Remodeling and Home Design

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    Thank you - I love this! I just had two ailanthus altissimas (tree of heaven weed trees) removed so my back yard is now a blank slate, therefore this is perfect timing as I contemplate during the cold season how I'm going to design my back yard. Maybe 'amateurs' rather than 'dummies' is a better word :)

    Oh dear, the first comment posted and already the word dummies is coming back to haunt me! Good luck with your design!

    Rebecca Sweet

    This is , without a doubt, one of the best posts I've read anywhere!! I've never truly understood the basic elements of this art, even when my very first client (an older Chinese wan who sweetly and patiently tried to explain things to me in her very broken English).. You've so simply clarified the basic principles with excellent photos to demonstrate your point... wonderful job!! I'll most definitely boomark this for future use!!

    Rebecca, how flattering! The gardens you design are already lovely, but this can be a fun tool to use when you KNOW something's not quite right with a garden but you can't quite put your finger on it.


    I had heard of fung shei but never attempted to figure it out. Thanks for the intro. I love the idea of looking to nature's parts for inspiration. And as you said to Rebecca, it's nice to have more tools in the design bag. I don't know if I'll try to incorporate more jagged triangles and red/orange into my garden, though . . . will have to think about that a little.

    Based on the photos I've seen of your garden, it's hard for me to picture red blooms fitting in. But it doesn't have to be the color red or even come from the plants. How about some of those pretty rustic teepees that have beans or clematis growing up them?


    'Western garden design principles, which essentially use a different vocabulary to reach the same harmonious result'.

    Nuff said.

    I enjoyed reading this as they're solid principles, feng shei or nought.

    I agree that Cypress as a screen isn't exactly top drawer. Like a line of sentinels, but I do like the way they punctuate a landscape when ad-hoc.

    Enjoy your California sunshine Susan, it's chucking it down over here.

    I agree, if cypress belongs anywhere, it's punctuating the landscape in Italy or France.

    And I AM enjoying the sunshine! Only one episode of "chucking it down" over here so far this year, but I think darker days are just around the corner.


    This was really interesting. I've really only heard of feng shui for inside the house, not outside. I'm glad to see I have most of these elements somewhere in my yard, especially the backyard. Is this type of feng shui meant to be used in each garden space or the garden as a whole?

    The idea is to bring each element into the garden as a whole. When you're playing around wiithin individual beds, as in the photos I showed, I think it's more about understanding the dominant element and then seeing if it there is anything you can add by way of support to make the space seem more cohesive.

    But reallly, it shouldn't be a chore, more just a different way to view your garden.


    A very good post on Feng shui for the garden. I actually have read feng shui gardening books and some general feng shui books which address it in the garden. More for general knowledge here. Probably not so many in my area have even heard of feng shui let alone consult with an advisor. I have difficulty wrapping my mind around the principles but try for that all around 'good feeling' in the garden and house. Your three pictures on fire and earth do an excellent job of illustrating the principle behind it and help me to visualize it all.

    I must say your husband did a great job decorating the house. Love those spiders everywhere!

    Glad you had fun at the GWA conference. I met Helen in May when I visited NC and she is just an awesome gardener and person. Most fun and I could see a lot of hugging going on even for non-huggers like me. You have a great day! And yes do please help support me not to overplant those sword leaved plants (a much better name)!

    Love the thoroughness of your comment! I left a comment on Town Mouse and Country Mouse's blog earlier and called it a twofer since I responded to two posts at once, but you've got me beat.

    I have trouble wrapping my mind around the principles too. It was actually easier in this blog post where I did it after the fact rather than when I'm actually creating the design and holding everything in my head.


    I love this post! Thank you, Susan. A N.H. friend wrote a book about feng shui in the garden that was well-received locally, but it has been so long since I read it and really considered its application in design. Sometimes the principles come naturally, often not. This is a great refresher, and I think I'll take with me this week to review areas of a client's home that need improvement next year.

    Thanks Lynn! I love it when a fellow designer finds something of interest in one of my posts.

