Strategically-placed mirrors in the garden can create light where there is darkness, depth where none exists. They can create the illusion of a pathway through a garden wall or can reflect an unexpected glimpse into a hidden corner of the garden. Mirrors can visually double the space, imparting a feeling of lightness and openness to an otherwise tiny garden. They can make the viewer believe he’s caught a glimpse into a secret garden tucked beyond the hedgerow. Using mirrors in the garden is a well-known but often neglected technique that has been written about for the past two centuries. Humphry Repton (c1752-1818) was one of the great English landscape designers at the turn of the 19th century and he often incorporated the use of mirrors to enhance the beauty and grandeur of his famous landscape designs. He defended the practice of this artful deception:
I am aware of the common objection to all efforts that may be deemed deceptions… The images of poetry and of painting are most interesting when they seduce the mind to believe their fictions; and in landscape gardening everything may be called a deception by which we endeavour to conceal the agency of art and make our works appear the sole product of nature.
One of Humphry’s English colleagues, Mr. Burke further defends this practice of artistic illusion, stating “A true artist should put a generous deceit on the spectators, and effect the noblest designs by easy methods. Designs that are vast only by their dimensions are always the sign of a common and low imagination. No work of art can be great but as it deceives; to be otherwise is the prerogative of nature only.”
There is honesty in this deception in that the mirror is simply reflecting what already truly exists in the garden; it is simply confusing the mind regarding the true location of what the eye is seeing. Mirrors help to create the illusion of a much grander, brighter or multi-roomed garden by altering the sense of proportion, light and defined boundaries. Mounting a mirror on a garden wall or fence will fool the eye into believing there is another garden beyond the garden wall. Positioning the mirror takes a bit of practice–you don’t want to see your own reflection peering back at you which will spoil the illusion. By slightly angling the mirror down and to the side, you will be able to create a convincing illusion which reflects nothing but light, greenery and color. By softening the edges of the mirror with foliage, a false window frame, a perspective trellis or a pair of shutters, your result will be even more believable.
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