Organic Gardening: Creating a Peaceful Garden Space for Meditation or Relaxation with Terah Collins

Last Editorial Review: 3/24/2004

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Would your day have made a great Country/Western song? Join Terah Collins, founder of the Western School of Feng Shui, for a discussion on how to create a tranquil, balanced world for meditation and relaxation, right in your own backyard.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Greetings all and welcome to WebMD Live!  Our guest this evening is Terah Kathryn Collins. Collins is an internationally recognized Feng Shui author, consultant, speaker, and teacher. Her first book, The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony, and Prosperity in Your Environment available from Barnes & Noble, is one of the best-selling Feng Shui books in the world and has been translated into eight languages.

Thank you for being with us this afternoon, Ms. Collins!

Collins: It's my pleasure to be with you.

Moderator: Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself and your background?

Collins: My background holds the fact that I am a polarity therapist, and involved in the holistic health community for my whole career, until about 12 years ago when I moved from Washington, D.C. to San Diego.  When I moved to San Diego, I knew I would be changing careers but did not know how to describe what my new career was. I sensed it was going to be working more with environment, and that's all that I knew at first.  I call that time in my life being pregnant with myself. I had had a wonderful career as a polarity therapist and teacher, then jumping into the unknown waiting for my life's next set of questions.

After getting settled into my home in San Diego, one of my new friends called and insisted that join her at a lecture on some weirdo subject that I had only heard a little about, that sounded very complicated and very strange and very superstitious to me.  I told her that I didn't want to go to the lecture, and she said, "You have to go.  I know you are supposed to be there."  That woke up a place in me and I said, "Okay, I'll go."   So I went, and it was a lecture on Feng Shui being given by Dr. Tan, and after two or three minutes of hearing him speak, I knew I was sitting in the presence of my future. And that Feng Shui was what I was going to become intimately involved with in my next work.

 I studied with Dr. Tan, very excited about every word that came out of his mouth, and with all of my new knowledge, I excitedly went running home to fix my ailing marriage.  I was going to use Feng Shui to transform my mediocre, unhappy marriage into something wonderful again.  So, I Feng Shui'd our home with great enthusiasm, knowing everything was going to be happy again.  Thirty days later I was living in my own apartment, having to face the fact that my marriage was best ended and my path included a new beginning in that regard as well.

Not having a mediocre marriage to contend with, I concentrated even more on my Feng Shui studies, lectures and class and giving lectures as well.  One of my little local lectures had six people in attendance. One of the people there was well-known author and publisher, Louis Hay.  She asked me to begin to write down all of my experiences that I was having in my Feng Shui practice and that led to my first book, The Western Guide to Feng Shui.

sarahmayne_webmd: What is Feng Shui?

Collins: The way I define Feng Shui is that it is a study of how to arrange your environment to enhance your life.

Moderator: Can you explain the basic principles of Feng Shui?

Collins: There are three basic principles that form the foundation on which Feng Shui rests. The first principle is that everything on the planet is alive with vital energy, or what we call Ch'i. When I say everything, I mean everything, whether we consider it inanimate or not.  That means that everything we live with, our furniture, art, our keepsakes, our computers, et cetera, are all alive essentially and they are alive in two ways: one is molecularly, which we know at this point due to quantum physics is true, and equally as important is that everything that surrounds us is alive with our thoughts, our memories, and associations that we have towards that object.  For example, if I have a piece of furniture in my living room that every time I look at it I remember how magnificent it was to find that piece, I remember how much I paid for that piece, I remember all of the good times I've had having that piece of furniture in my life, that would be considered very positive because it's lifting the vital energy of me and my surroundings all of the time.  If, on the other hand, I have a piece of furniture that every time I look at it I remember something unhappy, such as a divorce, or some kind of "downer" then that piece of furniture would be questionable because it is detracting from my life as opposed to adding to my life.  We can look at every single solitary object we own, and for most of us that means thousands of objects that surround us, and decide what is that object alive with for me?  Does it make my heart sing, or does it make me feel bad or unhappy in some way?

