The ideal home site, according to general principles of feng shui, has a mountain behind it for protection and a river in front to bring wealth and prosperity.
Followers of feng shui — which translates from Chinese mandarin into "wind" and "water" — believe that positioning a home in such a way opens it to the flow of positive energy. The same rules that apply to a home also apply to the garden, according to longtime Honolulu feng shui master Clarence Lau.
"In Chinese feng shui the idea is to stabilize your property to promote good health, fortune and relationships," he said.
Whether you believe in feng shui or not, Lau says the principles are based on thousands of years of observation and physics. Practitioners have developed rules over all those years on positioning of the front door, for instance, and symbolic items representing the five elements of earth, wood, fire, water and metal that balance a home.
PRINCIPLES OF GARDEN FENG SHUI
» Water features, which represent wealth, are ideal in front of the home. But the water should flow toward, not away from, the home’s entrance.
» Keep your garden clear of dead tree stumps or plants because they bring stagnant, negative energy.
» Use vibrant colors to enhance strong energy flows. Fragrant flowers at the entrance send a welcoming message.
» Too many steps in the front garden can be a safety concern.
» Fruit trees should be in the back yard, not the front yard, where they can invite theft.
— Clarence Lau
» Plants with rounded leaves are preferable along the pathway to your door to attract happy, abundant energy; avoid thorny types. An ideal choice is the jade plant, a succulent with thick, round leaves.
» For the front yard, avoid tall vertical-growing plants, which symbolize obstructions. Native Hawaiian akia or pohinahina are both good options.
» Plants should never obscure the front door. A tree in a direct line between the front door and street represents an obstacle.
» Plants should not touch the outside walls of a house because it has a stifling effect and encourages pests.
— Clear Englebert
Taking it further, there are four celestial animals that are supposed to protect every side of the house: the tortoise for the back, phoenix for the front, tiger on the right and dragon on the left.
Lau comes from the traditional school of feng shui, which requires learning how to read a compass and make astrological calculations based on a person’s birth date in the Chinese almanac. Other practitioners, such as Clear Englebert of Captain Cook, Hawaii, rely on land forms and directional points not based on use of a compass.
If there are no mountains in your back yard, similar protective energy can be attained by planting tall trees, according to Lau. If there’s no river nearby, a water feature in your front yard, such as a fishpond or fountain, will make do. He advises that the water should be flowing toward the home’s entrance, symbolic of wealth flowing in and not away from your domicile.
The water fountain at the Grand Cafe & Bakery courtyard on North Pauahi Street in Chinatown is a good example, says Lau, who helped the building’s owner determine where to install it.
Lau also recommends a lighted pathway leading to your front door, making it easier to find, and further enhancing positive energy at a home’s entrance by planting fragrant flowers, such as pak-lan (also known as Himalayan champaca) or pikake.
INTERIOR DESIGN and landscaping focus mostly on aesthetics, said Englebert, while feng shui is about energy flow. While the two can sometimes mesh, they are not always the same.
He compares an ideally situated home to a person sitting in an armchair: Ideally, land in back of the house should slope upward and rise slightly on the left and right, like armrests.
"The garden should, of course, be a happy place where you relax and reconnect with nature," he said. "In feng shui the garden has two additional purposes: to attract good energy and to protect your home from harsh energy."
Englebert, who has written three books on feng shui and has another in the works titled "Feng Shui for Hawaii Gardens," recommends placing red, yellow or other eye-catching plants where the driveway meets the road to bring in good energy. This can include ti plants, crotons or jatropha.
During a recent visit to a historic private residence at Tantalus, Englebert noted the sprawling gardens with lush greenery, an array of succulents and bromeliads, and pots and fountains from Tropical Garden Accents. In front of the home, a large copper kettle filled with water lilies and horsetails was a positive feng shui accent, he said. It’s a simple water feature that requires no pump or electricity but is just as effective as a fountain, he said.
When it came to the choice of plants lining the pathway leading to the door, Englebert said he would have avoided agapanthus (also known as Queen Anne Lily-of-the-Nile). Although the plants have lovely purple flowers, the sword-shaped leaves give off a hostile signal, he said. The general rule of thumb is to use rounded leaves along the way to your front door.
"Pucker your face into a tight prune-scowl," said Englebert. "That’s how the energy looks when it has passed by prickly plants on its way to your front door."
As with most hillside homes, this one has a downward slope on its back side, but the owner may have tried to rectify that by planting a row of snake plants (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue) pointing upward, helping to balance the energy. A stone walkway along the side of the home leading to a garden with a panoramic view of Waikiki is a good choice over a paved path, according to Englebert, because it allows energy to flow up from the earth and water to flow back into the ground.
He recommends that homeowners who use expansive windows and lanais to maximize ocean views "anchor" the scene with a statue or large ceramic pot that can frame the setting and keep energy from "sliding away."