A welcome early spring has come to Seoul, waking the country from a long Covid-19 hibernation. Photo: Tom Coyner

SEOUL – Seoul’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) palaces are not only the city’s most iconic structures and its most must-visit tourist attractions, they are picture-perfect paradises for photographers – especially at this time of year.

Seoul-based US photographer Tom Coyner has been photographing Northeast Asia’s Autumn leaves since he first made landfall in the region as a student in Japan in 1970.

This year, he returned to one of his favorite locations: Changdeokgung, or Changdeok Palace.

Built in the early 15th century, “The Palace of Prospering Virtue” encompasses the famous Biwon or “Secret Garden.” (Also known less evocatively as Huwon, or “Back Garden”).  The walled-in garden comprises a forested trove of trails, ponds and pavilions. In classic Korean style, it is landscaped as minimally as possible: Here, nature is the artist.

Though Coyner has previously presented a gallery of the palace in its winter coat, it is arguably at its best every Fall when the leaves change color, sheathing the landscape in a short-lived but spectacular psychedelic livery.

A UNSECO World Heritage Site, Biwon is today an oasis of bucolic calm amid the roar of downtown Seoul. The garden, once exclusively reserved for the relaxation of royals, is now open to Everyman.  The main entrance awaits visitors just a few minutes’ walk from Anguk Subway Station.

Walls, such as the restored brickwork seen here, traditionally kept the riff raff out of the rarified, royal climes of the Secret Garden. Photo: Tom Coyner
Appropriately attired visitors enter ancient gates. Photo: Tom Coyner
Exit today, enter yesterday. Photo: Tom Coyner
Autumn leaves and a viewing pavilion are reflected in an ornamental lily pond. Photo: Tom Coyner
Biwon’s pavilions – such as the oldest, pictured here – offered royals locations for contemplation and introspection, as well as a respite from the cares of state. Photo: Tom Coyner
In Korean traditional architecture, the key aesthetic feature was the roof. Photo: Tom Coyner
Autumn leaves explode over the old servants’ quarters. Photo: Tom Coyner
A trail into Olde Korea. Photo: Tom Coyner
While the key aesthetic of modern Korean landscaping and architecture may well be “Dominate nature!” in gentler times, the concept was to let the landscape speak for itself. Photo: Tom Coyner
A couple stroll through the autumnal trails of the Secret Garden. Photo: Tom Coyner
A visitor takes a seat in a location where only royals previously relaxed. Photo: Tom Coyner
Whispers of yesteryear as visitors don hanbok – traditional Korean silk robes – in the grounds of Biwon. Photo: Tom Coyner

For more photographs of Changdeokgung and Biwon by Coyner, please click here