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A Letter from a Million Years Past: Jihae Hwang’s show garden at Chelsea Flower Show

After a 10-year break, the inspirational Korean artist Jihae Hwang is returning to RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and will be the only international designer on prestigious Main Avenue.

Jihae’s garden focuses on the role of medicinal plants and aims to evoke the primeval natural landscapes of Jirisan. As goodwill ambassadors for Sancheong, a county in the Jirisan region known for its herbal medicine, we couldn’t be more delighted at the theme for her garden. Some of her specific inspiration for this project comes from a rewilding project in neighbouring Hamyang county – 칠선 계곡 for those wanting to explore further.

The official press release for her garden is set out below. You can find our article explaining the landscape of Jirisan and some of Jihae’s aims in creating her garden here.

A Letter from a Million Years Past: Jihae Hwang’s show garden at Chelsea Flower Show

Date: Tuesday 23 May - Saturday 27 May 2023
Royal Hospital Chelsea | London Gate | Royal Hospital Road | London SW3 4SR | [Map]

Tickets: from £48.85 (RHS members from £37.85) | Buy tickets via RHS website
A Letter from a Million Years Past

This year’s Chelsea Flower Show (23–27 May 2023) will have a taster of South Korea delivered to Main Avenue, along with an important message about stopping landscape destruction for the benefit of people, plants and places.

At the most important flower show in the world, Jihae Hwang will raise awareness of the vital role that medicinal plants play in the natural world, and how landscape destruction will continue at our peril.

‘A Letter From a Million Years Past’ is an evocation of Jiri Mountain in South Korea. Culturally one of the most important places in South Korea, Jiri Mountain – known as the Mother Mountain of Korea – is home to some 1,500 species of native Korean plants that have medicinal value; many of which have been threatened with extinction or habitat loss.

Jihae explains: “The garden’s large rocks represent over 2 billion years of time. These rocks, which existed even before the birth of mankind, have been keeping a certain form of love within them for millions of years. With little plants and flowers blossoming within the crevices and cracks between the rocks, this love has been illustrated. Therefore, these rocks and plants will look like special letters sent to us from millions of years ago.”

The garden is a direct message from the mountain which asks visitors to examine the garden closely; to view a landscape where medicinal plants proliferate and have rewilded in a bid to heal the landscape.

The central point of the garden will be a traditional Korean herb drying tower, crafted by Alex Gibbons from Cumbria. Alex is one of the remaining craftspeople in the UK who creates earth-buildings, using mud, straw and sand to build bespoke creations. The tower references similar buildings in South Korea, used to dry and store herbs.

Throughout the garden Scottish rocks will link the planting and spaces – large boulders, small stones, rocky outcrops. There will be 200 tonnes delivered to site so the expert team can put them together by hand and with great skill.

The garden focuses on a substantial message about the positive balance that can be achieved between people and nature. Plants that have medicinal benefit abound in nature and especially in the eastern part of Jiri Mountain – in fact, many of the plants in the show garden represent the important medicinal plants that grow there.

Long before hospitals and pharmacies became commonplace, local people turned to native herbs and rare alpine plants to treat diseases and prolong healthy life – these plants are growing wild in the primeval forests and fields of the Jiri Mountains.

Jihae says: “We hope to convey the meaning of biodiversity and the preservation of species through the growing environment of medicinal plants, in a primitive environment with no human interference. In the East, the human body and nature are not separated – we believe that nature forms the human body. All plants tend to want to return to their original form, so I believe that returning what was originally of theirs is a true consideration for nature, an order, and a respect for human life.”

At the end of the show, some of the plants will be donated to the Maggie’s Centre in Nottingham and other plants may be sold to fundraise for the cancer charity.

Garden sponsors: 

About Jihae Hwang 

Jihae is a leading environmental artist and designer. She has been working for more than 25 years, making gardens, installations and events around the world. Her most recognized work in the UK has been her 2012 President’s Award ‘DMZ Garden’ at Chelsea Flower Show – a poignant and moving expression of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Before that, in 2011, she won a gold for the ‘Hae-woo-so / Emptying your mind’ garden.

International recognition for her work after the ‘DMZ Garden’:

  • “Jihae Hwang led the trend of naturalistic planting with polished and impeccable composure” – Landscape Juice;
  • “It is marvellous to see each and every planting done one after another, as sophisticated as a hair transplant, almost like that of a surgery or scientific investigation” – BBC;
  • “I have been travelling and reporting around the world as a horticulturalist for more than 50 years, and have covered the Chelsea Flower Show every year since 1984, but this garden is the first of its kind. It’s very powerful” – Graham Ross ABC presenter.

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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