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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Chinese Feng Shui Masters

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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Chinese Feng Shui Masters

July 15, 2019

Feng shui, the ancient Chinese system of arranging physical objects to create serenity and balance in a home, also offers lessons for modern landscape design. The most important? Work with nature, not against it.

For more than 2,000 years, Taoists have believed in the importance of balancing the opposite forces of yin and yang. The tug of war in a garden is between the natural surroundings and the manmade environment. How you interpret the rules of feng shui will vary depending on the size, location, and topography of your own landscape. As a starting point, try to see things from nature’s point of view.

Here are 10 garden ideas to steal from Chinese feng shui masters:

Water, Fire, Earth

A water feature at the Keukenhof gardens. From the canals of Amsterdam to and reflecting pools in formal gardens, water plays an elemental role in creating atmosphere in Dutch gardens. Photograph by Michell Zappa via Flickr.
Above: A water feature at the Keukenhof gardens. From the canals of Amsterdam to and reflecting pools in formal gardens, water plays an elemental role in creating atmosphere in Dutch gardens. Photograph by Michell Zappa via Flickr.

Natural elements are “forces” in feng shui parlance. Whenever you add a natural element such as water, wood, earth, metal, or fire to your landscape, you honor nature and create balance.

How: Add a fountain (water), a fire pit (fire), terra cotta pots (earth), or wind chimes (metal).

Leisurely Paths

Photograph by Matthew Cunningham. For more of this project, see Landscape Architect Visit: Clamshell Alley on the Coast of Maine.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Cunningham. For more of this project, see Landscape Architect Visit: Clamshell Alley on the Coast of Maine.

Nature is full of curves. Straight lines? A garden path that follows the counters of the land instead of trying to change them will feel more like an adventure than a chore to traverse.

How: Use  irregularly shaped pavers and “grout” them with gravel, or plant low-growing ground cover plants between them. For ideas, see Hardscaping 101: Ground Covers to Plant Between Pavers.

Thoughtful Views

At the resort Commune by the Great Wall part of a structure is built over a pool of water. Walls are constructed of bamboo canes spaced to allow in light. For more of this project, see For Rent: Your Own Bamboo Palace by the Great Wall on Remodelista.
Above: At the resort Commune by the Great Wall part of a structure is built over a pool of water. Walls are constructed of bamboo canes spaced to allow in light. For more of this project, see For Rent: Your Own Bamboo Palace by the Great Wall on Remodelista.

In China, the outdoors and the indoors are two halves of the whole; connect the living spaces physically and visually whenever possible. Frame the views to remind people indoors of the natural landscape that surrounds the house.

How: Plant a flowering tree in a spot where the springtime blossoms will be framed by a window. If you’re building a new house, orient it so the main windows enjoy a bright southern exposure and the garden has full sun all day long. See an example in Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley.

A Sense of Scale

Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams.

The size and placement of natural elements—such as plants, wood, and stone—should complement each other, not compete.

How: Pay attention to the scale of elements so they can blend together as in nature rather than fighting for attention.

Focal Points

Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams.

Give the eye somewhere to rest in the garden.

How: Showcase a specimen tree or a favorite flowering shrub in a spot where there’s room for it to grow to full height and width without crowding.

Sheltering Sky

For more of this project, see A Gardening Shop Plus Café in the Mountains of Japan.
Above: For more of this project, see A Gardening Shop Plus Café in the Mountains of Japan.

A roof overhead will create a cocoon of comfort.

How: Drape fabric over a pergola. Or train vines to grow over an arbor.

Courtyard Culture

Photograph by Aya Brackett. For more of this garden, see The Little Shop of Flowers in Tokyo.
Above: Photograph by Aya Brackett. For more of this garden, see The Little Shop of Flowers in Tokyo.

Walled gardens and courtyards create a sense of security in a garden. Beyond the practical benefits of adding privacy and eliminating wind, a courtyard can calm the mind by blocking out the distractions of the greater world.

How: If you’re building a house from scratch, design it around the garden (instead of making the building the focal point) and add doorways to connect as many rooms as possible to the serene internal courtyard.

Reminders of Nature

To bring life into a New York apartment with no outdoor garden, a windowsill of potted plants adds an organic touch. See more at Life on the Edge: An Architect&#8
Above: To bring life into a New York apartment with no outdoor garden, a windowsill of potted plants adds an organic touch. See more at Life on the Edge: An Architect’s Eccentric NYC Loft on Remodelista. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

In a city where you may have no physical outdoor space, you can extend the natural landscape indoors by adding foliage, greenery, and other reminders of the airy world beyond your windows.

How: Collect houseplants and group them together, in clay or terra cotta pots. Place them at eye level.

Rustic Furnishings

Rustic furniture will blend beautifully with the natural surroundings. For more, see  Shade Garden Ideas to Steal from an English Woodland. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: Rustic furniture will blend beautifully with the natural surroundings. For more, see 10 Shade Garden Ideas to Steal from an English Woodland. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

Wood is one of the five natural elements to include in any feng shui garden design. Simple, rustic furniture complements the natural surroundings.

How: Place a wooden chair in a spot where it will remind passersby how much they like to sit down for a while to watch birds and bugs fly by.

Stillness and Movement

Photograph by Sebastian Zachariah courtesy of Architecture Brio. For more, see A River Runs Through It: Architecture Brio in India.
Above: Photograph by Sebastian Zachariah courtesy of Architecture Brio. For more, see A River Runs Through It: Architecture Brio in India.

Create interest by contrasting static elements with movement.

How: Build a bridge over a stream or a walkway next to a pool of water.

N.B. For more inspiration to create peace and harmony in the garden, see:

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