• KBS World Special on the International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay Korea 2013

  • The 184-day celebration of beautiful gardens held in Suncheon Bay, dubbed a “Garden from Heaven,” is scheduled to run until October 20th. But even on the first day of its official opening, April 20th, the expo ground was flooded with visitors eager to see Korea’s first garden expo.

    The 184-day celebration of beautiful gardens held in Suncheon Bay, dubbed a “Garden from Heaven,” is scheduled to run until October 20th. But even on the first day of its official opening, April 20th, the expo ground was flooded with visitors eager to see Korea’s first garden expo.

    (Man) I started planning two months ago to come here from Jeju Island.
    (Woman 2) Other expos are too commercial, but this one isn’t. It’s also good that these facilities will be put to good use even after the expo is over.


    What is it about the International Garden Exposition that evokes such excitement and expectations? Here’s Mr. Na Seung-byeong나승병, Secretary General of Suncheon Bay Garden Expo 2013 Organizing Committee, to answer that question.

    The Garden Expo is different from other commercial expos. Unlike the World Expo hosted in Yeosu last year, where all the national pavilions were taken down, the facilities here in the garden expo are meant to last forever. Garden expositions were generally held in Europe, where gardens have been long considered a part of living space and, in more recent times, a means of urban renewal. A number of landfills and closed mines have been turned into gardens.

    The Garden Expo is a global event approved by the International Association of Horticultural Producers, or AIHP, a group of 33 associations from 29 countries. First launched in London in 1862, the Garden Expo expanded to the United States and Asia, leading the attempts to turn cities and other human environs greener and more beautiful. The 1993 Garden Expo in Osaka, where a landfill was turned into a garden, and the one hosted in an abandoned airport in Munich, Germany in 2005, spurred the growth of the Garden Expo into a world-recognized environmental celebration. The city of Suncheon got to join this honored list of environmental renovators five years ago, when on September 15th, 2009, the AIHP members unanimously chose Suncheon to host the 2013 Expo. The unanimity of votes was achieved, because Suncheon had a purpose quite different from those of other candidate cities. Here’s Suncheon Mayor Jo Choong-hoon조충훈 to tell us more.



    Suncheon Bay was the start. Once a small port, Suncheon Bay was registered as one of the most important wetlands with the Ramsar Convention in 2003. At the time the number of visitors stood at 100 thousand, but in just ten years the figure grew to over three million. Such explosive popularity gave us pause, because an increase in visitors could harm the hard-preserved wetlands. We thought that leaving Suncheon Bay as it is could inevitably damage the wetlands, so we decided to host the Garden Expo to preserve the area.

    The reason the city of Suncheon wanted to host the Garden Expo was not for publicity or business promotion, but for preservation of Suncheon Bay. That’s how a small city of 280 thousand people at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula came to hold the nation’s first International Garden Exposition.

    Residents of a small village at the western end of Suncheon Bay drag out their sled-like boats in time for ebb tide. Unlike the tidal flats in the western coast, hard-packed enough to support a cultivator, the mud flats of Suncheon Bay are soft and wet, sucking down your feet unless you are on a special “mud flat boat” made with two-meter-long planks. A mud flat fisherman places one knee on the boat and uses the other foot to push the plank forward. It is strenuous work, but the village residents have long endured the backbreaking labor for the abundant return of the mud flat.

    (Woman) We get cockles, clams, crabs and what not. We used to export a lot to Japan. The shellfish we harvest from here are plumper and more delicious that those from other areas, and they don’t have any sand in it. This area is truly blessed. We raised our children by working here.

    The river from the Sobaek Mountain Range flows into the sea at Suncheon Bay. The 26.5-square-kilometer tidal flat is a treasure trove of seafood, from clams and cockles to octopi and crabs. The mud flat of Suncheon Bay is one of the world’s five best-preserved wetlands, as recognized by its membership in the Ramsar Wetland Convention. Its beauty and ecological importance can be fully appreciated when viewed from out in the sea.

    A boat for ecological experience departs from the nearby Daedae대대 Port and sails along the curved coastline of Suncheon Bay. It’s an idyllic natural sanctuary, with a range of wildlife and peaceful scenery. Here’s the area’s guide, Ms. Jo Sun-ok조순옥 to explain more.

    Suncheon Bay is an inland wetland, where freshwater and seawater combine to make a healthy, unpolluted tideland. The tidal flat supports a field of reeds and is home to rare migratory birds, such as hooded cranes, spoonbills, whooper swans, and Chinese egrets. I realize how precious nature is every time I come out here on a boat.

