How to assess and develop your garden’s feng shui

“When I go into the garden with a spade and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


Emerson wrote frequently about trusting oneself to find inspiration and enlightenment. In his essay “Self-Reliance” (1841), he maintained, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

Emerson’s garden was a place for self-reflection, a refuge from the conformist ideals of society, and a sanctuary where his solitude and work with the natural world provided an essential balance to his life as a lecturer and activist.

Gardening produced positive mental and physical energy for Emerson, so I believe he would have been quite interested in feng shui, a philosophical system developed in ancient China that involves analyzing interior and exterior environments to enhance the flow of positive energy. According to De Copley and Sherri Morgan, local Master Gardeners who practice feng shui principles, color, light, shape and texture all have an impact on positive and negative energy moving through our homes, landscapes and gardens.

Morgan says feng shui practices help us develop harmonious garden spaces that feed our senses through balanced colors, forms and fragrances. When positive energy flows around and through us while we’re in our gardens, the result is a more relaxed frame of mind and sense of well-being.

By studying feng shui principles, Copley says, gardeners learn creative solutions for making effective use of small spaces, large spaces or any space that is not being utilized efficiently. Feng shui tenets offer possibilities for creating outdoor areas or “rooms” that maximize the landscape while heightening enjoyment. In addition, a feng shui garden reflects the seasons; thus, it offers year-round interest.

To begin thinking from a feng shui perspective, we must first consider our gardening disposition. While in our gardens, are we always in chore mode, thinking, “I’ve got to get this done,” so we can mark off gardening from our to-do list? Or do we think of gardening as a time to rejuvenate our spirits?

Having a place to sit in the garden is important because it provides a place to absorb the energy of the garden through our senses. Copley says feng shui teaches us to sense the balance or imbalance of a space by seeing, listening, smelling, tasting and feeling the elements within it. Moving through the garden allows us to become a part of the energy flow; hence, creating meandering pathways fosters an unhurried yet observational garden demeanor.

Feng shui encourages balanced use of the five natural elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. One way to assess our garden’s feng shui is to identify these elements and determine whether they are in balance. (See my blog for an assessment of my backyard landscape and gardens using this principle.)

There is much more to learn about the concepts of feng shui. If this topic intrigues you, be sure to attend De Copley’s class, “Feng Shui for the Garden and Home,” from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens symposium. The event will take place at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, 101 S. Bartlett St. in Medford. Cost is $45 in advance and $50 on Nov. 5. For more information and to register, visit the Jackson County Master Gardener Association website at

Emerson wrote, “[N]othing seems worth doing in life but laying out a garden.” Indeed, learning how to assess and lay out our gardens using feng shui principles seems a delightfully worthwhile endeavor.

— Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Email her at

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