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Create More Space! Expand Small Spaces With These Creative Gardening Techniques

You can fool the eye with a few simple tricks...

A common problem of the modem gardener is that the space you can afford isn't big enough to accommodate your dreams. Indeed, it may not seem large enough even to accommodate you. Unless, of course, you know a thing or two about expanding the space.

Receding colors: "Cool" colors such as blues, soft pinks, and white seem to recede from the eye. Blue, in particular, mimics the bluish tint that atmospheric haze gives to distant objects. Plant the perimeter of the garden in cool colors, and it will look larger. "Hot" reds, oranges, and bright yellows, incidentally, have the opposite effect. They jump out at the eye, and are useful for lending intimacy to too-large spaces.

Forcing the perspective: Renaissance artists discovered that you could lend an illusion of depth to a flat canvas by copying the way in which natural scenes seem to recede to a single point. A skillful gardener can use this knowledge to "force the perspective," that is, to make a landscape seem to have more depth than it actually does. You can, for example, run a path straight back through the center of the garden, staking it out so that the path gradually narrows as it approaches the back fence. The viewer's eye will assume that the width of the path is uniform, and that the edges seem to draw together because the path is receding into the distance.

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Similarly, if you clip a hedge so that it diminishes in height and width at a uniform rate as it draws away from the viewer, it will seem much longer than it actually is, Echoing the plantings near to the house with similar but markedly smaller ones along the back fence also creates an exaggerated illusion of depth. Southerners could, for example, plant a mass of vigorous full-sized yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria) next to the back door, and a cluster of dwarf yaupons (Ilex vomitoria 'Nana') at the yard's far edge. Northerners could do the same with Japanese holly (I. crenata) and its dwarf clones 'Geisha' or 'Beehive'.

Trompe I'oeil: This is a French expression that means "fool the eye," and there is a trompe I'oeil technique by which you can double the apparent size of a confined space.

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In its simplest form, this involves the use of a full-length mirror to give an illusion of depth to an enclosing wall or fence. Mount the mirror on the barrier, setting it at the end of a path and at a slight angle to the wall or fence so that when you look into it, you don't see simply a reflection of yourself. Frame the mirror with a false threshold made of scrap lumber, tiles or brick, so that when you gaze at it, you seem to be looking through a door into another garden space. Mask the mirror's edges with vines and the illusion can be quite convincing.

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