Feng Shui in the Garden

Can you imagine being able to determine the personalities, frustrations and ambitions of your neighbors by the selection and arrangement of plants growing in their front yards? If you study feng shui, an art that originated in India and went to China along with Buddhism, you may acquire this ability.
For instance, if you have bright red plants at the front of the yard and duller-colored plants closer to the house, you may be “an eager-to-please executive who works very hard but has never made it to the top.” The placement of the red plants probably means that “you arrive home at the end of the day fired up or even angry, and then hide away from the world, shunning social contact until it is time to go to work again.” You are a study in “petulant frustration and unrealized ambition, combined with underlying insecurity.”
The “Feng Shui Garden” (Storey Books, 1998), which is quoted above, is meant to help you “design your garden for health, wealth and happiness.” According to feng shui, too much color in a garden is not a good thing. Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, first observed that “too many colorblind the eye.” There are five elements, according to feng shui, each representing a different part of the color spectrum, which must be carefully blended to produce the desired effect: wood (green/blue), fire (red), earth (yellow/orange), metal (white/silver) and water (blue/black)
Gill Hale, the book’s author, makes the following observations on the color red: “Splashes of red in long borders (beds) may be used to lead the eye forward slowly, but if a path is edged with red plants, the motivation is to get to the end as quickly as possible . . . Yellow in a border, particularly when used with white, can feel motionless; introducing red can bring the border to life.” Yet, too much red in the front of your house, says Hale, will impart restlessness. You will not feel relaxed when you come home, if red plants line your driveway.
Planting any large tree in front of a window is not recommended. Having your view blocked will restrict your thinking and limit your possibilities.
Chi is a kind of energy or divine force that must be present for plants to grow well. “Plants grow best where chi accumulates. In the natural environment this occurs where two natural features meet: for example, at the edge of a pond, where earth meets water.” This beneficial effect does not require an actual water feature, but may be reproduced by the “flow” of a path or planter bed around the garden.
Chi can also move too fast for us to benefit from it. This rapid movement occurs along straight lines, so avoid them in your garden designs. Trees with a strong vertical growth habit – such as Italian cypress and liquidambar – or spiked plants, such as agave will “channel fast-moving chi toward us, producing a knifelike effect in our direction.”
Have you been feeling depressed lately? If there is a tall hedge around your property, close to your windows, your emotional condition is plainly explained by Hale. “A view of the sky places us in our rightful place between heaven and earth.” On the other hand, when “there is no open view . . . in front of the house . . . almost inevitably the person who lives in this house will be depressed,” he writes.
A weakness of the feng shui system is its quasi-astrological bent. Adherents believe, for example, that to improve your fortunes you should move into a house – prior to 2003 – where the front yard faces east, and install a water feature there. If you are a woman and were born in 1951 (on or after Feb. 4), placing a chair facing southwest in your garden is considered beneficial. Enormous success supposedly comes from sitting in the chair placed opposite a terra cotta urn.

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