Even though I have lived in Seoul for over one year I, lazily, never took the time to meander over to The Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace. The palace, in and of itself, was quite beautiful, but very similar to the rest of the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul. The Five Grand Palaces will open your eyes in awe for first few times you see them, but they do feel visually stale and monotonous. On the other hand, The Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace is serene, unique and extremely relaxing.
The Secret Garden truly is a diamond in the rough. I never would have thought that such vegetation would still exist in central Seoul. The garden spans and sprawls roughly 75 acres and eventually arches up into the mountains. I was amazed by how well the architects were able to blend with great synergy the buildings with nature. There is a very strong fluidity in this garden. I can easily see why the aristocrats of ancient Korea would have relaxed in this lily-pad laden forest. Unlike so much of Seoul, one can actually feel the humidity from the trees. This garden is dense packed with vegetation of all kinds ranging from lily pads to ivies to trees and mosses but not a single flower. I was actually quite taken back by the fact that such a beautiful and elegant garden did not have a single petal or bloom present. Ehh..such is life.
As you progress from temple to temple and pond to pond you start relying the degree of skill and liberties the architects took when producing this work of art. The subtleties of this garden really blend in with the environment but also pop out when you are least expecting it. Many times you will see a subtly placed rock or an oddly created pond with no intrinsic and obvious value to an outsider. The value of the placements are within the bounds of Korean culture. The subtly placed rock represents the Sun shining its light on the nation, while the pond represents, and is shaped, like the Korean nation as a whole. As I was walking through this garden I felt Ancient Korea come alive. I could see servants brings water to their masters and children playing in the ponds and green patching of land.
I was told by a guide that many of these small overhanging buildings were for the purpose of study and reflection. I can not imagine too many places on Earth that will allow for your mind to be cleared and perspective to be attained, but I think the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace is one of them. The juxtaposition between the garden and the concrete jungle beyond the palace’s walls is astounding. This garden is an enlightening representation of what one can accomplish while keeping in mind both man and nature. The Secret Garden of Changdeokgung should not only be a means of creating a better synergy between the environment and humanity in Seoul or South Korea, but for the world as well. Perfection in minimalism and simplicity is very attainable and within reach for the sake of us and our environment. Push it!