    Suncheon Bay is also inhabited by about 120 species of saltwater creatures. Mudskippers, which live only in pristine surroundings, ghost crabs, sand crabs, and other mollusks are found in abundance here.

    (Woman 1) I was amazed. It was awesome to find so many living things in the mudflat. It’s like a gift from heaven.
    (Woman 2) I think people should cherish this more.


    A forty-minute walk on the wooden path cutting through the reed field would take you to the Yongsan Observatory, located across from Daedae Port and at 80 meters above sea level.

    (Man) I come here whenever I have time. It calms me and helps me think.
    (Woman) This is my first time here. I’ve only seen this on TV. Now that I’m in my mid-50s, I tend to reflect on my life, and this is a good place to do that. I also realize that Korea is a beautiful country.


    The story behind the Yongsan Observatory is that a dragon about to rise to heaven came back down to earth after seeing the beauty of Suncheon Bay. When you look down on Suncheon Bay from the observatory, you can see what drew the dragon down to the bay. The waterway meandering through the tidal flat, the circular fields of reed, and the spectacle of flocks of migratory birds – it’s a breathtaking scenery worthy of adulation in art and literature. But Ms. Kim Ok-hyun김옥현, another tour guide here, says the area is more awe-inspiring at sunset.




    The tide changes every six hours. When the tide ebbs the mudflat measuring 22.6 square kilometers appears like this. The thin waterways cutting through the flat are how fish move around on the tidal flat. Look at how the sunlight sparkles off the waterways. It’s like gold glitter sprinkled on the water. And see how the glow of the setting sun sets the circular reed fields on fire. I wish a lot of people would come here and see both nature-made and manmade gardens.

    It is mesmerizing to see how nature works its magic on the vast mudflat – the sparkling sunlight, the reeds singing and dancing in the wind, and the majestic flights of water fowls. It’s not surprising that the city of Suncheon dreams of a future as an ecological city. Here’s Suncheon Mayor Jo Choong-hoon again.

    The city’s goal has been to become an eco-city, since ten years ago. If local governments’ goals in the 20th century were to bring industrial complexes and factories, in the 21st century they should be looking for ways raise people’s quality of life by coexisting with nature. The city of Suncheon decided 10 years ago to preserve the natural gift of Suncheon Bay, and I believe we have measured up to that goal, making Suncheon Bay one of the world’s five best-kept wetlands. Our decade-long effort to protect the environment and Suncheon’s ecosystem is culminated in the Garden Expo, and the expo in return will help further preserve the Suncheon Bay area.

    The Suncheon Bay International Wetland Center, one of the Expo’s main buildings, demonstrates the effort the city of Suncheon and local residents have made to publicize the importance of the bay. The Garden Expo itself is a part of the preservation and publicity effort. The one-million-plus square meters of the Expo ground has stopped the urban sprawl heading toward Suncheon Bay.
    Here’s Mr. Na Seung-byeong나승병, Secretary General of Suncheon Bay Garden Expo 2013 Organizing Committee, to explain more.

    We’ve set up the Expo ground about 5.2 kilometers away from Suncheon Bay in order to protect this ecological beltway.
    That way, the city of Suncheon would be barred from expanding toward the bay with the Expo site serving as a buffer zone. The Expo grounds would simultaneously protect the Bay and boost the economy of the city of Suncheon and surrounding areas.


    Nearly 425 thousand trees were planted on the grounds to make the site greener, and the International Wetland Center and main exhibition hall comprise the Garden Expo’s main eco zone. The Wetland Center Zone, the first area to be completed among all the expo zones, has already attracted countless birds. Here’s Mr. Oh Haeng-seok오행석 in charge of building management with the Garden Expo Suncheon Bay 2013 Organizing Committee to explain more.

    This building was completed on January 10th of this year. After the completion, Mandarin ducks and other migratory birds flocked to this part of the wetland and provided visitors with an opportunity to see the birds within the International Wetland Center.

    The area around the International Wetland Center used to be rice fields as recent as last year. But it was turned into a patch of wetland for the birds, with the help from the wild bird protection group Wild and Wetland Trust. This human effort was rewarded with flocks of migratory birds. The three-storied International Wetland Center is an all-around exhibition hall featuring all the wildlife living in Suncheon Bay. Here’s PR manager Moon Woon-ki문운기of the Suncheon Bay Garden Expo 2013 Organizing Committee to explain more.

