by Carol C. Wheelock
This time of year most of us are looking forward to sitting outside, enjoying our yards, and planting our gardens. After a long white winter, green grass and flowers sound very appealing. As we make plans for the warmer summer weather, it is a perfect time to take basic feng shui principles into account and apply them to outdoor living spaces.
Feng Shui is the art of bringing balance and harmony to our surroundings. Although from China, its roots are universal. All ancient peoples lived in harmony with their surroundings or they didn't survive. Our surroundings affect us and we reflect our surroundings. The goal of feng shui is to create environments that support and work for us, rather than against us. These environments can be homes, schools, businesses, or outside spaces.
Feng means wind and shui means water. Wind and water symbolize the unseen and seen in our lives. They also represent the optimum flow of chi, or energy, in our spaces. Meandering brooks and gentle breezes are the most comfortable and appealing. Hurricanes or flood waters rush by too quickly and make people feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Stagnant water or stifling conditions are equally uncomfortable.
Consider first the entrances to your property and home. "What you first see most affects your chi," is a feng shui adage that illustrates how important an entrance can be. Is it clear how to enter? If people get confused, chances are the energy flow will be confused also. Do you feel welcome? If you are greeted with outdoor clutter, swings nobody uses anymore, and/or reminders of unfinished projects, that will affect how you and your guests feel about being there. Overgrown entrances, gardens overrun with weeds, and prickly plants are not welcoming and block the flow of energy. Look at your entrance and determine what it is saying about who lives there.
Driveways, walkways, and paths indicate the flow of chi into your space. Are they straight so that the energy rushes through? Or do they curve and mimic the meandering stream or the gentle breeze? If a driveway is long and straight, staggered plantings on either side of the driveway can help to modify that rushing feeling. Pathways can more easily be adjusted. A curved path to a house or to a garden is very inviting and provides a welcoming entrance to any space. Gardens themselves are more appealing when they are curved and not straight and angular.
A sense of protection and a definition of space are also important to consider. If your property is open and exposed, those who live there may feel vulnerable. Use fencing and/or plants to define space and property lines in the back and on the sides. Rather than a straight row of trees, plant trees in groupings of odd numbers to give a more natural look. In the front, however, it is best to leave an open view.
Sitting outside on a warm day is a treat. Rather than just plunking a few lawn chairs down in the middle of the yard, consider creating a few spaces especially for sitting. Just as the property needs a sense of protection, places to sit do also. In feng shui, sitting in the "command position" with a view of the entrance and your back protected is very important. Choose spaces that are naturally protected in the back or add shrubs or some other protection behind the chairs or benches. Garden walls can also make wonderful places to sit if they are designed to be the right height and width for comfort. Seating for more than one person invites conversation, whereas seating for one can provide a quiet place for meditation or reading.
As you move from one type of outdoor space into another, provide some sort of transition area to indicate the change in function. It might be from an open play space into an herb garden or from a more public space into a private one. Gates, shrubs, statues, and bridges all make wonderful transitions, just as a front hall or foyer creates a transition space into a home or other building.
Visually, color and shape contribute to the overall feel of energy and balance. In nature, there is a variety of plant sizes and shapes. For a more natural and balanced feel in your yard and garden, plant with this in mind so that when you look at a group of trees, shrubs, and/or flowers, your eye meanders as it follows the plants. This also applies to pots and other containers of plants on porches, decks and patios.
Color has a tremendous impact on us. Reds, oranges, and yellows are the warmer colors and tend to bring a sense of energy to a space. Blues and purples are cooler and quieter colors. Green is a color of healing and balance, which is one reason why it feels so comforting to be surrounded by the greens of the natural world. By planting flowers of different colors, you can create spaces with very different energies and moods.
Natural sounds add a feeling of being connected to nature. Bird baths and feeders attract the sound and movement of birds. An outdoor fountain adds the flow and sound of water. Since water is associated with prosperity in feng shui, a fountain brings an added bonus.
Consider other senses also. Are there plants that make you want to get closer and inhale deeply? Have you planted a few herbs or other plants that can be tasted on the spot? Plants with interesting textures beg to be touched.
Ponds, streams, rivers, and pools can all be attractive features. The best place for water is in front of a house. A pond in a front yard in a rural setting is particularly appealing and auspicious. Most people prefer to have pools in back of their houses because of privacy and safety issues. If that is the case, it is best to position the pool away from the house if possible. The important considerations with any water are that it is clean and not flowing too swiftly, thus taking the energy downstream with it. If a fast-moving river is in back of your house, put a barrier between the house and the river to symbolically protect you from your energy being swept downstream. It could be a hedge, fence, stone wall or other boundary.
If your outdoor space lacks energy, there are many ways to increase and enhance the energy flow. Hang a wind chime that has a sound you enjoy. Banners and flags (in good condition) add movement. Add art in the form of garden sculptures. By providing natural habitats, wild animals will come, bringing their natural energy with them.
Although there are more layers to feng shui - working with the bagua (a template or grid that is superimposed upon any space, its sections corresponding to specific areas of life) in detail, balancing yin and yang, and balancing the five elements - working with energy flow can greatly improve the feel of your outdoor space. Your yard, porch, deck, or patio should be places that you can go to and be replenished. By taking the time to create healthy and balanced outdoor spaces, you will be creating the spaces that support you and bring more balance to you and your life.
Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed. of Feng Shui Vermont is a certified feng shui practitioner who has studied in the United Sates and China. She practices Black Sect or western feng shui. Carol does private consultations for homes, schools, libraries, and businesses; clutter counseling and clearing; spaces clearings; phone consultations; presentations; and teaches workshops throughout the United States. She also does personal clearings.