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Seoul sanctuaries

Inspiration for a nature-filled life in the city

Written by
Hwang Hye Young

As urban dwellers in this hectic city, spending time in nature and striking a balance requires a considerable amount of effort. Yet, as we meet those who have been constant in their endeavors to turn their dreams into reality, we gain the inspiration.

BOM Farmers’ Garden
  • Restaurants
Tucked away in the picturesque Yangpyeong-gun, BOM Farmers’ Garden is a charming garden and farm. It has a restaurant, a gallery and a chapel that anyone can stop by and visit. Owner Kwak Sang-yong’s idea behind his project that has been cultivated on this vast plot of land is simple: everyone living in today’s world “needs a rest,” and he wants to provide just that.
Kwak, a former civil servant and a dedicated “Samsung man,” envisioned a place where one could go on a day trip to regain his/her peace of mind—some of which might have been lost in sale quotas, business reports and meetings. Visitors can leisurely meander about the farm, where Kwak’s harvest of okra, peppers, eggplants, ruccola and chickens are all basking in the sunlight. The garden is also well taken care of, and are the results of this city farmer’s numerous attempts to find the best spot for each exotic and native flower that he’s found around the country and during his horticulture studies in the U.K. After a nice stroll, the restaurant at the other end of the farm awaits with Italian dishes made with fresh vegetables and eggs gathered from the farm. While the menu items are the creations of skilled chefs with five-star hotel experience, all of the dishes, which are delicately garnished with flowers from the garden, are unpretentious and true to the natural flavors of their ingredients.
After spending a day at BOM Farmers’ Garden, you might go away with more than just the tangible pleasures from the garden. That is, in imagining the dreams, efforts, trials and errors and achievements of a “lifelong student” farmer brought to life in the breathtaking landscape and exquisite dishes, you might gain the insight and inspiration that whilst dwelling in this hectic city, you can find your own ways to focus on living a more sustainable life, and to maybe share them with others one day.
PPURI on the plate
  • Restaurants
aT PPurI on the plate, the meals are prepared with whole grains and fresh vegetables. They include whole plants, from their roots to their skins. This way of preparing a meal, however, is not the only thing that qualifies this restaurant as macrobiotic—the owners’ belief in food sustainability is apparent in every dish prepared and ingredient acquired.

Located on an alley of Daehangno, the restaurant is run by a married couple, Lee Yun-seo and Kang Dae-un. Their menus are not only products of their culinary experiments but also the personal changes that they have gone through. Suffering from severe psoriasis, Lee had decided to dedicate her time to studying the basic elements of her life, which led her to finishing overseas academic courses on macrobiotics. After three months of following a macrobiotic diet, she regained her health as well as peace of mind, which she had lost due to her health issues. As she began to understand the centrality of food in one’s everyday life, Lee began working on procuring sustainability in every step involved in food preparation. With the owners' effort to “respect the producers and pay attention to living creatures,” the fresh vegetables and fruits from Marché@ Farmers’ Market and Hansalim co-op are cooked without any chemical additives. Their sugar-free, organic vegan brown rice cake; vegan pizza made with brown rice dough; and specialty coffee brewed with foxtail millet and chicory show their desire to share their mindfulness of living a healthier, happier life in this city.

“Our space is ultimately a story of the people who wish to make their lives more sustainable, right at home, right where they reside,” Lee explained. According to her philosophy and experience, “changes in every part of our lives” are possible, and here at PPURI on the plate they start with one of the most basic elements of life—food.
Ver's Garden
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Mapo-gu
Surrounding this alluring café in Yeonnam-dong are a variety of plants, including bamboos, eucalyptus and Muscat vines. Inside, there is a wall blanketed with dried flowers in the full spectrum of pastel hues, and green and purple hanging plants cascade down from the ceiling above. The whole room is completely filled with the scents of flowers and herbs.
Owner Kim Seong-min believes that plants are a vital part of life. His wish to share his love for plants is apparent in every corner of this café as well as in every drink served. Kim grows six different types of herbs, including chocolate mint and rosemary, and he hand-picks and infuses them here. The stevia leaf whimsically attached to the straw in my iced coffee tastes surprisingly sweet.
A former musical theater performer, Kim treats this space as his “stage” for flower designs. “For me, a performance is about connecting with the audience,” he said. Accordingly, the café's interior undergoes a dramatic transformation every season to reflect nature’s changing moods, with cherry blossoms in the spring and silver grass in the autumn. Kim has staged his performances at other venues as well, with the “planterior” designs at PP Seoul’s rooftop lounge in Namsan and Café 413 Project in Yeoksamdong included in his repertoire.
For some, visiting VER'S Garden for the first time may be somewhat confusing, as it may seem more like a flower shop or a greenhouse than a café. Instead of attempting to pigeonhole the space, Kim suggests that his visitors “take in the vibe of this space, without labeling it,” which is exactly what I did.
  • Shopping
Walking along the main road of Tongindong, you’ll quickly spot Gavi café when you see the couple dozen potted plants underneath its brown awning. Inside, you’ll find NOGARDEN, a gardening shop owned by Noh Eun-ah, who once worked as the feature editor for Vogue, Marie Claire and InSytle, and as editor-in-chief of Maison.

For Noh, the “chemistry” between the gardener and the plant is what matters when it comes to indoor gardening. “Think of the plant as a companion; you need to pick a good candidate for your relationship,” Noh tells every customer. Accordingly, every plant in the shop awaiting its ideal companion is one that the owner has tried growing herself and has loved being in a relationship with. Based on her experience and expertise, Noh said that “understanding” is the key to a successful partnership first and foremost, as each plant has its own “rhythm” that it has relied on to survive and “when the owner fails to respect that, it dies off.”