The second foundational principle is that everything is connected by vital energy or Ch'i, so rather than being isolated or alone, we are instead always connected to something or someone, no matter where we are or what we're doing. When we are in our homes, we are directly connected to everything that surrounds us and that is affecting the relationship or connection we have with every other aspect of our lives.  So, our homes become crucial and the way our homes are set up becomes crucial when we realize that everything about our lives is connected to the place we have a habit of returning to day after day after day, or our habitat.  All of the things we're connected to at home connect us to the quality of our careers, the quality of relationships, health, creativity, recognition in community, et cetera.  Feng Shui often recognizes what the casual eye may miss because, as a Feng Shui practitioner, when I look at someone's home I'm looking for the small things that will ultimately affect the big things.  I'm looking to see if the furniture has been set up in a way that there is an easy and friendly flow through the house.  If there isn't an easy, friendly flow, that will in turn affect greater and greater areas of the people's lives who live in that house.  So everything is connected.

The third foundational principle is that everything is constantly changing.  In Feng Shui, rather than trying to stop or ignore change, or dislike change, we embrace change, and use it as the force to continually better and move our lives forward.  For instance, if I would like to change my career, what I could do is to change something in my house to represent that goal that I have in mind.  Now my inner goal has been affirmed, or anchored, into my outer environment.  If I want a new change in my life, I've made a new change in my home, and it will help to bring my goal to fruition.  Any time you walk into your home and see something that you realize does not work for you anymore, it may be the way the furniture is arranged, a piece of art over the mantle, or the color of a wall, when you realize that it's not you anymore, then it's time to change it. Your home, ideally, is an accurate reflection of who you are now, and where you want to go in the future.  It may have objects that remind you of the past in a positive way. But by and large, the house holds your present and future in the way it's arranged and detailed.

The three basic principles are: everything is alive with Ch'i, everything is connected by Ch'i, and everything is constantly changing.  We have a world "who" is very dynamic and is constantly moving forward with us in it.

spacey2_webmd: Do you feng shui a garden the same way you do a house?

Collins: Basically, yes.  Each garden, as well as each home, needs to be individually approached and the same basic principles would remain the same.  Again, everything is alive in the garden, everything is connected to another in the garden and, of course, in nature we always see that everything is constantly changing.

firechick_webmd: How does it work when there is more than one person in your home?

Collins: That question always comes up.  This happens quite a bit, that there will be two or more people living together that each have their own unique tastes and preferences that don't necessarily match or harmonize well together.  In these cases, what I like to do is to give each person their own space, ideally their own room, in which to be unstoppably themselves. If the woman likes hearts and lace and lots of pink and the man likes deer heads and old leather, each of them would have a room that could be entirely designed as they would like it best.  When we are able to do that, it becomes much easier to compromise on the areas in the house that are shared.

One rule of thumb in shared spaces: it is best not to put anything that one person absolutely cannot stand.  For instance, if there's a piece of art that the woman adores and the man really can't stand to look at it, then that piece of art belongs in her space.  Shared spaces ideally are done so that there are no eyesores for anyone who is sharing them.  When there is not room for each person to have a room, then more compromise needs to come into play, and I suggest that each of the people be given a niche, or wall, or a part of a room in which they can do completely the way they want to do.

she-rah_webmd: I don't know much about Feng Shui so I kind of play it by ear in my backyard. I have some herbs like lavender, rosemary and sages growing in big pots on my backyard deck. I also have strung the small white Christmas lights around the edges of the railings and up along the side of the house for soft lighting (it's too windy for candles). What can you suggest that I do as far as furniture for the deck. I can't afford expensive things. Maybe I could make something.

Collins: What's wonderful to do in a garden, is to look to see if you have brought in all five elements of water, fire, earth, metal and wood.  Now, I cover the five elements in depth in both my first and third book, and will cover them briefly here so you will have a place to begin.

The wood element includes all plants and wooden decking. In most gardens, the wood element is handled right away.  In your description, you've handled the fire element by bringing in soft lighting. It also includes fireplaces which can be outdoors as well as in, and includes things that are red, such as red flowers, or any other red appointments.  The fire element also includes the presence of wildlife, so bringing birds to your deck is a wonderful enhancement.  The earth element can be brought in by displaying terra cotta pots, which your herbs may be in now, brick and adobe appointments, anything made out of ceramic, and the colors of yellow and all earth tones.  The metal element is introduced through things such as metal furniture or statuary, rocks and stones, things of a circular shape and things that are white or very pastel in color.  This may be a lead for you about the furniture to bring to your deck.  If you already have so much of the other elements, perhaps something that is white or made out of metal or has white cushions.  Finally, the water element is introduced through the obvious: bird baths, water fountains, and other water features.  The addition of reflective glass or mirrors as an appointment such as the gazing balls, is another way to enhance the water element in your garden, and black and very dark colors also represent the water element.  Ideally, gardens have all five of the elements represented in some form or fashion in them. It's often interesting to note that a garden may have three or four of the elements and when you bring in the missing ones that's when the garden feels, looks and is experienced as being fantastic.

morris71_lycos: Does sound have anything to do with Feng Shui?