    I'm actually not so great at thinking about the feng shui aspects when I'm starting the design. It's more useful to be later in the design process or when I visit the garden after it's installed and something doesn't quite feel right but I can't put my finger on it. Analyzing it from a feng shui perspective sometimes helps me figure out WHY its not quite right so I can adjust it.


    Thanks for the info Susan, feng shui seems to be coming up quite a bit lately. It seems as if its the latest tool that people are trying to use to have successful lives.

    2 of my recent clients are very interested in the practice of feng shui. And I've been similarly ticked-off by the accepting of feng shui principles above basic aesthetic guidelines.
    Both of them have adopted these principles as a way to 'increase the positive energy in their lives', but in my opinion, at the expense of the environment around them.

    Following these principles has meant that the garden has suffered as a result - in one case, two alien invasive trees have been allowed to grow and spread their seed, because their feng shui guide believed they must stay.

    I believe that if there were any truth to this philosophy, it would fit far more harmoniously with basic design and good environmental practice, and sometimes just a little common sense is all it takes for us to live happier, more successful lives?

    You're right, and what you're experiencing is what happens when someone interprets feng shui as a rigid set of rules borrowed wholesale from another culture. One of its tenants IS living in harmony with the world around you, but people don't understand that, which reinforces that advice is great, but you can't attain peace via a consultation or by moving your furniture around.

    Because I want to follow this idea, I actually struggle a bit when a client wants to eliminate their lawn in a neighborhood that is strongly traditional looking. But I also think the less-lawn look is desirable culturally, aesthetically and environmentally, so feel it's an acceptable area to push the boundaries.


    Lynn (@indigogardens) told me to come and read this, and it really is interesting. I chuckled when you pointed out how a little white goes a long way -- I've been struggling toward a relaxed place to hang out in my backyard for that exact reason. It's surrounded by what else? A wooden fence painted bright white, and it has to stay that way because half of it belongs to the neighbors. I'm getting there, but gosh, that overabundance of white is obnoxious, and it's the opposite of how I've had to deal with white before. This is another helpful method of looking for answers.

    Thanks for posting!

    I'm flattered Lynn sent you my way!

    It's interesting that my feng shui interpretation of how to use the color white in the garden is what caught your attention - do you remember Michelle G asking gardeners what they thought of the color white on Twitter a while ago? This post was partly inspired by that question, as I was one of those who essentially answered "handle with care."

    Now that you see what lengths I'll go to to prove a point, you'll want to make sure we're on the same side next time a major twitter debate breaks out!

    Town Mouse

    I took a brief workshop about Feng Shui in Hong Kong a few years ago, and the master told us that the directions for each element actually change each year. That more or less convinced me it wasn't going to be all that useful to me.

    You sum it up nicely: Good design is good design.

    Thanks TM! There's a fine line between being open to new approaches and always chasing after the next new thing.

    Susan aka Miss R

    I would have said, more left coast new agey feng shui stuff that I thankfully don't have to deals with...until...I got an email from a client yesterday. She told me they had met with a Feng shui expert and that her ideas for the very modernist house and difficult site are all topsy turvy from the results. Happily I haven't even started her plan yet!


    Beautiful spaces!

    I remember an HGTV episode where a feng-shui garden designer butted heads with a homeowner who did feng-shui for interior spaces. I guess any ancient practice has enough variables and interpretation built in will have a certain amount of controversy about how to do it right. I've looked at some texts on the subject that seem a little arbitrary, but sometimes trying make something work pushes you in an interesting direction you might not have thought of in the first place.

    I think where people get it wrong is treating it as a closed system approach with rigid rules. How can you create a harmonious space, indoors or out, that doesn't take the greater community into consideration? But as you say, for the most part it's just another way to push yourself in new directions when tapping into your creative side.


    Wow, thanks for the article, Susan! I've read and re-read it twice now to try and soak it all in. I knew nothing of Feng Shui, so it was a real education. Thank you. I'm Stumbling this to help get it the attention it deserves.
    Thanks Gen! I signed up for Stumbled Upon so that I could comment on one of your posts, but haven't really followed up to figure it out. You're giving me the incentive to try a little harder.

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