[INTERVIEW] CEO of gardening club on mission to make cities greener
|Seoul Gardening Club offers green landscape services and runs two shared gardening spaces. Courtesy of Seoul Gardening Club|
By Lee Gyu-lee
Living in the hustle and bustle of a city, especially a heavily-populated metropolis like Seoul, often makes you want to push the pause button and look for a refreshing, peaceful break that only nature can offer.
|Lee Ga-young, CEO of Seoul Gardening Club / Courtesy of Seoul Gardening Club|
Would it be possible to introduce some lush green flora into the lives of busy city residents? That was the question Lee Ga-young, the CEO of Seoul Gardening Club, had in mind when she founded her green landscaping startup.
After opening in 2019, the company has provided a range of green services, including landscape planning, design, branding, and consulting.
Referring to itself as a “green lifestyle developer,” Seoul Gardening Club provides unconventional ways to incorporate plants and nature into people’s everyday lives, such as shared gardening. It runs two shared gardening spaces ― in Dongjak and Seongdong districts ― where members are each assigned their own spots to grow plants and create a community to share their gardening experience with others.
“Although we have four seasons, there aren’t a lot of outdoor spaces. But the demand (for such spaces) is growing. So I thought there could be something that we could do with these spaces to plan and offer outdoor experiences to people,” Lee told The Korea Times.
“A lot of people want to be closer to nature as they age. Many of us come to realize at some point in our lives that we are part of nature. So we thought it would be nice if we could help them to realize that sooner without having to wait until they get older, and in their daily lives.”
|Members are provided with their own spot to grow plants at the company’s shared gardening space / Courtesy of Seoul Gardening Club|
Lee, who used to work at an advertising agency for about 10 years, came across gardening when she took some time off from her job. Discovering a new passion, she made the decision to pursue a career change and enrolled herself in a master’s degree program at Seoul National University to study environmental planning.
“The advertising field has huge workloads and is tough. So when I worked with nature, I liked the cyclical elements it had. There’s a cycle of certain periods or seasons and when they pass, you get flowers or fruit,” she said.
“In the city, everyone’s clock is a little bit off like their lives. But as I learned the fundamentals and logic behind these cycles, I felt like I found my clock. And I thought there is a lot to unpack from this and share with people.”
The company’s shared gardening, the community platform portion of its services, started as an experimental project. Lee used the small terrace of her rooftop workspace to invite people to create their own gardens.
“While I was studying gardening, I was thinking about what I could do with this. And the first thing that came to my mind was that in order for gardening to become a culture, there should be more gardening spaces in the city. But (in reality,) there aren’t many opportunities for people to come into contact with gardens,” she said.
|A photo of the company’s shared gardening space, located on the rooftop of Handpicked Hotel & Collections in Dongjak District, Seoul / Courtesy of Seoul Gardening Club|
“People share offices and living spaces, so I thought why not a garden? So I made an Instagram account off the bat and invited people, saying this is the gardening version of Airbnb,” Lee added.
Receiving such positive responses and seeing the demand for gardening, she developed the experiment into a social community platform.
“We didn’t design this to be a socializing platform, but [for the members] to just share know-how about gardening with each other. And it naturally evolved into a community … A lot of the members said they truly liked communicating with people who come from different backgrounds and share what they gained from this experience”
The company not only offers landscape planning, but goes deeper to find distinct identities and themes for its clients in creating green spaces.
Lee noted a characteristic that sets Seoul Gardening Club apart from other landscaping companies.
“Until now, there have been more players with traditional approaches to landscape gardening. But we can suggest different approaches and designs that might also intrigue people (who are not familiar with gardening),” she said.
|A photo of the company’s second shared gardening space, located in Seongdong District, Seoul / Courtesy of Seoul Gardening Club|
Lately, eco-friendliness and the environment have been getting more of the spotlight and more frequently brought to the table for discussion around the world.
Lee shared that she sees a rise in people’s interest in eco-friendly landscaping, adding she hopes a shift in trend will lead to further advancements in the green lifestyle.
“Our goal is to develop and offer different types of green spaces within our daily city lives so that they can become a part of their everyday experience,” Lee said. “That space could be their office or living area or other places. We want this green space to become a new norm in our lives,” she added.
“Right now, a lot of urban structures and living areas in Korea are built from a suppliers’ perspective … while buyers play a passive role. But if we provide different approaches to how those spaces can be created, whether it’s commercial or private, many would realize that [green space] actually works, which will increase the demand for suppliers.”