Small Garden Design Tricks

On April 1, we hosted our annual Garden Conference with huge success. Our speakers were so engaging and provided so much information that I thought it would be fun to follow up with a couple of blog posts on the same topics.

This image from Vialii Garden Design show the effectiveness of a well-placed mirror in a garden to make it look larger.

Master Gardener David Calle talked about garden design principles, with lavish photographs of gardens from all over the world. One of his points dealt with providing a focal point at the back of your garden and another talked about providing a welcoming entrance. (Visit David’s blog at to enjoy David’s design tips and stories of his trips.)

Both of these points reminded me of the woes from gardeners with small spaces. But, those of you with small garden spaces, be of good cheer! Fooling the eye seems to be a continuing goal of small-space gardeners, and a serpentine path might be just what you need, especially if it’s also slightly narrower at the far end of the garden. Another method of achieving a false perspective is to plant species with large leaves, like hostas or rhododendrons, close to the window or viewing point, and those with small leaves, like liriope or cut-leaf maples, toward the rear. This is a favorite devise in Japanese gardens. Artfully positioned mirrors also help to make gardens feel larger.

From, the arbor and painted image on the doors of this potting shed is an example of trompe l’oeil.

Trelliswork is an effective and practical way to add an illusion of space, especially when designed with the false perspective known as trompe l’oeil. The secret of trompe l’oeil trelliswork lies in diagonal lines that appear to radiate from an imaginary vanishing point — much like the perspective of railroad tracks. Because mirrors add brightness as well as the illusion of depth, nothing beats a mirror-trellis combination when it comes to improving a small, dark garden.

You can build a simple wall trellis yourself by using a horizontal and vertical grid, or attempt a more elaborate plaid of double slats, diagonal, or diamond pattered (don’t forget that you’ll have to paint whatever you build). If your talents do not lie in the area of construction, look for prefabricated panels at local garden centers or hardware stores, and in mail-order catalogs.

To weatherproof a mirror for outdoor use, with or without the trelliswork, glue it to marine-grade plywood and seal the edges with silicone caulking.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman



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