A Feng Shui garden uses specific design principles to create a flowing balance throughout a living space. If you’d like to cultivate this kind of garden, you’ll draw upon the four directions and five elements for both harmony and beauty. This guide covers all the basics you need to know to create this type of garden at home. It’s a wonderful place you can retreat for a bit of calm and replenishment.
Feng Shui originated in China some six thousand years ago. In its native language, Feng translates to “wind” and Shui translates to “water”. Spiritual masters have studied this spatial art form and its effect on human behavior for thousands of years. When used correctly, this practice balances energy in a space, and has a positive effect on people’s wellbeing.
Feng Shui principles incorporate the five elements: Wood, Earth, Metal, Water, and Fire. Each of these elements has their own energies. When manipulated, they can be used to influence well-being.
By using the Feng Shui ideal, we can create a positive living space that brings better fortune to every part of our lives. From career aspirations and growth, through to love and contentment. It can even affect personal health and well-being, financial success, and spiritual growth. Therefore, all life aspects need to be addressed to create an ideal balance.
There are many articles out there concentrating on how to promote good energies within the home, but few are written about extending these principles into the garden. This is where we’re going to concentrate. After all, a harmonious outdoor space will not only create further positivity, but will diffuse any negative energies coming into your home. Most importantly, it’ll sing to your soul!
Firstly, Let’s Talk Feng Shui Garden Design Principles
As with all aspects of design, your garden space is used as a whole. This is then divided into many different categories. Each of the categories symbolizes a different aspect on your life, determined by its orientation. In plain English, this translates to which way it faces: North, South, East, or West.
Each orientation is linked to one of the five elements, which in turn, is linked to a planting color theme. I have added an image below which should make it a little easier to understand.
Let’s Start with the North Aspect
This garden direction is associated with one’s career path—any area in which we strive professionally. The symbolizing element here is Water, and its colors are deep blues, purples, and blacks.
The Northeast represents one’s spiritual growth and knowledge. Earth is the element here, and it can be interpreted as any natural medium or structure. Boulders, rocks, shingle, sand, and pebbles are a few ideas. Use natural yellows, ochres, oranges, and browns in this area. You’re aiming to create a comfortable haven, pleasing to the eye and soothing for the soul.
Here, energies focus on health and personal longevity. Wood is its element, and its symbolizing color is green. Dedicate this space to all living plants by using a spectrum of green foliage with a gentle infusion of soothing color. It’s important to create height and balance through your planting, and even out dense and void areas.
This area is all about wealth and financial security. The element associated with it is Soft Wood, meaning carved or handcrafted wood. Gold, green, blue, red, and purple are suitable complementary colors to be used in this category.
Energy for the South is focused on recognition and fame. It’s all about accepting and recognizing social skills and personal abilities. The element here is Fire, so this is the perfect place for a grill, barbecue, or fire pit. Corresponding colors are bright and vibrant: reds, oranges and yellows. Typical flame hues.
This part of the garden is about love, relationships, and being at peace. Energies here are focused on maximizing social time and gaining the most from relationships. With Earth as its element, use natural yellow, brown, taupe, dusky pink, and cream tones. Add comfortable seating areas using natural fabrics and relaxed, informal planting.
The West is the most active aspect of your garden, and focuses on children and creativity. A place where we can reconnect with simple pleasures and hobbies. This is a perfect space for a playground, or for practicing Pilates or Yoga. In this space, we can feel totally “grounded” to enjoy these pleasures. Metal is prominent here, with white, silver, grey, copper, and blue tones.
Finally, energy in this area is focused on travel, helpful people and benefits. This is a positive place to sit and discuss work plans, form travel wish lists, make new friends, and catch up with existing ones. The element here is also Metal, with a corresponding color theme similar to that of the West—white, silver, grey, and black.
So Let’s Recap:
Each of the elements has hues assigned to it, which symbolize the element through color. By arranging the garden in this way, we can use materials and shades that perfectly complement these categories. As a result, this brings positive energy—or “Chi”, as it’s known—into each and every area of our lives.
Now for the Fun Bit!
I may be alone here, but I just love researching, sourcing, and arranging all the elements it takes to make a garden work. Similarly, even gardens that look informal, (and sometimes chaotic), have taken a fair amount of time to plan and create the right “feel”.
