Friendly, blond and Californian, Linda Lenore is one of the world’s few non-Asian masters of feng shui, the ancient art of how the environment shapes our lives. Certified in a ceremony performed on the Canary Islands, Linda has a background in design, construction and architecture, as well as a lifelong passion for gardening and an innate distrust of tchotchkes. [spotify id="spotify:track:17i5jLpzndlQhbS4SrTd0B" width="300" height="380" /]
Her clean, design-centric and positive approach to feng shui and problem-solving is hugely appealing and practical, particularly in an arena that often seems crowded by fear-mongers. It seems all the more remarkable in light of the fact that she was first drawn to feng shui by health issues in her family and the death of a child, but in her practice she readily shares her experiences of the transformative powers of feng shui. This week I had the good fortune to speak with Linda about implementing feng shui in the garden, and she shares with us here her advice for incorporating the tenets of the Land Form School, which is thousands of years old and in her words, “about common sense.”
Land Form School is the original school of feng shui, and it is deals with where to place a building to protect it from the elements while giving it a view. Hills are preferable because a mountaintop is too exposed to wind, meaning “feng,” and the lowlands are too vulnerable to flooding or water, meaning “shui.” Most people don't have any water features outside, but as human beings, having a sense of proximity to water prevails in us as a basic human need. From a landscape perspective, we want to create a sense of being protected from the elements, but we also want to have water around us.
The traditional Asian way of describing the Land Form School is with the four Celestial Animals – the Black Turtle, Green Dragon, White Tiger and Red Phoenix – who symbolize the elements of the ideal “armchair position.” The original location of a building for the emperor would traditionally have been placed in what was called the Green Dragon Mountain Range. The mountain range stretching from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, filled with redwoods, is a perfectly lush example of the green and verdant energy that we want growing around our houses.
The ideal situation within this mountain range is “armchair position.” Behind the house would be a mountain, to protect it from the cold winds. Originally this would have been in China, where winds come from the Arctic, and so the mountain would have been on the north side of the house. In Northern California, most of the rains originate in Alaska, so we’d want like the mountain to be in the Northwest. In Southern California, the tropical storms come in from the Pacific; you’d want the mountain in the Southwest. Each geographic region is different, and within a region are microclimates – the wind blows in different ways because of small hills. Step outside, and feel how the wind blows at the worst part of the year: which direction is that wind coming from? Ideally, you’d spend a whole year logging the wind and the weather. We’d like to have the mountain behind us, but most of us don’t have the ability to protect ourselves completely from the winds, and that’s where we can start planting shrubs and tall trees – such as cypresses – to protect ourselves from the elements.
Behind us is the Mountain Backing, and in terms of the Celestial Animals, the Turtle Backing. Its hard shell protects, and if we don’t have a mountain, we can implement mountain energy in our landscaping by creating a raised flowerbed made of brick, stone or rock. This is the back of the armchair, and we want to use something that has actually come from the earth to represent mountain energy, but the bed itself only needs to be 6 to 8” tall, so if you have a small space, things will still be in proportion. Other options for creating Turtle Backing are large boulders or a statue made of earthen material, but keep in mind that doing one thing is fine – you don’t need all of these elements. The energy of the street is considered the predominant energy, and so if your front door is not on the street side of your house, placement of the Turtle Backing still needs to be positioned opposite to the street. We need the earth energy at the back of the house.
The Green Dragon area has masculine, assertive energy. The Dragon greets the new year with fire, burning up the old energy of last year. If you were to sit in your house with the Turtle behind you, the left-hand side of your garden is the Dragon side. The Green Dragon offers protection as well as life energy, and this is where you want something growing all the time. It’s important to have evergreen plants such as conifers, citrus, rhododendrons, azaleas or camellias. Don’t focus too much here on plants with a distinct life cycle, such as bulbs or deciduous fruit trees. I had all my deciduous fruit trees growing on the Dragon side of my house and had nothing evergreen, so we transplanted my lemon trees to keep with the orchard theme but bring in the evergreen plants. As a winter-bearing fruit, citrus is particularly beneficial with prosperity and means we’ll have money coming in all year long. It also has to do with our health and vitality throughout the year. These are the qualities we’re looking for with the Green Dragon energy. The area is also a natural and positive place for a play structure for children, though it’s not mandatory to place it here.
The White Tiger area represents the nurturing, softer, feminine qualities. It sits on the right-hand side of the house if we’re facing the street. A meditation garden, a spiritual icon, a meandering pathway, a secret garden or a shade garden – these all encompass tiger energy. A statue of a feline such as the Los Gatos cats would work, but avoid something as aggressive as a lion here; that’s a more dragon-type energy.
Stepping stones are a good choice in the White Tiger area. In a narrow space between properties, they slow energy and make us look down and be aware of what we’re doing, rather than rushing along a concrete walkway. There aren’t necessarily specific plants we need here, but the qualities of the Tiger are nurturing, so here it’s best to avoid thorny cacti or too many roses. Lambs’ ear (Stachys byzantina) has a soft feel and would be a good choice. The exception to avoiding plants with thorns is a house on a corner lot. If your Tiger side is vulnerable, plant a few roses or thorny shrubs beneath a window so that it’s not easy for someone to climb in without pricking themselves, and we have the DNA to prove they were there! However if a bedroom is here, you don’t want egress in an emergency to be an issue, so instead use a spiritual icon, such as the Buddha, St Francis or the Mother Mary. Anything that makes you feel nurtured is appropriate; lavender has a way of making you feel relaxed and taken care of. We’re looking for what a plant evokes, rather than for what it is; something that brings out the more emotional parts of us.
The Red Phoenix area is the front of the house, and here we want to attract good. If we remember the armchair, the mountain is behind us for support, with smaller mountains on either side for protection. We’re high enough up to have a view, which allows us to see if someone is coming – enemy or welcome guest. In the real estate community, Red Phoenix energy is called “curb appeal.” Anything and everything in the front that would be construed as positive energy is considered Red Phoenix energy. Red attracts the most attention which is why we have red fire engines. From my house, I can see a number of houses that all tend to blend, except for one that has a bright red truck parked in front of it. So you might paint your front door red, or from a landscape perspective plant red flowers, red bark or red leaves. Using maple trees is a way to harness the Red Phoenix energy from a color perspective.
Phoenix can also be harnessed by something you might hear – a windchime, running water, or a tree whose leaves rustle when the wind blows.
Scent is important too; use lavender, rosemary, citrus or even cocoa mulch. Red is associated with fire but also with light. We need lighting not just by the door but along the walkway, highlighting a tree or statue, within a pond.
Specifically for the Year of the Snake, which has just begun and is this year the Water Snake, place a water feature in the Southwest or the East this year. And when we’re talking about the Dragon side of the house, remember that the Snake is often called the “Little Dragon,” so anything that’s associated with the Dragon will benefit for the Year of the Snake as well.
Visit Lindalenore.com to purchase a transcript of Linda's recent seminar on welcoming the Year of the Snake. You will also find there her excellent book 'The Gift of the Red Envelope.' If you live in the Bay Area, you can hear Linda speak at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show on 23 March 2013, at 4 pm.