The most straightforward of motivations for making a garden is the desire to recreate nature as realistically as
possible within the particular limitations and conditions of a given space.
In the opinion of architect and historian Horiguchi Sutemi, “Only when the expression of a garden is such that it encompasses the space does the structure of the garden take on true expression. ‘Encompassing the space’ means going beyond ‘raw nature’—both the nature within and surrounding the garden—to create a ‘nature’ that everyone can see and enjoy.”1
To some extent, gardens have always been viewed by this measure alone. In the case of Japanese gardens, Sakuteiki specifies “recalling your memories of how nature presented itself for each feature,” and a similar principle is applied to Chinese gardens as well, despite huge differences in scale and methods.
A consideration of whether the yuanlin gardening techniques of Ming – and Qing-dynasty-China were relevant to the climate and customs which shaped the composition
of yangban estates in Korea should help to clarify any areas of Chinese influence, just as it is evident that the form of traditional homes of the Chinese upper classes exerted an influence on the configuration of yangban dwellings. This should make it easier to appreciate the special characteristics of traditional Korean gardens as they exist today.
How then are the five aspects of yuanlin garden making outlined in the late-Ming-dynasty gardening manual Yuan ye related to Korean gardens?
Xiang-di is the factor that dictated the design approach used in creating the Chinese yuanlin. A sense of harmony with the surrounding landscape was preserved by building high points up higher, and digging low-lying areas deeper—in China these techniques served to accentuate the natural contours of the land. This was the principal method used to create a yuanlin on the basically flat land
of the Jiangnan region, where conditions were fundamentally very different from those in Korea. In Korea, of course, the natural topography provided an abundance of favorable sites with mountains behind and rivers in front.