Sometimes the simplest tricks are the best. At a house in Hammersmith with a courtyard just 16ft long, the impression when you look through the back doors is of a far bigger garden. It’s all down to a mirrored panel covering the back wall, seeming to double the space and its colourful planting.
“When I first saw the garden it was a very gloomy, derelict space,” says the designer Joanna Archer. The before picture shows a cramped yard with an uninspiring wooden fence and a neighbour’s roof dominating the view.
Archer put up a freestanding MDF panel in front of the original fence and attached the mirror panel.
The canopy of a pleached evergreen magnolia grandiflora hedge planted just in front of it not only hides the offending roof but adds depth to the garden as the glossy foliage is reflected.
Antiqued and Romantic
Archer used Venetian reproduction antique mirror panels from Preedy Glass. Their slightly dull, speckled finish gives a warmer, softer reflection than a completely shiny mirror which can seem harsh in a garden setting. The glass came in three panels and was installed on-site. Off-the-peg horizontal slatted fencing from Garden Trellis Company down the sides of the garden, reflected, appears to go on and on.
Bright planting around the sawn sandstone seating area is similarly supersized, with repeating groups of orange achillea Terracotta, geranium Wargrave Pink, astrantia major Alba and purple clematis Warszawska Nike. The overall effect is like being in a beautiful, mirrored jewel box and the client loves it.
“It has become a whole new room for the house,” says Archer. “It’s a great relaxing and entertaining space and we also put in lots of festoon lighting and uplighters near the stems of the trees, wafting up a soft glow.”
Anyone can use mirrors to make a garden appear larger, but think about what you are reflecting. There is little point positioning a mirror to showcase bins or a rusty barbecue. Place them to reflect a view, beautifully planted pots or garden greenery.
You want to create the illusion your space extends beyond its actual boundaries, or to introduce interesting and surprising angles.
Positioning is Vital
Finding the perfect position may involve a bit of jiggling around, so don’t be too hasty to bang nails into the fence until you have seen the mirror from all angles, including from inside the house. You can always lean large, heavy mirrors up against a wall if you want to keep your options open. Even slight angle changes can make a huge difference.
A central path leading to a back fence, for example, can be made to appear double the length if a mirror is hung at the end, tilted slightly downwards. In his book Garden Design Solutions, designer Stephen Woodhams has plenty of garden mirror tips.
Use a large mirror behind a day bed and it will look twice as deep and luxurious. Break up a monotonous fence by placing a mirror — or even a series of three — along its length, reflecting a skyline or collection of pots. Big country gardens often feature round openings in internal walls to provide a vista beyond. Create the same effect in a small urban garden by placing small round mirrors on a fence so they reflect an interesting feature. You could use any old mirror but be aware that, unless they are designed for the outdoors, they may not look pristine for long.
If rain gets in, the silvering can come away from the backing, making dark areas on the glass. On the other hand, this weathered effect may be just what you’re looking for. If budget allows, it’s always best to go for real glass. Acrylic panels can look cheap and give a wobbly “hall of mirrors” effect.
For a softer reflection you’ll need glass with an aged patina. Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and Aldgate Home source old window frames, restore them and fit them with hand-antiqued glass. They can paint the frames any colour.