When you visit NOGARDEN, you’ll be asked lots of questions about your environment and lifestyle before you take a plant home. “Will the plant be provided with enough sunlight in your home?” or “Do you often work until late at night?” are only the conversation starters. Chances are, you’ll leave the shop empty-handed. But that would be a much better option than “letting a plant die off, feeling bad and then starting to think ‘it’s not for me.’” Or, you might be ready, and matched with a plant, which according to Noh means that you have the emotional space to “always hope that the plant will be healthy in your home.”
Visiting NOGARDEN provides a chance for self-reflection. “Am I emotionally available?” “Do I understand myself enough to understand a companion?” Without realizing, I found myself asking myself these questions. Noh, as if she had heard me, said: “When you believe in it, it will respond.”
Slow pharmacy
  • Shopping
aT SLoW PHarMaCy’S showroom in Banpo-dong, Lee Gu-reum and Jeong U-seong prescribe a slower pace of life to their visitors by way of Monstera plants, prickly pears and tillandsias. Carefully designed and planted in terrariums, beakers and hanging planters, those “remedies” are a product of Lee’s childhood that revolved around her mother’s old flower shop, and of both owners’ shared philosophy towards indoor gardening. 
For Lee and Jeong, a plant can be at the center or a corner of one’s life, influencing his/her course of action, attitudes and relationships. “It can replace a television set, for example, and determine how we spend our time after work, how we approach work and who we meet, even,” Lee explained. It is out of this philosophy that Lee and Jeong approach the work they do as a sort of prescribed regimen that requires careful face-to-face consultations and aftercare. Accordingly, the types of plants being sold on their online store are limited, and they more often than not kindly tell some of their visitors to visit the showroom whenever they wish to instead of taking a plant home. Whilst it is true that cultivating a plant can be “truly life-changing,” such reward is never granted without responsibility and care. As evidenced in the owners’ ideology, understanding one’s responsibility starts with self-reflection and awareness of his/her environment. As Jeong explained: “How much time one spends at home and away, and how the air quality at his/her home changes during each season, for example, matters.”
The owners of Slow Pharmacy generously share all of their knowledge and passion with those who visit their pop-up store, where dozens of plants are being nurtured. The atmosphere here resembles not only that of a greenhouse, with lush greens and delicate foliage, but also that of a neighborhood pharmacy where friendly conversations flow. More than just a simple business transaction, your visit will be filled with shared stories and truly individual care, which will be later translated into the slow, restorative hours of your life.
Urban Bees Seoul
  • Things to do
STarTed aS a hobby, Urban Bees Seoul is now an ecological learning cooperative as well as a social enterprise with the mission to reinvent Seoul’s ecosystem. It currently raises 4 million bees at 25 different locations, most of which are on rooftops in the city. Urban Bees Seoul is constantly expanding with its Honey Bank system, which allows individual investors to support the organization and acquire quality honey. 
How exactly does beekeeping boost the urban ecosystem? Founder Park Jin believes that there is a symbiotic relationship between humans and bees and said: “With beekeeping activities, there will be a lot more flowers blooming, [which will] invite more insects and birds.” This creates a greener city and healthier environment for residents. While this group of twenty- and thirty-somethings do have the serious goal of visiting all of their hive sites in the city for “hive check-ups,” they mainly just have fun together. They also enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise with others through their workshops.
Anyone who is interested in urban beekeeping can join Park and his colleagues in Seoul. For those who become a member, classes are offered 20 times a year. If you wish to support Urban Bees Seoul in another way, or want to experience what Seoul honey tastes like, you can invest your money starting at 25,000 won, and you’ll receive some of the honey that you helped create.
  • Things to do
They get together, play in a wading pool, make detox juices and have barbecue potlucks on their rooftop. Pajeori, a cooperative of young farmers, is an enjoyable group to hang out with. However, that doesn’t mean that Kim Na-hee and her friends aren’t a serious bunch of farmers. They harvest different vegetables and herbs every season, including tomatoes, basil, corn and potatoes, on a rooftop in Gusu-dong and at their government-supported community garden near Nodeul Island. 

Their goal is to help single-person households achieve self-sufficiency. They meet up on this rooftop every week from March to late October, cook what they’ve harvested from their farms, drink beer and hold cooking classes. What does it take to be a part of this co-op? Kim and her friends are pretty inclusive—the monthly 10,000 won fee (which goes towards rent and maintenance fees for the venue) and an open mind are all you need.
  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
Anyone who has visited Marche@, held every second Sunday of the month at Marronnier Park, knows that this is a market where conversations constantly flow. From behind the bonnet bellflower roots, pickled fatsia shoots and brown rice cakes arranged on their stands, farmers, chefs and artisans share stories about where their items were sourced and how they were made.
Every month, Marche@ operates under a new theme, and this past July, it was “honey.” For the market, beekeepers gathered 20 different types of honey, which were classified according to their nectar sources, such as wild cherry trees, wild pear trees and tangerines, from all around the country. Market-goers agree that it is “this kind of diversity that makes [the market] fun,” and the sellers are happy that their customers enjoy the variety.
While the market offers bountiful harvests from all around the country, there are a few things that you cannot find here: plastic bags and disposable tableware. As such, you need to bring your own baskets, cups and dishes, or borrow them at the market after making a small deposit. Marche@ also operates at other locations in Seoul, including Myeongdong and Yangjaedong, every fourth Sunday of the month.
  • Shopping
From well-known online shops to smaller farm-based shops, where you can have healthy ingredients delivered to your table, straight from nature
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