President’s award from the RHS — a feat never before accomplished by a show garden!! 

Designed by Jihae Hwang

Built by GardenLink 

More by Anne Wareham at ThinkingGardens about Political Gardens.

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  1. Geoff says:

    Thanks for such a powerful post on this Memorial-weekend-eve. I’m sitting here with my jaw hanging slack and blurry vision from just the photos. That is such a sombre and thoughtful garden in what must be a riot of colour and springy celebration. The contrast has to be just a little jarring and therefore all the more impressive. How did it feel to you?

  2. rochelle says:

    geoff — I’m so tired, I have to admit that I didn’t even fully realize the perfectness of this post on this day. (thank you for noticing and point it out)
    When I first saw the garden I honestly walked by and didn’t fully realize it was an exhibit….it blended. And I was looking for the garden because I knew some of the back story with the funding issues already through friends.
    On second visit I thought more of it, but still struggled to fully get it as it was so wild by comparison. It wasn’t until I was granted the opportunity to walk inside it (sadly not an option for most visitors) and really absorb the feeling that soldiers were once there (60 years ago) and are now gone. While I was walking through, there were also two men who were British veterans of that conflict that were also visiting and they seemed to take great pride in the fact that this was done in honor of something that they taken such a profound part in. I shared with them that my own grandfather (who thankfully is still with us) was also a veteran (american of course) and they proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about his experiences — none of which I could answer. The suggestion to ask while I can, hear his story and honor his service was thankfully NOT subtle. Now that I am back home….and all the gardens and experiences have sat with me….I am realizing that this is one of the those that will leave a far longer and lasting impression that the gardens that wowed me in the first instance.
    Also — I won’t soon forget the buttons — I am not sure I understand at all why so many buttons were concentrated in one place (they made terrible paving as I nearly slipped and fell on them) but because this was such an amazing reproduction, their mystery has me really wondering about their reason and origin…. – Thanks for asking – R

  3. Alan Guy MBE says:

    I was one of those Veterans who spoke to you at the Show. The buttons signify the many soldiers who died during the conflict. 1078 British Soldiers died – more than all the conflicts which have taken place by our Forces since the Korean War combined

  4. I think that its great that you are using your garden as a rememberence / spokes peice for the veterans… It looks fantastic. Well done for the Presidents Award

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