I love watching Korean dramas, being awed by the costumes and sets.Sometimes I see something in a Sageuk and wonder if it was real, or just something that was just added to the script. This recently occurred when I saw a heated greenhouse full of flowers while watching a period drama set in the early Joseon Dynasty. A heated greenhouse seemed to me to be something that was developed much later in time so I decided to investigate.
I knew the Ancient Romans had passive methods of keeping plants alive during the winter, by growing plants in carts so they could be rolled out into the sunshine during the day and then rolled back under cover at night time. They gave the name Specularium to a house where they grew plants out of season. Pliny, a famous Roman author, even mentioned that they used oiled cloth or thin sheets of a mineral that was opaque to help protect plants from the weather.
There are also accounts of 13th. century Italians having special houses to grow plants and to protect them from the weather. But both these were passive methods, meaning that you were basically trying to gather heat and light for the plants during the day and to protect the plants from the cold at night.
Korea has a cold winter climate and a passive greenhouse would hardly be able to keep plants healthy and growing in the harsh Korean winters. I began looking on the internet and found a couple of references to Korean greenhouses that had the ability to have the temperature increased or maintained inside the greenhouse. The first was from The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty from 1438 AD where an ondol (underfloor heating system) was used. (Early forms of ondol for Korean house floors may date back as far back as the early centuries BCE.) The second was from Sanga Yorok, a cookbook and growing guide from about 1459 AD. I looked for a translation of this cookbook, because it sounded really cool and would have some amazing recipes and clues to what life was really like back then, but was unsuccessful. I did, however, find a few lines written in Korean and let google translate them into English. The gist of it is that the greenhouse had 3 walls of oiled paper with one wall on the south side also having a lattice and an extra layer of wax paper. The fourth wall was not described, but I assume it was a solid wall. There was some form of matting that could be rolled down at night, or to protect the paper walls from cold winds. The ondol heating system could heat the floor which was covered with a layer of dirt. The dirt floor was sprinkled with water to ensure the right humidity for the plants to grow. Pretty sophisticated system for the time.
The author of Sanga Yorok was one of the Royal Family doctors and I’m sure any heated greenhouses of the time were only built for royalty or the very wealthy. Still, I find it interesting to note that as far as I can tell these heated Korean greenhouse were the first for which we have written proof, and that the Sageuk writers knew about them as well.
See anything in a Sageuk you’re curious about? Contact me and I’ll see what I can find out.