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Spiky Foliage: A Bit of Feng Shui in the Garden


Bearded iris foliage with a heart-shaped leaf of Dioscorea batatas vine.

According to feng shui, spiky foliage denotes activity, energy, and excitement in the garden. It’s associated with the yang principle, which is the outgoing, upthrusting, active aspect of life. Everything shiny, bright, light, or pointed represents the yang principle.

The yin principle, which is relaxing, inviting, and nurturing, is represented by soft or dull or dark foliage, broad or rounded leaves, and broad or rounded plants.

While I wouldn’t want to have all spiky foliage in my garden (and any feng shui practitioner would caution against it), some of my recent and ongoing plant choices have led to more spiky foliage in my garden. And I’m enjoying it.

The iris in the header photo is one of the legacies of a trip to a local grower. I’m not wild about bearded iris (I hope I don’t get a lot of flak for this), but the types I saw there opened my eyes to the possibilities of iris, and I ordered many more than I had planned to get.

Well, when have I ever gone to a place purveying plants, and failed to order more than I’d planned to get?

So I stuck them where there was space in various containers, and I’m afraid I didn’t label them too carefully, so I can’t tell you which this one is until it flowers. While I was watering, I noticed how sweetly the fan of iris leaves fell, and how nicely they were outlined by the light. They are accompanied in this picture by the heart-shaped leaf of a yam vine (Dioscorea batatas).

This year I experimented with japonica corn, an ornamental variety. In feng shui, these leaves would be considered a bit less yang than the iris leaves: they’re a bit wavy, and bits of them (although you can’t see them in this picture) curve gracefully down.


My abiding love for lilies includes their foliage. Yang aspects of trumpet lily leaves would be their shininess and spikiness. The round spiral pattern of the leaves on the stem, though, would be considered yin: peaceful, restful, nurturing. This Lilium regale (regale lily; not a hard translation) has long since flowered, but still contributes its good looks to a jumble of plants that includes some sprouting native oaks.


This year I got a lot of glads–flowers I’d often scorned until I tried them, especially some of the older varieties.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d like the foliage. And here’s a perfect example of that interplay of yin and yang that is recommended in feng shui: round, small rose leaves (with those little slightly-yang toothed edges) shadowing the tall, spiky glad foliage.


Actually, if you’ve been paying attention, all of these pictures are about the interplay of yin and yang. How could they help but be? It’s what makes the world go around.

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Lacey August 13, 2008, 4:01 pm

    Great post! I’ve got a bearded that was given to me as a gift that I’m trying to find a place for. I like the spikey leaves too … but where oh where to put it!?

  • Pomona Belvedere August 14, 2008, 12:49 pm

    Do you have a place where there are fairly low (up to about 1 foot) bushy things growing? They could grow through them. Mediterranean herbs would be a good choice, similar water requirements.

    Or what about putting them in with late-summer annuals? The iris would finish way before the annuals come in, and while they might get a little drowned in the annuals, bearded irises are really tough and can take some abuse.

  • Roses and stuff August 14, 2008, 7:43 pm

    Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving such useful comments!
    I was thrilled by reading this post as it opened my eyes regarding the gret differences of foliage. The last picture really says it all – the different shapes of foliage could add beauty to any garden!

  • Pomona Belvedere August 15, 2008, 12:47 pm

    I’ll tell you a secret: that last photo was what inspired the entire post. I was taking photos in the evening and that scene opened my eyes to how beautiful glad foliage could be, interplaying with other kinds of foliage.

  • Niels August 17, 2008, 2:18 am

    Thanks for visiting my blog ! This post simply reflects many of the reasons I use plants with spiky foliage. It provides contrast to plants with a rounded growth habit, rounded flowers and foliage. This is the reason I come to like bearded Irises – I choose those with great fragrance and those who have that nice blue, grey-green sword like leaves. The flowers are just a bonus! Same With Gladioli. I would also like to direct your attention to: Gladiolus Callicanthus syn. Acidenthera bicolor ssp. Murielae. They look a bit like gladioli with their foliage, but the flowers are different -white, with a puplish black eye and an absolutely wonderful strong fragrance like the best of lillies – why not get the best from both types of plants all in one! They have the same foliage as gladioli, but does not need staking. I stake my Gladioli with 4 feet tall rusty rebar iron stakes, that I hammer down. I then tie the gladioli stalks to the stake. These stakes look invisible compared to bamboo stakes. I will never forget the Feng Shui Designer that removed the roses from a clients garden, because they had thorns and was too much yang! She even removed the thornless roses! ARRRGGHHH!!!

  • Pomona Belvedere August 18, 2008, 2:09 pm

    I planted 50 corms of Glad. callicanthus etc. Murielae this year. But this year, as other years, while I have gotten some foliage, so far no sign of a flower. Do they not like crowding? Because mine are mostly jammed in with other plants. Do they need more sun than other glads? I really like the look of them and the idea that they’re scented, and would love to get them to flower.

    I like the idea of rebar stakes and I like even better the idea of not staking at all. I use fairly-invisible but also fairly-flimsy green lily stakes for the glads while flowering, then just cut the old stem and move the support to the next flowering candidate.

    I think to really understand something like Feng Shui takes a lot of time, especially to translate it to European sensibilities. My sense is that there’s a certain amount of relying on formula instead of true working with the principles, which are complex but fluid: thus, the murdered roses.

    I don’t claim to Feng Shui expertise but I have spent some time studying and working with it and that’s my take.

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