There was something wrong about my new garden. Couldn’t put my finger on it, just didn’t feel right. Then, I learned about feng shui.
Feng shui (pronounced “fung-shway”) isn’t a nasty word, or a religion, just a few easy principles used to create pleasing, comfortable arrangements of plants and materials. By taking into consideration many different elements, it maximizes good energies or feelings.
Its aim is to reduce “unhappy” elements of design, such as excessive straight lines, sharp angles, narrow walks and steps, poor lighting, clutter, clashing colors, competing sounds, bad weather exposure, poor plant choices and so on, to improve the overall feel of a garden.
When I first moved into my 1940s cottage, the landscape was totally angular, from the curb, drive and sidewalk to the original green worm of shrubs hugging the boxy-looking house itself. Nothing for me to do but mow, edge and prune. Hated it.
So I redesigned everything, starting by reversing the garden to face my house rather than the street, so it welcomes me when I walk out my door. This alone made a huge difference in how I feel about it.
I curved the walk, rounded the lawn and added some round decks, and hid bad views with carefully-placed plants and fence sections without blocking good views and cool summer breezes. Installed a water feature with a splashy waterfall that faces the main deck plus a fire bowl for cool evenings, and night lighting to help getting to and fro a lot easier while banishing dark spots.
And gradually the generic foundation shrubs gave way to a more lavish mélange of flora, including evergreens of different sizes and shapes, flowering plants and interesting container collections, all selected for year-round pleasure with low maintenance.
While feng shui experts strongly dislike “recipes” for bringing calm into the garden, here are some easy, universal concepts worth considering for your own landscape:
Create a roomy space for people to gather and relax — a deck, patio or a small lawn area — and place garden furniture where you can have your back to a wall or hedge, with an unobstructed view of the garden; have small tables, plants (including ones in pots), or even large boulders to one side like arms on an armchair. Remove clutter for a positive feeling for the entire garden space. In other words, make your guests and yourself comfortable and feeling safe and secure — just as comfortable as if you are in your own indoors living room or den.
Redesign straight walks and edges into gentle curves or place a plant, urn, sculpture or other impediment to break up their non-stop look and feel. Tone down or round off corners and break up solid walls, fences or hedges with an irregular plant or object. When selecting garden art, choose rounded art forms over pointed ones.
Replace high-maintenance plants and mix new ones in different sizes, shapes and colors, so none will be overwhelmed by the others. Brighten dark areas to dispel gloom by adding lights, light-colored plants or even a silvery gazing globe or wall mirror.
Both water and fire bring excellent feng shui, especially when up close in the near center of your garden, just like camping beside a lake with a nice fire going. Add a gentle wind chime. And make wildlife comfortable in your garden, especially birds, butterflies, gentle bees and dragonflies (which you will have, if you have a decent water feature).
Just like a comfy den, a good garden will usually end up feeling good. Take your time with these universal ideas. That’d be good feng shui, too.
• Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.