Every aspect needs to be taken into account before any groundwork or planting can be carried out. This includes space, orientation, height, sun/shade, soil type and personal use. In the years that I’ve been working both in and on gardens, I’ve kept journals detailing my favourites for each garden theme. I call it the “Hot List”.
My Feng Shui Hot List contains plants, furniture, ornaments and accessory ideas for each element of the garden. Well-tried and tested, this is the surefire way to achieve positive “Chi”. Below are some of the most spectacular, colorful plants, and helpful ideas on how to accessorize.
Top 5 Shrubs:
Ceanothus “Midnight Magic” – Lovely evergreen with shiny ovate leaves and midnight blue flower heads.
Buddlea “Buzz Indigo” – A medium-sized deciduous shrub with grey-green foliage. It’s topped with indigo blue flower spires up to 6 inches long. Good for wildlife.
Sambucus nigra “Black Lace” – A tall, splendid specimen shrub with dark, lacy foliage on deep purple stems. Those stems are topped with pretty pink flower heads in summer.
Cotinus “Royal Purple” – Large shrub/tree with stunning dark red-purple foliage and plumes of fluffy pink flower heads. Good ornamental tree, commonly known as the “Smoke Bush Tree”
Acer palmatum “Bloodgood” – I couldn’t resist this striking Japanese maple with a slightly tiered form. It’s very well renowned in Japanese garden design.
Pittosporum tenuifolium “Tom Thumb” – A small, compact pittosporum with a rounded shape. This is a great evergreen with small, wavy, dark purple leaves. Its young growth is bright green and contrasts beautifully.
Top Herbaceous Plants
Salvia nemorosa “Sensation Deep Blue” – An aromatic addition, this perennial sage is clump-forming with mounds of dark green leaves. It’s topped with vivid deep blue flowers all through summertime.
Digitalis “Dalmation Purple” – This is a favorite Foxglove that usually flowers well in its first year. Lovely deep purple bell flowers appear on tall spikes over a low mound of large, textured foliage.
Pennisetum x advena “Rubrum” – A deep red/purple tender grass, which can reach around 2 metres high. Topped with impressive arching flower heads from August to October.
Heuchera “Midnight Rose” – Brilliant evergreen ground cover plant with marbled dark burgundy and pink mounded round leaves. Delicate pannicles of cream flowers appear late spring
Iris sibirica “Deep Blue” – I just love a strong, vibrant iris interplanted with contrasting purples, and this one won’t disappoint. Grows to around 1 m in height with a long flowering season and a rich blue hue.
Canna Lily “Tropicanna Black” – With its unfurling foliage of black and plum-red, this magnificent Canna has tall stems with scarlet red flower heads in summer. Suitable for zones 8 – 11.
Features and Accessories:
- Use garden mirrors to create depth and interest, and re-create a reflection similar to that of water.
- Incorporate a pond or stream, wildlife-friendly water features, and/or bird baths into this element area.
- Add a garden seat or bench of similar colors. Almost everyone enjoys sitting and contemplating the calm in this watery area.
Acr palmatum “Orange Dream” – This magnificent large shrub boasts tangerine-colored leaves with a dark orange margin. They mature to lime green and yellow in autumn. Height to 4 metres when fully grown.
Pseudolarix amabilis – Commonly known as Golden Larch, this is a slow-growing, medium-sized tree with fine gold autumn foliage. It grows to 3-5 metres tall.
Spirea japonica “Candlelight” – An outstanding medium-sized shrub with soft yellow-toothed leaves and pink flower heads in early summer.
Choisya ternata “Sundance” – This medium-sized Mexican Orange Blossom has cheerful bright yellow new foliage. That gradually turns to yellow-green as it matures. Clusters of white flowers appear in spring.
Cotinus coggygria “Golden Spirit” – A yellow form of the more commonly known purple Smoke Bush Tree. This 2-metre-tall shrub with perfectly rounded, glowing leaves adds a splash of gold to the autumn garden.
Top Herbaceous Plants
Helenium “Sahins Early Flowerer” – I just love these, as they bring a bit of razzle-dazzle to a sunny bed. Yellow, ochre, orange, and gold flowers run right through the summer. These grow to 1.2 metres high.
Rudbeckia fulgida “Goldsturm” – Also known as “Black-eyed Susan”, this clump-forming bright golden beauty has oodles of dark-eyed deep yellow flowers on dark green stems. Furthermore, it has good continuous flowering and reaches a height of around 60 cm.
