paths: Labyrinths and feng shui make a garden feel as good as it looks
Special to The Star
the pleasure we take in a garden isnt just in the way it looks but in the
way it makes us feel. To capture that feeling of peace, you may have to do a little
around in the ancient art of feng shui and the murky history of labyrinths, and
youll discover some of the fundamental elements of peace and harmony in
a garden. The principles of feng shui, which has its roots in Chinese philosophy,
have found their way into interior design, but they originally focused on places
and landscapes. It can seem mystical, but it emphasizes the down-to-earth idea
a labyrinth reminds us of the importance of balance and patience as we find our
way through our days. A garden labyrinth is really a pathway, and not necessarily
a riddle, and its intent is to take you on a rewarding journey in your own backyard.
As you walk through the twists and turns of a labyrinth in a pretty garden setting,
you can go a long way in your mind.
this season, just as the landscape is getting ready to show off its fall colors,
is a perfect time to think about how nature and gardens can refresh and renew
our spirits and to discover ways to make a garden an even better refuge from the
hustle and bustle of the workaday world.
Wilcoxen, president of the Johnson County Rose Society, brought a lot of gardening
skill and philosophy to bear when she designed the labyrinth at Indian Heights
United Methodist Church in Overland Park.
into nature, and I wanted to make it as whole an experience as possible,
she says of the 50-foot-wide labyrinth on the church grounds. She found her inspiration
in the legendary Cretan labyrinth, ancient tales that may actually have been derived
from the extensive cellars and passageways of the Minoan palace of Knossos.
surrounded her labyrinth with a sheltering ring of fragrant pink David Thompson
wanted to bring in all the senses, sight, smell, feel and sound, she says.
I wanted it to be soothing.
the labyrinth, letting the narrow path lead you safely to the center, you break
away from the busy world. A breeze wafts through the roses. You become more aware
of the song of birds. The crushed granite path crunches gently underfoot. You
cant get lost, and youre not really going anywhere, except into the
center of the labyrinth and back out again. Take it slow, take it step by step:
It is a relaxing and sometimes revealing experience.
you are pondering something, or if you have a question, its amazing the
thoughts and answers that come to you as you are walking, says Cheryl Somers-Ingersol,
the churchs pastor, who collaborated with Wilcoxen on the labyrinth project.
Its the centering, the sweeping away of other things in life
that works this little bit of magic, she says.
paths and the principles of feng shui, the art of positioning objects in a spiritually
satisfying manner, intersect neatly on this philosophical point. Debi Stumpff,
a Johnson County master gardener who has made feng shui one of her specialties,
says the rest of the world simply disappears when shes in her garden. Feng
shui is subtle and can be hard to spot amid the lush plantings, but you can assuredly
Im having a bad day, sometimes I just have to stop and sit in my garden
and listen to the birds, she says. Its incredibly relaxing and
comforting to be there and people who have that feeling in their garden
have good feng shui and may not even know it.
her garden, Stumpff has emphasized graceful, informal curves, suggesting the soothing
meanders of a stream. A bench her father made, a Japanese lantern from her grandmothers
garden, and a potted begonia, grown from a cutting given to her by her aunt, all
make her private garden a more personally meaningful space. Stumpff planted evergreens
to keep her garden green and lively through the winter, and she feeds the birds,
so she is always surrounded by movement and life.
shui is said to facilitate the flow of chi, which is a form of spiritual or aesthetic
chi is the wind, Stumpff says, You want the chi to flow naturally,
calmly. You dont want it to rush out.
is an engineer, and she loves math and science. She didnt pay much attention
to art and aesthetics when she was a student, but she later discovered feng shui
and now has a small design business, Natures Gardens, to help translate
feng shui concepts into comfortable, relaxing gardens.
fire, earth, metal, and wood or things that represent these elements
must all be present to create a peaceful environment, Stumpff says. Dont
let one element dominate; there should be balance and harmony among them. In her
small backyard, a copper obelisk serves as a metal element, and touches of red
represent fire. Trees and garden furniture provide the wood, and a birdbath and
a tiny water garden in a pot are all she then needs to ensure the unhurried flow
of chi through her garden.
is not good for chi, Stumpff says. If old flower pots and bags of mulch are stacked
in a corner of the deck, or the recycling bins have turned the patio into a storage
space, it looks chaotic and interrupts the peaceful flow of energy. Of course,
cleaning up the clutter improves any garden and makes it more inviting. Often
your intuition tells you what good feng shui is, she says.
and paths impart movement to gardens. Chi flows smoothly along them, but they
also direct your feet, your eyes and your thoughts, just as the paths in a labyrinth
carry you along. Whether it is on a garden path or on a walking trail in a park,
your feet are guided, like theyre in a groove, and you can give your attention
to your surroundings and your thoughts.
turns or a fork in the road recall you to the way before you. Even a garden with
the most unruffled flow of chi is likely to present some surprising twists and
like life: You think you know where youre going, but you dont,
Wilcoxen says. Whether you are religious, have faith or are agnostic and
are into Mother Earth and the vibes of nature, you can come and walk a labyrinth
and bring to it what you need to bring to it.
using a tranquillity base
are lessons in labyrinths, and feng shui is full of sensible ideas for any backyard:
a labyrinth is a meditative exercise, says Adele Wilcoxen, who designed the labyrinth
at Indian Heights United Methodist Church (10211 Nall in Overland Park). There
is no right or wrong way to do it, she says, but dont hurry. This is good
advice no matter where youre going.
are nestled in two small gardens, one in sun and one in shade, right next to the
churchs labyrinth. They are there to encourage visitors to gather their
thoughts before or after walking. A garden bench reminds you to sit down for a
while, put the brakes on your world, and take in the garden around you.
and harmony are the goals of feng shui. Dont let one element dominate, says
Debi Stumpff, a Johnson County master gardener who has incorporated feng shui
elements into her garden. Patios, decks, flower beds or water gardens should all
be in proportion to the dimensions of your property. In a small garden, a birdbath
might be more appropriate than a big pond.
is important to the flow of chi in a garden. Curving shapes and pathways impart
movement and make the garden very inviting. Flowers and shrubs will attract butterflies
and birds and make the place even livelier.
hardscaping (patios, walls) and garden ornaments help define garden spaces and
are especially important in the winter. You may be stuck inside by the cold, but
you can still stand at a window and wander through a peaceful garden in your imagination.
Labyrinth Society holds its Annual Gathering Nov. 8-11 at Unity Temple in Lees
Summit. Go to labyrinthsociety.org.
youre looking for a labyrinth, start at the labyrinth locator at wwll.veriditas.labyrinthsociety.org.