The five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water are the agents of chi and represent shapes, colours and sense. The aim in feng shui is to create a space where no one element is dominant and a balance exists. We can achieve this by careful placement of garden buildings and ornaments. This is not to say that a garden must have something of every colour, or of every shape. There is an old Chinese saying, “too many colours blind the eye”, and we have all seen gardens that are full of bright coloured plants, ornaments and features. They make an incredible visual show, but are not conducive to relaxation or harmony.
The feng shui garden follows the example of the natural world in striving for a balance between shape and colour. It gives us the scope to experiment and introduce our favourite exotic plants or outlandish sculptures as well as intriguing garden buildings.
All plants represent the wood element, yet the shapes and colours of plants and the settings in which we place them can suggest other elements. Use columnar trees and trellis with upright wooden supports.
Fire is suggested in plants with pointed leaves and the introduction of even a single specimen can transform a lifeless bed. Triangles and pyramid shapes are also representative of fire and many supports for climbing plants are available in this shape.
Earth is suggested in paving and pathway materials. The real thing — the garden soil — is not on show in the feng shui garden, since it will be covered with plants. Flat-topped fences, trellises and walkways suggest the earth element. Too much of this shape can depress the chi of a place.
Round shapes and domes represent the metal element. The yin and yang aspects of this in the garden can be very different. Tall, closely-packed oval conifers can be menacing to walk through. On the other hand, a series of small coniferous add an element of fun. All-white gardens can have a lifeless feel but in a small conservatory they have a pleasantly cooling effect.
Apart from the real thing, the water element is suggested by meandering shapes both in paths and in planting. Gravel and heather gardens are an example of water-shaped planting.
By Ritu Kapoor, feng shui expert changing the form of the elements