Dryopteris erythrosora – This Japanese wood fern is a semi-evergreen bronzed beauty, perfect for a semi-shaded spot. With its triangular-shaped fronds and colorful foliage, this looks especially good planted en masse.
Cosmos atrosanguineus “Chocolate” – This half-hardy aromatic plant has velvet chocolate-maroon flowers from June through to September, and grows to around 75 cm in height.
Canna Lily “Yellow King Humbert” – An intensely rich yellow and orange Canna, which blooms right through mid summer to autumn and grows to a height of 1.5 metres.
Features and Accessories
- Interlink large stones and rocks with natural mediums.
- Use natural pottery and earthenware. Include large pots and urns for grasses and flowers. Let variegated ivy trail over the sides.
- Keep the planting simple—don’t have too much going on, as less is so much more, here.
Phyllostachys “Aurea” – A classic among the bamboo family, this is a golden variety that will grow up to 8m tall, with light green, grass-like leaves. Good for screening and for adding a touch of wilderness.
Trachycarpus fortunei – Also known as the “Chinese Windmill Palm”, it’s a stout, evergreen palm and an essential part of an exotic garden. Very hardy and attractive, with mid-green fan-like leaves.
Griselinia littoralis “Variegata” – A large shrub with variegated bright green and yellow, slightly wavy-looking leaves. Evergreen and woody-stemmed, with a semi-open form.
Fatsia Japonica – This Japanese aralia is an evergreen shrub with branched stems and large, glossy, palmate leaves. Grows to 4 metres with small white flower clusters appearing in autumn.
Picea glauca “Arnesons Blue Variegated” – A slow-growing, cone-shaped conifer with blue-green foliage and tight habit. Full height 1.2 meters.
Top Herbaceous Plants
Rosmarinus officinalis – Commonly known as the herb rosemary, this evergreen woody perennial has fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves topped with mid-blue flowers in summer.
Geranium renardii – The grey-green, soft textured leaves of this geranium are topped with sprays of white, purple veined flowers in midsummer. A compact plant with a slowly spreading form.
Hosta “Afterglow” – This is a bigger variety of the lovely heart-shaped Hosta plant. Large, dark green leaves are edged with a thick light green margin, forming an impressive mound. Pale mauve flowers on tall stems appear in late spring.
Acanthus mollis – Alternatively known as “Bear’s Breeches”, this architectural plant has clusters of deeply lobed, glossy green leaves that grow up to 40 cm long. Tubular, white flowers grow on a long spike from May through to August ,and can reach a top height of 1.8 metres.
Miscanthus sinensis “Kleine Silberspinne” – This short miscanthus grass has stunning, deep green leaves that turn orange and gold when mature. Rosy pink flower heads appear in August on bright green, 1-meter-tall stems. This is one of the best structural grasses available.
Features and Accessories:
- Mix rustic wooden furniture alongside the plants to bring the theme together.
- Add ornamental wooden structures, but don’t obstruct any walkways.
- Hang hollow wooden wind chimes from tree branches.
- Wildlife gardens aid with the “settling in” of the garden and create great “Chi”.
Physocarpus “Lady in Red” – A medium-sized deciduous shrub with vibrant, deep red leaves that darken over time to red-purple. Light pink flower heads appear in the summer. Great autumn color.
Malus “Princeton Cardinal” – This is a splendid new cultivar, laden with bright red blossoms early in the season. Glossy red foliage all summer and small deep red fruits in the autumn. Grows to 5 meters.
Acer palmatum “Osakazuki” – An award-winning Japanese Maple with lobed foliage that’s green in spring and summer, but transforms into a fiery blaze of scarlet in the autumn. An intense, long-lasting addition to the Maple family with an open form. Furthermore, at full size it will grow to 4 meters.
Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire” – Use this medium, brightly-colored deciduous shrub for winter interest. It has brightly colored, brilliant orange stems, with good structure and a lovely open goblet shape.
Cercis canadensis “Forest Pansy” – Commonly known as “Eastern Redbud”, this resilient deciduous tree will grow to around 5 meters. A stunning multi-stemmed tree with purple heart-shaped that turn ochre in autumn. Insignificant flowers appear in spring before the foliage starts.
