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Optical illusions

Optical illusions

A meandering path to the bottom of the garden makes things look bigger.

Gardens nowadays are ever smaller, so here we are giving you a few tips and tricks to make things seem more spacious. Some of these optical illusions are pretty obvious – others really rather make you go ‘huh?’ That’s actually what makes playing with optical illusions, fun – well, that’s our experience. Take a look at our examples here and apply what’s useful to you.

Tips & Tricks

Create a peaceful, unified environment
A tidy garden appears larger; just like it seems bigger indoors when you’ve tidied up. Clear away all those toys and keep the borders neat and tidy. If possible, hide the garden hose and/or wheelie bins behind some hedging. Use that shed for storing all those loose bits and pieces you need for gardening too. You could also ‘camouflage’ your dustbin with attractive stickers if there’s no separate storage.

  • Don’t use too many standing pots and planters in the garden.
  • Use of a larger garden paver can add the look and feel of space.
  • Keep your choice of ‘materials’ less varied. Too many changes will make things too ‘busy’.
  • Plant larger groups of the same plants where possible
  • Repeat certain groups at regular intervals and have a colour or material repeated too.

Lines are powerful

  • Any space looks larger when crossed with diagonal lines in some way.
  • Rounds and organic shapes have a similar effect because the whole line is longer.
  • Make use of how your pavers and decking is laid. If your garden is long and narrow, lay them across the way. If your garden is wide, lay them along the length to visually lengthen things.

A little bit of excitement is always good
Try and make sure you can’t see the whole garden in one glance. Hedging planted across the middle of your viewpoint can help with this.

  • A straight path to the bottom of the garden is a no-no – have it disappear behind something. This suggests more to be seen and invites more investigation.
  • A border that just follows the boundary line of your garden only emphasises it. Lay your border that runs along the edge of the lawn (or perhaps the patio /decking), somewhat over the edges, allowing your lawn to rather fade into the background and making the boundary line less obvious.
  • The use of different height levels in a garden adds depth. Raised beds can achieve this, as can a raised patio or decking. Best effect is achieved where the higher area is just where you look when overseeing the garden.
  • Varying plant heights also reinforces a feeling of space. Give your garden a tree or tall shrub and be sure to use various tall plants when designing your border.
mirror to suggest a deeper garden

Use a mirror to suggest a deeper garden.


Light colours always make things seem larger, but in the garden, there are still a couple of rules of thumb. For instance, a white flowering shrub at the bottom of the garden will seem to jump out at you, and a white painted fence won’t make the garden seem larger, just wider. A dark painted fence (or preferably one covered in plants) is often your best bet for making things appear more spacious.
Really bright colours and variegated foliage plants claim all of the attention so be careful otherwise it will all get a bit too restless looking.

Some more ‘optical illusions’

  • A very noticeable fence around your perimeter tends to give a closed-in feeling. Either cover it in plants (ivy for instance) or use hedging for a more natural boundary and things will appear more at one with their surroundings.
  • A mirror in amongst the plants always look cool - or create a little ‘window’ to make it appear as if there is another bit of garden through there.
  • Contrary to common opinion, a straight path draws too much attention to your garden’s boundary (especially in the small garden).

If you have a large and striking statue at the end of the path, that also creates a smaller look. Allow the path to meander somewhat and you will create depth. Also, start the path wide and have it get narrower as it recedes – this will make it appear even longer. Then, either lower the ‘eye-catcher’ at the end, or use something smaller to make the illusion even more convincing. Or, you could move that attention grabber to half way down your path instead of having it at the end.

optical illusions
optical illusions

Colours and contours fade in the distance so you can use this fact and, for instance, use brighter colours like purple close to the house and have more pastels at the end of the garden.

So, get busy and use all these handy tips to make your small garden look big. Good luck!