Meandering Pathways: Feng Shui For Your Garden

We are most at home in the out-of-doors and garden when we consider the origins and uses of feng shui.

The oldest form school is principally concerned with the topographic lay of the land and the effects of wind (feng) and water (shui) in the natural world. The movement of wind and water is the path of least resistance. Outdoor feng shui is based in the earth sciences, incorporating seasonal changes, meteorology, geography, and geology.

The Five Elements

WOOD is represented by the color green, tall columnar shapes, and the vertical lines of plants and trees. Its life force energy expands in all directions, growing, rooting, and rising to greet the sun. Wood fuels fire and consumes Earth as trees and plants grow.

Garden Wood Symbols: Growing green plants tend to dominate the garden, and care should be taken to introduce the other four elements to balance and harmonize movement.

METAL, characterized by circular and arched shapes, symbolizes condensing and inwardly contracting movement. Just as a metal ax cuts trees, metal’s forging action symbolizes strength and the ability to cut through obstacles, diminishing the wood element. Similarly, as a chalice contains and pours liquid, metal creates water.

Garden Metal Symbols: White and soft pastel patio furniture, circular tables, ponds, birdbaths, sculpture and arched arbors are all examples of metal.

EARTH is easily identified in terracotta, ceramics, bricks, tiles and earth tones. Their square and rectangular shapes foster a strong foundation and support borders with steep slopes. The earth forges metals while absorbing and damming water.

Garden Earth Symbols: Tiles and stones may be used to add a feeling of safety to a balcony or to counterbalance an oversized pool.

FIRE illuminates with fiery reds. Triangles, pyramids, and conical shapes represent fire symbolizing warmth, passion, and excitement. Fire burns wood and fertilizes the earth with ashes. Its movement ascends, uplifts and brightly ignites extremely dark yin places that may become too stagnant.

Garden Fire Symbols: A well-placed light post may provide safe passage on pathways to entrances and can anchor a missing corner of a building. Strands of small lights illuminating a tree’s branches represent abundant prosperity and spotlighting trees creates a dramatic effect.

WATER blues circulate abundance. Water descends; deep blue or black represents its depth. Water extinguishes fire and encourages growth of the wood element.

Garden Water Symbols: Flowing water should flow toward your structure or dwelling to prevent precious resources or finances from draining away. Water’s financial enhancement may be optimized in areas of career and wealth by installing ponds with koi fish, birdbaths, circulating fountains and aquariums.

Cultivating Chi with the Bagua

At the foundation of feng shui is the spiritual concept of the Tao. It is fundamentally the flow of nature leading to ultimate reality, and depicts walking the path home. Feng shui at its simplest is said to resemble a meandering river or stream. And it is this meandering movement we try to cultivate and harvest increasing health, happiness and prosperity in the form of beneficial life force energy (chi).

We can create a well grounded, healthy and life-affirming environment by using the bagua map, a sacred ancient grid of nine life aspirations overlaid on the landscape, dwelling or room. One can increase and empower the life aspirations and areas of the bagua map.

There are many ways to apply bagua elemental symbols in gardens, such as with garden sculpture, flowers and foliage or by using the colors or shapes of the elements in patio furniture. When properly balanced and enhanced, the outer eight aspirations strengthen the foundation, fostering and protecting the central earth element.

Balancing Yin and Yang

The key to a successful outdoor environment is to create a garden balancing the yin (female/dark) and yang (male/light) principles using the five elements. Yang, open, bright parts of the garden excite activity and are balanced by sheltered areas of yin that invite retreat and solitude. The natural elements of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth facilitate and nourish a growing cycle, encouraging positive progression into the future from a flourishing present, at peace with the past.

The first consideration of one who practices feng shui (also referred to as a geomancer) in a home or business is enhancing and cultivating the external flow of life force surrounding the structure and its inhabitants. Longevity, prosperity, and maximum possibility are the core considerations. The goal is for everyone to aspire to experience and express the beauty of simplicity and communion with the natural world in balance, harmony, and peace.

The Ideal Landscape

Envisioning idyllic feng shui, we gaze upon a picturesque river valley, protected from the harsh cold northerly winds by the high mountains. Rolling hills on either side of this classic site dissipate and slow down the winds and watershed surrounding a home, attracting abundant wildlife. Gentle breezes and the purity of circulating water are paramount to cultivating and generating vitality.

The description of this ideal landscape is most easily illustrated by comparison to a comfortable armchair formation, where the back of the armchair supports your torso, just as in the North the mountains shelter the back of your dwelling. The arms of the chair are representative of the rolling hills to either side of your structure, providing an environment to support lush vegetation.

The perfect locale for your dwelling is in a central clearing (the seat of the armchair) surrounded by nature’s fluid path of least resistance. And what lies before and below is an expansive southern view. Fresh and flowing water such as a river, lake, stream, or pond at a safe distance provides nourishment and a gathering place teaming with life.

Meandering Paths

Traditional feng shui gardens often invite the eye to meander, using a variety of shapes, colors, and textures displayed throughout the seasonal transitions. Classic Chinese gardens tend to accent simplicity one tree, bush, or type of flower at a time. A succession of single budding trees or blossoming flowers alternate throughout the landscape. Different perspectives in height and depth are featured and various elevations (hills and valleys) provide a gently undulating horizon.

Borders and boundaries are to a garden as walls are to a room and are important for containment of chi energy. Garden maintenance is essential. Pruning, deadheading, weeding, raking, and watering keeps the attractive vital aspects of beneficial chi in the garden. Terraces, balconies, and patios may be treated as outdoor rooms. The main entrances could be the back doorway from the home, an arbor, gateway, or the path from the street. The bagua map is first applied directly from these entrances.

Garden paths should meander to lead walkers at a leisurely pace, inviting them to see many perspectives. Upon entering a garden there should be an element of mystery and places that can be discovered, inviting exploration and revelation. Quiet, contemplative, and meditative areas provide solitude and repose from our hectic modern lives, providing an opportunity to commune with nature.

Garden balance

Chi dissipates and disperses in an overexposed garden that is often stressful and uninteresting, while an overgrown garden becomes oppressive and has the same effect as a cluttered room. Barren garden corners will not encourage beneficial life force energy to flourish and weather the seasonal changes, and may indeed wane during the winter months. Planting evergreens in the corner areas of the garden’s bagua sections helps to maintain continued success and auspicious cultivation in gardens.

Gardens and the building floorplan

Outdoor and garden elements can complete what’s missing in a home’s floor plan or interior. There is something to be said for tried-and-true conventions of squared eastern architecture. Our western culture is rather fascinated by unusually shaped houses, especially common in modern architecture where new design is experimented with and unique angles often compromise the factors of human integrity in usage.

Irregularly shaped dwellings created by single room additions, U, L, or T shapes, considered innovative, are actually problematic, causing missing corners of a building. Flags, light posts, birdbaths, arbors, trellis, tall evergreens, standing stones, and tall sculptures are often used to extend and anchor a missing bagua and reestablish the areas. When a client complains about significant difficulties in their finances or relationships the first question I have is about their floor plan irregularities in those areas.

Gardening is a creative and enriching experience that provides grounding and reconnection to the earth. Surround your home with an empowering safe haven of natural beauty. Tend your garden and it will nourish your soul. Set foot outside and take a step in the right direction on the path of life: bring fortune and blessings home through your garden.

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