    This exhibition is titled “Friendly Mudflat Friends” and features a complete replica of Suncheon Bay with the mudskippers, crabs, and other animals. You can see the crabs walking sideways and the mudskippers poking out of the mud. This is the first tidal flat created indoors to allow people to experience the wetland.

    The first floor of the International Wetland Center features an exhibition, 70% of which is comprised of living creatures. The mini tidal flat set up in the center undergoes the daily change of tides, just like in nature. So every time the tide ebbs, crabs, mudskippers, and other shellfish appear out of the mud. It’s a delightful opportunity for education and amusement for both children and adults.

    In the Center’s theater, children watch a three-dimensional animation film, “The Garden of the Moon.” It’s a story of a girl traveling to the world of wetlands guided by a mudskipper, and it moves children to appreciate the beauty of Suncheon Bay and cherish every creature living in the area.





    The 75-meter-long Dream Bridge connects the bisected Expo grounds. Made with thirty shipping containers, the Dream Bridge is the world’s first art gallery on a bridge, the outside of which is decorated with the installation artist Kang Ik-jung’s colorful artwork. The inside of the Dream Bridge features the 140-thousand drawings of children from 16 countries around the globe. The drawings of singers, teachers, nurses, and other occupations represent their future dreams, turning this bridge into a space of hope. Across the Dream Bridge is the main part of the Expo, the World Garden Zone. Let’s hear more from Na Seung-byeong나승병, Secretary General of Suncheon Bay Garden Expo 2013 Organizing Committee.

    The World Garden Zone is comprised of 83 gardens from 23 countries, classified into three categories – traditional garden, theme garden, and participatory garden. The traditional world garden category features gardens from eleven countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Korea. It was created to show visitors the traditions, histories, and characteristics of typical gardens found in other countries. There are eleven theme gardens created by famed landscapers from all over the world. For instance, renowned landscape architect, Charles Jencks, designed the Suncheon Lake Garden to represent Suncheon downtown. As for the participatory gardens, there are 61 of them created by local government bodies, local and global corporations, and landscape artists.

    The main Expo grounds measuring 564 square meters houses eleven world gardens, eleven theme gardens, and numerous participatory gardens. But one particular garden grabs the most of visitors’ attention.

    This is the Dutch Garden. The Netherlands is widely known for its beautiful gardens and flowers. You can see tens of thousands of tulips here and a windmill, too. Europeans say that spring has arrived only when flowers bloom in the Netherlands. This garden was built to show visitors that spring has come to Suncheon Bay as well.

    That was Mr. Lee Jae-seong이재성, an official with the Suncheon Bay Garden Expo 2013 Organizing Committee, explaining why the Dutch Garden with the colorful tulips and a windmill has so captivated the expo visitors.

    The defining culture and sentiments of each country is well demonstrated in the world gardens – the Chinese Garden that transfers its natural energy to those around it and rejuvenates them, the Italian Garden that has recreated the landscape of the Medici family home, and the sunken German Garden reflecting the German belief that gardens should be left unadorned and natural as possible. It’s as if the Expo visitors are touring the world.

    (Man 1) I saw the German Garden, the Dutch Garden, and the French Garden. The Dutch Garden was the most impressive, as if a slice of nature has been transplanted here. It was very well organized and I liked it very much.
    (Woman) Each garden is a work of art. I used to think of a garden as a small patch of land I cultivated at home, but the gardens I’ve seen here are much more than that, a gift from bountiful nature.


    Despite the splendor of all these foreign gardens, the garden nearest to the hearts of Korean visitors is the Korean Traditional Garden. Here’s Mr. Oh Haeng-seok오행석 of the Suncheon Bay Garden Expo 2013 Organizing Committee to tell us more.

    The Korean Traditional Garden is the largest one in the Garden Expo, taking up 20 thousand square meters of land. When you cross the bridge, you come to the main gate leading into the Korean Garden, composed of the Palace Garden, the Noblemen’s Garden, and the Garden of Hope for Common People.

    Koreans believe that gardens should harmonize with their natural surroundings and composition was the most highly regarded element in landscaping. So the gardens in the Korean Traditional Garden are created without marring the original topographical features of the site.

    The Palace Garden replicated parts of Changdeok창덕 Palace’s rear garden, and the Noblemen’s Garden was modeled after the famed Soswewon소쇄원 Garden in Damyang담양. The Garden of Hope, representing the modest yards of common households, is where ordinary Koreans used to pray for the well-being of their families. The expansive and peaceful garden compound provides respite for visitors.

    (Woman) I feel like I’m part of nature. All the Korean traditional gardens were beautiful and it was nice to see the flowers and trees with green buds.