Top Herbaceous Plants
Phormium “Evening Glow” – Grow this Phormium as stunning architectural plant. With its broad, arching wine-red leaves and upright habit it has all the qualities of a perfect statement plant. In addition, it’s good for use in pots and grows to 1 meter.
Dahlia “Alva’s Doris” – A tall, semi-cactus Dahlia variety that has spiky, bright red flowers from July through to September. It grows to a height of around 1.2 meters
Heleniun “Moerheim Beauty” – I love this upright, clump-forming perennial because its flowers keep growing, even when you think it’s done! It grows to 1 meter tall, with brilliant deep-orange/red daisy-like blooms and dark-centred coppery flower heads.
Monarda “Cambridge Scarlet” – This tough, 90cm-tall perennial has aromatic foliage, whorls of hooded scarlet flower heads, bright green stems, and textured leaves. Plant en masse.
Crocosmia “Lucifer” – A well-known Crocosmia family favorite, this tall, lean version grows to 1.5 metres with a long arching sprays of bright tomato red funnel-shaped flowers.
Features and Accessories:
- Install an outside grill and put your talents to the test.
- Fire pits have come “en vogue” in the past few years and would make a fitting addition to this area of the garden. Team this with brightly colored, relaxed corner seating to create an area for showing off your culinary talents. Gain respect whilst enjoying a social gathering.
- Hang bright lanterns from trees to give a sense of a warm ambience, whilst still being quite informal.
Hydrangea “Altona” – Commonly known as “Hortensia”, this is a beautiful frilled, blue mop-headed Japanese Hydrangea that grows to around 3 meters tall.
Acalypha wilkesiana – This is a tropical and sub-tropical plant, which will grow in zones 9 -12. Known as “Jacob’s Coat”, this evergreen shrub grows to 3 meters with large coppery-green leaves, mottled with red splashes. Grow it as an annual in non-hardy areas.
Betula utilis jacquemontii “Snow Queen” – A truly ornamental white birch tree, and a popular choice for a winter “wow” factor. Use this snowy-barked variety for smaller gardens.
Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” – This tough hydrangea has bundles of huge white flower heads from July through to September, with large, mid-green, heart-shaped leaves.
Betula pendula “Youngii” – This dome-shaped tree is an alternative to silver birch. It has long, mid-green branches with serrated leaves that gradually weep to the ground. Often used for winter interest as it has a graceful skeletal form.
Top Herbaceous Plants:
Eryngium giganteum “Silver Ghost” – Stiff, white, branching stems carry barrel-shaped blue flower-heads with jagged, silver-grey bracts. An impressive sea holly and hardy biennial growing to 90cm.
Achillea “Moonshine” – This yarrow plant’s lacy, silver-green, foliage is topped with tiny clusters of yellow flower heads. They last from early summer right through until autumn.
Hosta “Halcyon” – Although slugs love these plantain lilies, I couldn’t leave it out! This Hosta’s foliage is an intense blue-grey, which will last longest in shade. With a mound-forming habit and great for ground cover, this is possibly my favorite member of the Hosta family.
Athyrium niponicum “Pictum” – With pale silver, almost metallic fronds which unfurl to show maroon-purple stems, who couldn’t love this plant? It’s a delicate, natural masterpiece, otherwise known as the “Japanese Painted Fern”.
Stachys byzanthia “Silver Carpet” – This is a non-flowering, broader-leaved byzanthia variety, with textured silver-grey foliage. Use it to create a a dense, woolly ground cover carpet up to 60 cm across.
- Choose one or two silver metal furniture items for accent pieces.
- Place elegant metal sculptures in beds and borders.
- Add iron archways planted with climbing white-scented Jasminium or Solanum
- Intersperse rustic metal planters overflowing with blue and white colors, and grasses for height.
You Now Know the Feng Shui Garden Basics: It’s Time to Plan Yours
Now that we’ve shared some basic design ideas with you, it’s your turn to get creative. Grab some paper and colored pencils, and plan out how you’d like to create your own garden. Walk around your property (with a compass, if you need to mark down directions), and try to envision your dream space.
Do you have enough room for a tumbling water feature? Or would a bird bath be better? Do you like large stone sculptures? Write down all the things you love, and the colors you’re most drawn to. Then go through the list of recommended plants here, and take action to make these plans a reality!