The 2 most important elements of a traditional Korean garden are stone and water. Stone symbolizes the male and has become an object of worship since prehistoric times. Water is the origin of all life and symbolizes the female. Hence in the layout of a Korean garden, the male and female must be in perfect harmony. For this reason, ponds and various stone towers are placed around the space. Water is also a must-have to increase luck in the natural space.
The Korean chimney is unique in the fact that they were not only used as a way to let out smoke, but also as impressive garden decoration. In the case of a very large garden, the chimney is even placed at a flower-bed and the face is decorated with beautiful patterns like the dragon, bat, peony, bamboo, plum blossom, pine tree, and more.
The wall not only acts as a space separator, but also holds importance as an element of the garden and the landscape. The wall is not only a ‘line’ that shows caution towards the outside world but also defines the inside space. A unique quality of Korean walls is that it also serves as decoration, with decorative patterns and adornments on them. The common homes’ low-profile walls kept the outside out while still including the skyscape into the garden– a principle in our culture’s garden layout.
The Garden House and the Pond
A traditional garden house is either right next to a pond or go even closer to have two of the supporting pillars inside the pond, elevating a section of the garden house right over the body of water. Because of this closeness to water, the floor of the garden house is made of wood to minimize humidity, and have at least 16 inches off of the ground to allow ample air-flow. An island is created in the middle of the pond, and a tree is also often planted on the island. Lotus flowers are planted in the pond. Willow trees are planted around the pond, and pine trees and bamboos may also be planted on the island.
In a Korean garden, the plants are chosen to reflect the changing seasons, and the trees that were practical by bearing fruit were planted. These trees that bear good flowers or fruit were planted in an area close to the house next to the wall or in the back yard, but were never placed in the middle of the front yard– neither at a palace, temple, nor a common home. Also the reason common homes most commonly had persimmon, jujube, quince, or pear trees was because these were the fruits used during memorial ancestral ceremonies.
Stone is nature’s element that never changes and gives the viewer a sense of calm. As such, the stone’s visual feature and usability is, along with water, an integral element of a Korean garden. In our culture, these garden stones were popular since Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), and were enjoyed in both royal and common homes. These visual technique traveled to Japan and now is commonly used in many modern gardens.