    Visitors can see gardens as an art form in the Theme Gardens. The most impressive garden is the Suncheon Lake Garden, a creation of world-famous landscape designer Charles Jencks. Inspired by the city of Suncheon, the Suncheon Lake Garden seems to resemble a scene out of Alice in Wonderland, with a white path winding up the hill. Made up of six hills and a lake, the Suncheon Lake Garden is the centerpiece of the Garden Expo, and a smaller representation of Suncheon City’s urban landscape and water flow. The 16-meter-high Bonghwa Hill at the center of the garden provides a panoramic view of the entire Expo grounds. From there you can see another artwork panning out beyond the French Garden.

    I think the essence of Suncheon Bay is its mudflat. I wanted to talk about its value, so I created a landscape representing a wiggling trail left by a lugworm. The view from the above shows a dynamic-looking path that appears to have been made by about five lugworms. We live in a world where the unseen exists together with visible elements. But we easily forget the value of the unseen world. The ecological values are invisible to us, so I wanted to talk about those values.

    That was Korean landscape artist Hwang Ji-hae황지혜, the two-time Chelsea Flower Show Prize winner and creator of the Lugworm Path at the Garden Expo 2013, who wanted to show the world the hidden values of the Suncheon Bay ecosystem.

    Reportedly, the most unusual space in the International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay 2013 is its indoor garden. The Indoor Garden features landscape components difficult to maintain outdoors and some very unique gardens, such as the Primitive Garden with an ambience of prehistoric forests, the Jungle Garden filled with diverse and rare plants, and the Choice Garden providing a glimpse into the gardens of the future. The Indoor Garden also offers great ideas for today’s urban dwellers, who tend to live in small spaces. This special place also has a space devoted to old gardens seen in ancient Korean books. Here’s Mr. Kim Jae-bin김재빈 in charge of horticultural projects at the Garden Expo.

    This Wuami우아미 Garden is a recreation of a typical Joseon-era garden in a nobleman’s home. You can see a pavilion and a pond, and how our ancestors enjoyed their leisure time, drinking and listening to music in the pavilion. It was a classy way to appreciate nature.

    This Korean traditional garden has many interesting attractions, such as Joseon’s greenhouse, which is known to predate those in Europe by 170 years, walls with openings made at the children’s eye-level, a bamboo forest, and a serene walkway. This place demonstrates how Korean ancestors brought nature into their homes and coexisted with nature in harmony. Here’s Mr. Ahn Hong-kyun, president of the AIPH Korea.

    Western gardens were constructed apart from nature, but the Korean concept of a garden was incorporating nature into everyday living. Since beautiful nature was everywhere, there was no need to build a manmade garden to appreciate the natural environment. We Koreans have long enjoyed nature and natural gardens. I think the Expo visitors also miss those kinds of gardens. The Garden Expo Suncheon Bay is trying to bring back the concept of nature and garden being one and the same.

    The worth of the Garden Expo lies in its sustainability. Unlike commercial expositions which are dismantled after closing, the Garden Expo facilities will be maintained long after October 20th, its closing date, to be used as a place of rest and recreation for local residents. The trees and flowers planted for the expo will continue to grow to turn the area into a vast, lush garden. Such expectations make the Garden Expo grounds an important asset for the city of Suncheon.

    We enjoy these gardens as attractions now, but they are also a place with cultural values, a place we can be proud of. When we walk among the trees and breathe in its fresh air, we will be able to appreciate how blessed we are to have such a natural environment.

    Although the Expo site was a manmade construction at first, it will be absorbed into the natural surroundings as time passes. That is why Secretary General Na Seung-byeong of the Garden Expo 2013 Suncheon Bay Organizing Committee is looking forward to the future following the Expo’s closing.

    The trees in the gardens were planted for the Expo, but they will remain and thrive even after the Expo is over. We will maintain the Expo site to be used for interactive ecological experiences and healing and leisure programs. Cars are allowed into Suncheon Bay now, but soon, motor traffic will be banned here and, maybe starting next year, only forty personal rapid transit cars will be allowed into the Bay. Visitors will have to leave their cars out in the Expo parking lot and take the PRT to enter Suncheon Bay.

    The International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay 2013 is a big celebration that turned Suncheon Bay and the city of Suncheon into one grand ecological venue. When other cities pursue urban development and expansion, the city of Suncheon strives to preserve its priceless natural environment by hosting the Garden Expo and setting up a buffer zone between the mudflat and the city. The International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay 2013 may be long remembered as the beginning of a future where nature and man exist side by side.