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While it’s important to have peace and quiet inside of your home, your backyard should be just as relaxing. Jacqueline Maya speaks with Nick Newham, the principal landscape architect for Whyte Gardens, about how you can use the harmonious design principles of feng shui to transform your outdoor space into a tranquil retreat.

As our lives grow busier, so too does our need for dedicated relaxation spaces within our homes and backyards. With endless possibilities now available to modern renovators, many are turning to the ancient Chinese discipline of feng shui to inform their design approach. While feng shui is most often used within the home, its principles tend to coincide with contemporary landscape design practices, which means your outdoor space will benefit from them as well.

Read on as Melbourne Pool + Outdoor Design discovers how to create a perfectly balanced outdoor area that is as beautiful as it is serene.

A HARMONIOUS HISTORY

Originating more than 4000 years ago, feng shui was traditionally used to harmonise individuals with their surrounding environment to promote happiness, abundance and harmony. Primarily concerned with the placement of objects in relation to the flow of chi or natural energy, the feng shui practice also considers the layout, framework, materials and colours of building structures.

“Emphasis on the chi of the space is most important in the early design stages; a diagram of the garden’s layout can be drawn to ensure a positive flow is achieved,” says Nick Newham.

“Encouraging movement that’s free of obstacles and reducing visual clutter also helps to achieve the right balance of chi within a space.”

Flow can also be enhanced using curves, which “promote movement and gentle transitions, typically as winding paths”, adds Newham. “Straight lines should be kept to a minimum as they seldom occur in nature.”

Applying the principles of feng shui to the design of our gardens can not only help us optimise the space, but it can also help us feel more calm and relaxed, and aid our wellbeing. But where should one start?

A BALANCING ACT

According to Newham, finding the perfect balance is key to achieving a harmonious landscape. “A garden should contain complementary opposites in order to create balance,” he says. “This is most evident when incorporating hard and soft elements, or using light and dark [shades] within a space.”

For example, an exterior wall can be softened with free-flowing plants or trees, while placing plants of different colours in close proximity will create a striking contrast. Using different textures within a garden’s material palette and planting selections can also help to achieve a balanced result.

IN THE BAG(UA)

The word bagua can be translated as ‘eight directions’, which refers to the eight points of a compass. In feng shui, the bagua is a map that can be applied to the floor plan of your space, where every segment corresponds to a designated bagua zone. Each zone represents a part of life, and is associated with a colour, and the natural elements of water, earth, fire, wood and metal.

Regardless of whether you choose to incorporate a few feng shui principles or commit to a complete zen transformation, incorporating natural elements into your garden will help you to achieve the haven of your dreams.

THE FIFTH ELEMENT

Water

 Associated colour: Black

Best positioned towards the north, water elements within a garden are said to focus energies related to your path in life, including your career.

“Something every garden should have is a water feature,” Newham says. “Inspiration, wisdom and insightfulness are encouraged by water within a landscape.” For an extra bit of luck, complete your water feature by surrounding it with golden bells to encourage good fortune money and abundance.

Fountains or waterfalls are also beautiful options that generate plenty of negative ions while imparting a feeling of vitality. If you’re a fan of our feathered friends, a birdbath is a great alternative to a fountain, and is perfect for smaller spaces. Installing a fish pond would make a calming addition to your backyard as well.

Earth

 Associated colour: Blue

Thought to represent skills and knowledge, the north-east corner is a great spot to ponder the meaning of life. Include feature rockery or landscaping mounds into this area of your garden for unique visual appeal.

Be sure to select “earth-toned materials here, or mounds of soil to create interesting contours”, Newham advises. You can also create contrast in your groundsurface by combining smooth paving with an uneven stream of pebbles.

As the old saying goes, healthy body, healthy mind. For those with a green thumb, consider propagating your very own vegetable patch and herb garden. Not only will you be putting any additional soil to good use, but you’ll also have a fresh supply of homegrown produce at the ready.

Fire

 Associated colour: Red

Fame, success and recognition are the dominant energies found in the south of your garden. Thought to be a high-energy area, and with fire as the key element, this segment is an ideal spot for a fire pit.

“A simple fire pit or garden lighting encourages boldness and inspiration, however too much fire can be a sign of aggressiveness and anger – balance is key,” Newham says. “A tranquil garden should also embrace dappled lighting as this forms a soft and calming environment for one to move through and sit within.”

If you have a love for entertaining, including an alfresco kitchen complete with a state-of-the-art barbecue will allow you to wine and dine family and friends throughout the year.

Wood

 Associated colour: Green

The east of your outdoor space focusses energies relating to family, health and longevity. Naturally, growth is valuable here, and by selecting the right perennials your backyard will be sure to flourish. “An ornamental tree or timber furniture are ideal uses of wood within a feng shui garden,” Newham says.

A charming reading bench is the perfect destination for contemplation in your garden, while unique wooden-animal ornaments such as frogs, tortoises and fish are believed to bring prosperity. For a touch of whimsy, hang a bamboo wind chime in your garden and enjoy the soothing sound on a breezy day.

Metal

 Associated colour: White

Deeply connected to new projects, pleasures and hobbies, the west quarter relates to creativity and fertility, and is the best place to incorporate metal accents within your backyard. “Aluminium and steel planters are a popular use of metal within a landscape,” Newham says.

Providing optimum privacy and added personality, as well as a smart shading solution, artistic laser-cut screens are trendy at the moment. Artistic sculptures will take your space to the next level; for an outstanding example of exquisite modern landscape art, click here.

While the feng shui principles encourage including all of the elements within your backyard, remember that your individuality and preferred style take precedence. “Whyte Gardens has created a number of feng shui gardens, [however] each of our clients are individual in how they wish to approach and incorporate the feng shui principles within their garden and home,” Newham says. “Some clients only wish to include general balance principles, whereas others desire a garden that reflects all feng shui philosophies.”

Whether you choose to include all of the elements of feng shui within your backyard, or only a few, with a bit of careful planning and assistance from a landscaping professional, your outdoor space can help to improve your health, comfort and prosperity for many years to come.

Images courtesy of Whyte Gardens

STIMULATE THE SENSES

Nick Newham recommends planting a wide selection of aromatic herbs and fresh, fragrant flowers to aid in relaxation.

• Peppermint pelargonium (pelargonium tomentosum) is a lovely bedding and bordering plant. Establish it along path edges in semi-shaded areas. When you brush past its green-grey foliage, it will release a pleasant peppermint scent.

• A welcome addition to shaded areas, Solomon’s seal (polygonatum multiflorum) is a highly fragrant herbaceous perennial with long arching stems and hanging bell-like white flowers. Its aroma will drift throughout your garden during the summer months.

• A firm favourite, English lavender (lavandula angustifolia) prefers a full-sun position and is tolerant of a wide variety of soil conditions.

The oil from its leaves is known to produce a calming effect.

• Lemon verbena (aloysia citrodora) is a shrub with a citrus-like scent. Keep this plant in a sheltered position and hard prune it in early spring to keep a dense habit.

• The scent of rosemary is widely thought to help improve memory and calm the mind.