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Feng Shui
by Liz Primeau
by Liz Primeau

Liz Primeau's second edition of Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, updated and with a new chapter on using art in your garden, plus a design and garden-care workbook section, will be released in January, 2002.

She is at present writing a new book on front-yard gardens, to be published by Firefly Books in spring, 2003.

Liz is the the founding editor of the Canadian Gardening magazine.

July 25, 2004

When it comes to crystals, astrology and most other Eastern philosophies, I'm from Missouri (to use an old expression). But the first time I heard about feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice of integrating the energies in a building or a property to create balance and harmony, it struck a chord. I've always been aware of the invisible "feel" of the houses and gardens I've visited, even if non-believers could attribute their energies to prevailing winds, sunny corners or the bread baking in the oven. 

I decided to suspend my few disbeliefs and give feng shui a try, half expecting I'd be told my garden's design let all the good spirits escape and kept in the bad ones. But my consultant, Helen Williams of Place Right (, prefers the positive approach. "Feng shui should encourage people to express themselves more fully and honestly," she says. "It creates a link between your personal energy and your garden's." Her only negative comment about mine was the back left corner, where arching shrubs grow over a small woodland pathway leading into my neighbour's yard. "This is your wealth area, so it's not a good idea for it to have an opening where all your riches can flow out," she said. She suggested a fence, but I demurred. There's nothing I like better on a summer day than to sit on my new lounge chair in the opposite corner of the garden and gaze through the opening to the medley of greens on my neighbour's side. Besides, to our grandchildren it's a forest to play in, leading to a foreign land. Helen suggested an arbour instead, and sketched one shaped like a tryptich, with a centre arch higher than the sides. "They should be bent slightly inward, like enfolding arms that hold your riches in," she said. Lovely.

Like other feng shui specialists, to assess a garden Helen uses a ba gua, a diagram made up of nine adjoining circles or ovals that represent different aspects of life, stacked in threes. Roughly, here's how the areas are set up, from the lower left front counter-clockwise around the garden: learning; career; support; children; relationships and marriage; fame; wealth (left rear, remember?); and ancestors. Ch'i, the main life force, holds the centre position.

Sometimes Helen is consulted on just the back garden, sometimes the front, but since our garden flows almost seamlessly from the road in the front to the lot line in back, it seemed fitting to address it as a whole. Conveniently, that put the house smack in the centre, the area of ch'i. 

Auspiciously, the relationships area holds our gravelled sitting area and my husband's hand-dug pond, his pride and joy, and is our main social area. Helen suggested we put a small goddess statue in the corner by the pond, to denote and contain the garden's generosity and hospitality. The learning area, however, contains nothing but the barren asphalt driveway and a strip of grass on the neighbour's side; Helen seemed relieved that I'm planning to remove the grass and put in a new bed, which could prove to be a learning experience. And since blue is a preferred colour for learning, she suggested blue fescues instead of the green native grasses I'd planned, with a large rock or two to hold in the energies. For the career area: a small pond near the house entrance (amazing, just what I'd planned!) with water flowing toward the door, plus a vine trim to clear the doorway and allow creative energies to flow into the house. The support area could use more male presence, perhaps in the form of plants my husband favours, such as a patch of greyish hens and chickens. The children's area has some of the right elements, like the white trilliums and a small cement lion my daughter gave me years ago, but it could use a whimsical piece of found art to evoke childhood. 

Apart from the leaking corners, it seems that the energies in my garden are interacting in a generally harmonious pattern. I can fix the minor problems with elements that suit the overall design, satisfying both my esthetic sense and my new certainty that there is indeed something to feng shui. The only area I'm worried about is ancestors. It holds the garage as well as the back deck, and if my forebears get a look at the inside of our garage, which my husband calls the waste transfer station, they're likely to disown me. Helen suggested I mollify them by arranging a big display of pots on the deck, planted with the deceaseds' favourite flowers. 

Sounds like a plan to me. 


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