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June 18, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, June 18, 2004

Seeking balance Seeking balance (June 18, 2004)

Feng shui renews energy in your garden -- and your life

By Carol Blitzer

Are you feeling confused about your relationships, or seeking fame, fortune or better health? Or are you perhaps simply overwhelmed by the clutter in your back yard?

That chaos and confusion just might be a metaphor for your life, according to landscape contractor Shaunna Smith. The solution may be as simple as applying feng shui principles to your landscaping.

Smith, whose business, The Gardener's Soul, is based in Vallejo, will explain those principles in her class, "Feng Shui for your Summer Garden," on June 19, at Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto.

Smith dropped by a Palo Alto garden recently to assess its feng shui, which literally means "wind and water." The term is used to describe the flow of qi (pronounced chi) or energy. "You want it moving throughout the garden area, to benefit all areas," she said.

She begins her feng shui assessment by superimposing a bagua, an octagonal diagram that pinpoints specific areas: career, fame, family, creativity, helpful people, spirituality, relationships and wealth.

Smith noted there are different schools of thought on feng shui, some more rigid than others. "I try to take from as many schools as I can," she said, simplifying and adapting to Western culture.

At the home of Cathy and Chuck McDonnell, she began with the two curving paths that split off the paved driveway -- ideally sending the qi flowing from front to back. A pumpkin patch flourishes on the right, two plants climbing up triangular frames.

"Nothing sticks out. There are no sharp plants, but lots of lush, green leaves with nice, smooth shapes. Nothing stops the qi," she said.

Behind the gate is the "creativity" area, with a greenhouse and vegetable garden. "The more chaos you have the more it invigorates qi," she said, pointing to the wonderful fragrances of rosemary and geraniums. "The sense memory helps you out," she said, and a familiar scent can be something that really works for an individual.

The McDonnell's corner vegetable garden is really a "relationship" area, Smith said. There's the constancy of tending the veggies, similar to tending a relationship, as well as different things being created in different seasons. "It's clean, organized," she commented.

In addition, the relationship area could have a bench where two can sit under the arbor near a trailing vine that wafts a familiar fragrance. Or, there could be containers with favorite plants.

"For them, this area is perfect because they're working together as a team," she said.

Next comes a curved arbor that slows down the qi before entering the main part of the back yard.

Fame is what Smith sees by the back wall, and wealth near the large redwood tree. For fame, a primary color is red. "You want to have color and a lot of things that reinforce strength," Smith said, including flashier plants and a stable, sturdy tree. "It's how you want to be seen in the world," she added.

A water element flowing toward you and a gazing ball could round out a fame section.

Smith pointed to the many colors in the garden, and to those associated with different aspects of the bagua: yellow to creativity, orange to health, purple or gold to wealth, red to fame, green to family.

For wealth, she said, it's common to have three elements, representing three coins. A redwood tree is a sign of security and strength. "Sometimes we use rocks with a water feature, or to represent water," she said.

A family section could include lush, green ground cover, such as baby's tears, or plants such as hydrangea. Adding a bird house would be a cozy, home-like touch.

"They've created another sense of family out here in nature," she said.

For spirituality, Smith pointed to gray, silver colors softened by ferns. This is a place where one could add statues, such as the Virgin Mary, Buddha, Quajin or "whatever evokes spirituality." The shapes here are smooth and gentle. "It's a soft, sacred place," she added. "When you have a hard time, you want a place where you feel safe. You shouldn't have to work so hard, it should come naturally."

Rather than representing the dark side, black is the color for career -- as in the sum of all colors. Again this is an area that could handle a fountain or other water feature. When laying out a garden, Smith suggests thinking about what's going on in your life. "If you have relationship problems, there's usually a lot of clutter -- trash, ivy (hanging on to old resentments)," she said.

And it's important, she added, to balance relationships and wealth with spirituality. "As you build your garden, you're balancing yourself too. You're not just ripping up plants to match pictures in a magazine."

A Southern California native, Smith studied horticulture, as well as herbology and natural health through Clayton College. "I didn't fit into one style. ... Once I made the connection between feng shui and learning about medicinal properties of plants, it all came together for me," she said.

She tries to work in medicinal properties of plants within the bagua as well, choosing foxglove for the relationship area, for example, to encourage the strength of the heart.

"It is very personal," she said, noting that when people start clearing out areas, it brings relationship issues up for people. Pulling out bushes can evoke stagnancy.

"It's been a huge learning experience for me," she said. "You go into homes and start shifting energy around, watch things come up. It's been challenging and amazing."

When working with clients, Smith finds that sometimes she needs to slow down the process "if they're starting to freak out." She also listens carefully to what they want. "The majority of time they're right on target with what they need."

In addition to talking about the basic principles of feng shui, Smith will discuss some basic fixes: If the entryway goes straight back to the back fence, for example, qi is moving fast and can slam into the wall. She suggests adding wind chimes to slow down the qi, or add an arbor with growth.

"A lot of people put in a feng shui yard unconsciously. It can be intuitive," she added.


What: Feng Shui for the Summer Garden

When: Saturday, June 19, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Where: Common Ground, 559 College Ave., Palo Alto

Cost: $19

Call: 493-6072 or visit

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