Slight of hand is what makes magic acts so confounding. Your eye is betrayed by tricks that seem to defy all we know about physics. Yet they are so effective we have no choice but to suspend our disbelief.
There is magic of a similar kind wrought by the skills of garden designers. It’s the technique of creating visual space where none exists. This ability to trick you into believing there is more there than meets the eye is called trompe loiel, the French term for “fool the eye”.
The traditional and most common example of French trompe l’oiel is the art of trellage. This arrangement produces trellis systems which use artist’s forced perspective to make it appear as though there is greater depth. This works exactly the way an artist does with a painting. While this geometric system of lines on a contrasting background can be effective, it doesn’t work well outside formalized landscapes.
There is a simpler way to achieve this sense artificial space that’s cheaper and adapts to virtually all garden styles equally. It solves a dozen problems unique to small space outdoor living or urban postage stamp gardens bounded by oppressive walls.
Imagine if you could borrow some real estate to create a whole new garden room to look into? As you sit in a tiny claustrophobic patio, a window on another world could change the entire sense of place. The technique to create such magic: exploit reflection with mirrors.
A mirror reflects everything in front of it to virtually double the sense of space. We use them often indoors to make rooms seem larger. It works just as well in the garden. The size and position of a mirror can provide you a tantalizing, albeit artificial view.
If you’re using a mirror on walls beneath eaves or solid roofing, any type is suitable. But without cover, rain can damage the silvering on the back of a standard mirror made for interior use. For this situation order all-weather outdoor mirror for seasonal or year around applications. To make the effect work perfectly you must fix the mirror solidly to the background. If it is hung by a wire it will tilt, giving you too much floor or sky. That just won’t fool the eye.
When considering the size of an outdoor a mirror, match the scale of gateways and windows to give it a more realistic look. Decide if its to function best when sitting or standing. Be certain of what is reflected in the mirror from those important viewpoints to get the illusion just right.
A full length mirror created to hang on the back of a door provides a natural looking portal in the garden where it’s placed. It should be flush with the ground in order to completely pull off such a hoax. If it is set into planting, be aware that splash when it rains may spot the mirror. Ditto when it comes to nearby water features. In those cases raise it up a few inches for clearance.
Mirrors about the size of a window allows you to look out upon a fictionalized garden room. These too should be clearly visible from the most often used outdoor living area and reflect a pleasing picture of the garden.
Give your mirrors a sense of permanence with framing. Bundle sticks into a rustic frame and tack it to the wall around the mirror. Haunt garage sales for cheap mirrors. Seize battered metal or wrought iron framed ones. Those in disintegrating wood frames are good for at least one season of fun.
Plants are the best way to give a faux view a realistic appearance. Arches of vines shrouding the edges cover a multitude of clues. Pack the space with color and flowers to ensure each reflection is a gardenesque as possible. Because the only thing better than a small flower filed garden is two of them.