Collins: Yes. Harmonious sounds.  That is another aspect of Feng Shui,. We call them sound makers.  Sound makers enhance the ch'i or vital energy indoors and out. And outdoors, sound makers can include wind chimes, bells, and the sound of water.  Inharmonious or discordant sounds can be a problem in a garden, especially in urban or suburban situations.  Ideally we would want to mask discordant sound with harmonious sound, such as with the sound of water.

lewiscarroll_webmd: I'm getting ready to totally redesign my backyard. Are there any tips you can give me to create a particularly tranquil environment? How could I use water without posing a danger to my young children?

Collins: Backyards are the perfect place to "create and embrace."  What I mean by that is to plant around the edges of your property plants, hedges, and trees that will literally embrace the back yard and afford you a wonderful sense of privacy.  That buffer or "embrace" that you plant will feed your whole house with vital energy. As far as water and safety, which is an issue with children and you will have to decide exactly how you can introduce water safely, depending on ages of your children -- if you decide to have a running waterfall or feature, it needs to be flowing either toward the house or flowing 360 degrees around.  Please do not install a water feature that flows away from the house, as that is doing the opposite of what you'd like to do as far as nurturing your home with garden energy.

she-rah_webmd: I think the ocean is very spiritual, soothing, and healing. I'd like my back deck to reflect the ocean and those feelings. How do I go about doing that? I thought about hanging sand dollars here and there and making shell wind chimes. What do you think?

Collins: That's a great idea, as long as it makes the sound you like.  Make sure what sounds you do introduce, you like.  If you are very close to your neighbors, it will be important that they like the sound also. As far as bringing the ocean to your back deck, it sounds like a perfect place to put a water feature that makes a beautiful sound and that reminds you of the ocean whenever you hear it.  There are other ch'i enhancements I have seen here in the San Diego area that are seagulls made out of cloth that seem to fly when the wind catches them, another ocean reminder.

poppylv_webmd: I am working on a cottage-style front garden. I have a few steps up to my porch steps with pots on the steps. Do you have any suggestions for creating a welcoming entrance?

Collins: Yes.  Your front entrance already sounds very inviting, and that's what we want to do.  In whatever way we can, and in whatever space we have to work with, we want to make our front entrances "entrancing."  Make sure that the pathway to your front door is nice and wide and clear of obstacles.  Your pots of flowers are ideally appointing the pathway and not obscuring the pathway. Besides flowers, other ways to appoint entrances are with bright color, such as a red front door, a beautiful welcome mat, a seasonal wreath, a bench, a welcoming gateway or arbor that one needs to pass through from the street to your door, again, symbolizing an entrancing entrance moving from one very distinct atmosphere into another.  Classically, water is placed near the front door because water is a symbol of prosperity and we all want for prosperity to flow into our lives. A word on water.  Whatever water you choose to bring into your garden, make sure you keep it very well maintained.  I have found that water fountains need a fairly high degree of maintenance.  They need their pumps cleaned, they need the bowls cleaned, and please be sure you are willing to give these things the maintenance they need, or have a service come to provide the maintenance.  For my yard, right now, with all of the other tasks I have to do, I use bird baths which I have the time to keep maintained and which invite a lot of wildlife in that I enjoy.

mold28_webmd: I have just become interested in Feng Shui and have begun to apply some of the theories to my home. Now, how can I get these to flow seamlessly to my outdoor space?

Collins: It's very important to check what I call the ch'i flow or pathway from indoor to outdoor, and make sure that that pathway is kept free and open. There is a tendency to collect things: sports equipment, shoes, mail, coats, et cetera, right around thresholds, the back door and front door.  What we want to do is give all those things a place to live so they are not in the way of your pathways.  Then you can seamlessly flow from indoors to outdoors.

spacey2_webmd: Should I apply the Bagua map to my garden the same way I do to my home? For instance, I have some dying plants in my money section of my garden. Could this be related?

