The Art of Shan Shui

4 minutes read

I am by no means an expert on Feng Shui. I would never want to belittle those who have studied the art by pretending that I know as much about this fantastic subject as they do. The more I read about Feng Shui the more I realize the depth of the subject and know that one cannot be an expert without years of studying. My aim is to acquaint people like myself to some of the ideals and make it fun to try to incorporate Feng Shui into our everyday lives.

Shan Shui literally translates to "Mountain-Water" and is the Chinese art of landscape painting, extended to include gardening and landscape design. Shan is "Yang" - strong, tall and vertical, reaching the heavens such as a mountain would while Shui is "Yin" - soft, horizontal and lying on the earth as water lies on the earth. The idea is to keep a balance in your garden of Yin and Yang. Formal gardens tend to symbolize human power or man’s desire to control and improve nature. Instead of trying to harness nature, the Shan Shui method is to allow nature to harness us which means a deeper respect for natural forces such as heaven and earth.

A natural, informal garden, especially one where a water element exists lends itself to the incorporation of Shan Shui ideals. Here are a few basic principals that you may find already exist or that you may want to apply to your own natural garden:

Paths - Pathways should never be straight. They should meander like a stream. This helps deepen the landscape by adding layers.

"The more zigzag the way, the deeper the scenery. The winding path approaches the secluded and peaceful place." — Huang Binhong

The surface of your path should be easy to walk on. It should invite us to explore.

The Threshold - The path should lead to a threshold. The threshold is there to embrace you and provide a special welcome. Place something familiar to you and warm to your guests such as a favorite vine that hugs an arbor or two vases that frame the entrance.

The Heart - The heart is the focal point of the garden and all elements should lead to it. The heart defines the meaning of the garden. If it’s meant to be a child’s garden you might want a play table or animal topiaries as the heart.

The Water Element - This is an interesting one for me. Placing water in the southwest or east can bring prosperity while placing it in the west can be bad. The metal element strengthens water while the earth element (or rock) blocks it. Feng Shui advisors will tell you to use metallic containers around water instead of earthen (or cement) containers.

Trees - The general rule of using trees in the landscape focuses on balance. There should be a mixture of shade and light (yin and yang) and trees should be scattered and pleasing to the eye, not in a straight line and especially not lining the drive.

Color and the Elements - Follow the rules of the 5 elements. Consider which direction the house sits. By "sits" we mean faces north but "sits" south.

Dir. Element Color

East / SE Wood Green

South  Fire Red

NE / SW  Earth Tans/Yellow

West / NW  Metal White/Gold

North   Water Blue/Black

Here is an example of how you would use the 5 Elements as a guide for choosing colors: Your house faces east so your house "sits" west, therefore, you could choose the Metal Element and use white or gold as a color for planting.

The Elements interact in a positive manner as follows:

Wood produces Fire / Fire produces Earth / Earth produces Metal / Metal produces Water / Water produces Wood.

Elements that react positively should be used together. For example: Water compliments both Metal and Wood, therefore, you could combine blue and green or blue and white. There is no positive interaction with Earth or Fire, therefore, you would not choose to mix Yellow and Red.

The Elements interact in a negative manner as follows:

Wood uproots Earth / Earth blocks Water / Water douses Fire / Fire melts Metal / Metal chops Wood

Elements that interact negatively should never be used together. For example: Fire will not interact positively with either Water or Metal so you would not choose to mix the colors of red and blue or red and white.

Connect with Your Environment - A garden should be laced with connections, called Tao, that remind us of pleasant experiences. Here are a few ideas to help you collect those memories and incorporate them into your surroundings:

List any plants that you recall from your childhood. For example, I have always associated the promise of spring with the daffodil.

Stroll outside and allow feelings to evoke you. You may feel safe in a tucked-away side yard.

List textures that you like to feel.

List smells that please you.

List sounds that tease your senses.

What are the colors you like to see? Forget the colors that look good on you. That’s for others to see.

Whether you decide to further explore the practice of Feng Shui in the garden or use a little of it to enhance what you already have (which is the more western way) the creativity and possibilities are endless. You are only limited by your own imagination.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Whatsapp Pocket


No comments

Related Posts:

I’ve developed an interest in the age-old study of Feng Shui since Bob Grant, one of our customers, corrected me on the pronunciation. Now I know it’s pronounced "fung shway". I knew enough to be dangerous about the subject so I thought I might investigate it ...