Illusions of Space in Garden Design

Illusions of Space in Garden Design
Photo by Veronica Reverse / Unsplash

Garden Designers employ a number of techniques to manipulate space and change our perception of a space. This is done through the use of optical illusions that can trick your mind into thinking a space is smaller/bigger than it really is. Here are some of the techniques I have used in my garden designs to make small spaces feel bigger:


One of the simplest techniques is to use stripes. Stripes lead the eyes away, and plays a trick on our mind. Vertical lines make spaces appear taller, horizontal lines make spaces appear wider/longer. The simplest way to employ this technique is with fencing, specifying a fence with horizontal slats (stripes) for smaller spaces can make them appear larger. Similarly a large space can feel more cozy with the use of horizontal planks on a fence. This method is most effective when there are gaps between the slats or some kind of contrast between each line so that is is more like stripes. Another way to make space feel bigger using lines is to incorporate them into your walkways. Long planks or thin pavers placed lengthwise towards the back of your garden can make the path feel much longer than it really is.

Photo by 極地狐 / Flickr

Warm/Cool Colors

In our post on Color Theory, we talked about how colors can affect our perception of space. Using Warm colors (Red, Orange, Yellow, etc.) can make things appear closer than they really are, so plant beds that have warm color flowers will make a space feel smaller. The opposite is true for Cool colors (Green, Blue, Purple, etc.), which will make a space feel bigger. In addition to choice of plants, this technique can also be applied to walls or fences by your choice of paint colors for these.


Mirrors are often used inside the home to make a room feel bigger. Mirrors are not as commonly used outside, but they can be used to good effect in your garden.You will need waterproof mirrors outside and cheaper plastic mirrors are available at home improvement stores. Placing a mirror against a wall with a long approach will make the space feel much longer. Try to avoid using mirrors that are too large as they might create a hazard for birds. Another consideration is reflected light. Mirrors can reflect light into dark spaces, which can be beneficial, however reflecting light into your home or neighbor's property can be problematic.

Overhead Objects

A lot of gardens are created from an eye-level perspective. Taller items in your garden will lead your eyes upwards to see another aspect of the garden. This will take your focus away from the Garden's small proportions. Trees, trellises, statues and pergolas can be used for that effect. This is best achieved when these architectural items are placed near the entrance or at the end of your garden to grab your attention as a prominent focal point. Using landscape lighting that lights up the structure from below will highlight these features even more in the evenings.

Photo by Jan Canty / Unsplash

Outdoor Rooms

If you arrange your garden space into several zones, you can create different rooms in your landscape. Forgo the traditional flat area with a lawn surrounded by shrubs and divide the area into several usable zones. When divided by physical barriers such as walls or hedges, the rooms create an element of surprise which will make the space feel much bigger. The use of curving pathways to lead into other areas will create a sense of anticipation, making garden visitors curious as to what lies beyond. Using rooms to divide the space obscures the actual size of the space, making it feel larger. If feasible, try to incorporate transitions to zones by changing elevation to create different levels in your garden.

Photo by Tri Vo / Unsplash

Garden Furniture

Your choice of furniture for your garden can impact your perception of the space. A long used trick for interior designers, placing chairs with an open design that you can see through helps to make a small space feel bigger. That can be applied to your outdoor furniture too. Try to avoid bulky solid furniture as this will make your space feel cramped. Instead, opt for cafe style dining sets that can be folded away when not in use. Dual purpose furniture that includes storage such as a storage bench can make a space feel smaller due to the more efficient use of space.

Photo by Camille Brodard / Unsplash

Designing a garden in a small space can have its challenges, but as you can see there are a number of tricks we can use to make the space feel bigger than it really is. With a little planning and creative thinking, you can create a visually pleasing and spacious feeling garden.

Tristam Bielecki

Tristam Bielecki

Garden Designer based in Los Angeles, California. Tristam specialises in planning drought tolerant and sustainable gardens with an emphasis on native plants.