Collins: Yes, you can apply the Bagua to your garden.  Again, the Bagua is covered extensively in all three of my books because it is a very important part of Feng Shui.  In brief, if you stand in front of your house and think about the back left hand area of your yard, that would be your wealth and prosperity area.  And a great place for money plant, yes, or for any kind of garden that is rich in color, texture, variety, or anything that you particularly love. The more I've studied Feng Shui, the more I've realized that there is no place to hide with Feng Shui. Every square inch of our homes and gardens counts because every square inch is alive.  We're connected to it and when it is harmonious, it will support us in positive change.

beach007girl_webmd: What type of color schemes should you think about when landscaping the surrounding house.  

Collins: I would again look at the five elements and make sure that I have introduced aspects of all five elements. It's so individual. For instance, if you are a person who loves red flowers, you have immediately brought in fire and wood. Now, what can you bring into bring in metal?  Perhaps you don't want white flowers, so you may introduce a rock border around your red flowers, representing the metal element.  You also want to address bringing in the earth element, as we talked about before, and the water element.  There are a number of ways to do all of those things. It's very engaging when you are doing garden design to consider all five elements as you are creating the design.  I find that bringing rocks and things that are off white, such as items made out of cement, into a garden are particularly effective because, in the study of the five elements, the rock and the cement or off-white items balance the wood element, which is so prolific in a garden. Another way to bring the water element into a garden is to look for things that have very dark foliage or very dark flowers.  Just now, I have planted a dark chocolate brown dahlia. Near the dahlia stands the giant flax, which is dark purple in color.  Both of these items help to bring a more watery feeling into the garden.  So, you have a tremendous variety of choices but what we notice in Feng Shui is that when all five elements are present in a garden, that is the garden that feels the most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

beach007girl_webmd: Would it be appropriate to use mirrors outside in your garden or is that just for interior Feng Shui?

Collins: Yes.  I recently saw mirrors used in a wonderful way in a terraced garden where at the bottom of the garden, there was a fence.  On the fence they hung large squares of mirror that made it feel as though the garden continued through the fence, rather than the fence stopping you.   It felt as if you could continue. It helped lift the ch'i from the bottom of the hill. Please always consider the safety issues of using glass or mirrors in a garden.

spacey2_webmd: Is it bad Feng Shui to have dead flowers and drying up plants in my garden? I have some dead plants mixed among the living and haven't had time to remove them from the garden.

Collins: Yes, it is ideal to remove your dead plants as dead plants have no vital energy and act as a drain on the garden.

Moderator: Well, our time is about up. Do you have any parting comments?

Collins: I have three things that I ask people to do that I can leave with you that are practical things to try.  We know the foundational principles of Feng Shui and to bring them in a practical manner into our lives, we can do three things:

1) We can live with what we love.  The more exclusively we can live with what we love the better, because the things we love act as ch'i batteries or environmental affirmations and are constantly lifting and strengthening us.

2) To consider always safety and comfort in our environments.  And it is only after safety and comfort have been considered that we then want to consider beauty.  I like to look at it this way: Safety is the father, comfort is the mother, and beauty is the child that is born out of the union of safety and comfort.  There are many books on Feng Shui that give great detail on how to arrange furniture to achieve "good" Feng Shui.  Every one of these suggestions comes from the ground, or comes from the idea that safety and comfort are what enhance the quality of our lives.  For instance, to place your desk so that you can see the door when you are sitting at your desk is creating comfort and safety.  Always be sure that you feel safe and comfortable in your surroundings, and with the choices you make in art, furnishings, indoors and out.  And, of course, once you know that you feel safe and comfortable, then make your environment beautiful according to your own standards.

3) Organize your space.  This can be a big deal for some people and it is crucial in Feng Shui to give everything you own, from paperclips, to the lawn mower, to linens, a good home.  Organizing yourself enhances your creativity and brings new opportunities to your door.  Letting go of the old makes room for the new.  Feng Shui is about creating positive change and opportunity in people's lives.

Remember when you're living with what you love as exclusively as possible, it becomes much easier to organize your things because you are letting go of what no longer serves you, and no longer lifts your spirits. You can stay in touch with me through my website 

Moderator: Thank you for being with us this evening. Our guest has been Terah Kathryn Collins. Collins is an internationally recognized Feng Shui author, consultant, speaker, and teacher. Her first book, The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony, and Prosperity in Your Environment available from Barnes & Noble, is one of the best-selling Feng Shui books in the world and has been translated into eight languages.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

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