MANILA, Philippines — They say that gardens help us cultivate not just the soil but our soul, too. In Korea, gardens do matter, and for good reason. Not only is a garden good for boosting health and one’s mood, it also provides nourishment and builds communities. Most importantly, gardens are good for the planet.
As more wild areas are disrupted for development, gardens — teeming with plants and trees — help tackle climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reducing the risk of flooding by slowing down rainwater runoff.
Field of blooms
In a recent familiarization trip to Korea hosted by the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO), we visited Suncheon, the largest city in Jeollanam-Do province, which is the center of garden culture in the country.
Having said that, a visit to Suncheon isn’t complete without a trip to Suncheonman International Garden Expo 2023, a one-of-a-kind exhibition where visitors can explore and experience more than 20 scenic gardens with over 2.5 million plants.
The event, held for the second time after 10 years, is aimed at not only preserving Suncheon Bay and its natural habitat and turning it into a conservation area, but also making gardening part of the city’s future development. The expo has largely contributed to the rise of the city as the ecological center.
Presented by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH), Korea Forest Service, and the South Korea Government, this year’s expo is bigger and better. Thanks to its 200-billion won ($157 million) funding, the expo now covers 435 hectares (from 111 hectares) of exhibition space. The organizers are expecting over eight million visitors, including 320,000 tourists from around the world.
With the theme, “We Live in the Garden,” the event showcases the key role of gardens in order for cities to achieve a sustainable future.
The expo, which runs until October 2023, also features health and wellness activities. Visitors can also have an “overnight garden stay” where they can relax and commune with nature.
So, yes, in Suncheon, you can experience what it feels like to “Live in the Garden.”
Ready, set, explore, and savor nature!
I don’t have a green thumb; nor am I very fond of flowers. But my short and sweet visit to the Suncheonman International Garden Expo 2023 changed all that. How can one not fall in love with this breathtaking field of blooms?
Our tour guide, Jade, gave us only an hour to explore the gardens so we didn’t waste time. We searched for the best backdrops, took photos, while some opted to shoot, yes, TikTok videos. Everyone we met along the way wore smiles on their faces. I guess that’s what communing with nature is all about. It makes one’s mood bloom!
One of the expo’s main attractions is the World Garden, which features the traditional gardens of 12 countries, including Japan, China, Thailand, USA, Italy, and France, among others.
The French Garden was modeled after the gardens in Versailles Palace, the embodiment of Louis XIV’s dream and desire to make France the center of Europe. It’s replete with a faux pond and gazebos named after famous French nationals like Victor Hugo.
The expo also has areas dedicated to preserving native plant species like the ECOGEO Greenhouse. The conservatory consists of a Water Garden, Event Garden, Special Garden, and Wildflower Nursery, and features some plants donated by the Botanical Garden Yeomiji in Jeju Island.
If you have enough time, visit and explore the eight scenic spots found at the National Garden, such as the Lake Garden, the Metasequoia Road, Dutch Garden, The Beast’s Rose Garden, Dream Bridge, Korean Traditional Garden, the Avatar Garden, and the Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve. Of the eight, only the latter was included in our itinerary.
Visitors need to take the “Sky Cube” train to tour the wetland.
On our way to the Sky Cube station, we passed through the Bridge of Dreams installation art. Made of 30 recycled cargo containers, the bridge showcases 140,000 tiles with all sorts of drawings that depict the hopes and aspirations of children from 16 countries.
A balm for the Soul
With a total area of 39,700 square meters, Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve is a balm for the soul. Walking along the massive area’s wooden boardwalk in cool weather is simply therapeutic. There are observation platforms for its mountain range and S-shaped stream.
The wetland is a vibrant ecosystem with a 22.6 million-sqm tidal field, 540,000 sqms of reed fields, salt marshes, islands, and 340 types of diverse flora. In 2003, it was recognized by Ramsar Convention as a marine wetland protected area, the first of its kind in Korea. The entire 938.4-sqm city of Suncheon, including Suncheonman Bay Wetland, was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
And since its natural ecosystem is maintained, a total of 252 migratory bird species, 48 internationally rare birds, hooded cranes, and several other living organisms can be seen in the mudflat.
The good news? Filipinos don’t need a visa to get there. Since March 15, Filipino tourists can enter South Korea visa-free through Muan International Airport. This is the third regional airport of Korea — following Jeju and Yangyang International Airports, where Filipino tourists are allowed to enter without securing a Korean tourist visa.
Muan International Airport is in Jeolla Province, located in the southwestern part of mainland Korea. Further divided into two provinces — North Jeolla (Jeollabuk-do) and South Jeolla (Jeollanam-do) — Jeolla Province boasts 15 of Korea’s 100 must-visit tourist spots, which include the Suncheonman Garden and Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve.
In Suncheon’s beautiful gardens, you just may find your soilmate!
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The 2023 Suncheonman International Garden Expo runs until Oct. 31. For inquiries, visit scbay.suncheon.go.kr/expo or @2023gardenexpo on Instagram.
Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com