Tag Archives: mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors: More Reflections in the Garden

November 17th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

Two weeks ago I wrote about using water in a garden to reflect the things around it. Water has been used this way for a very long time, and often with a warning attached: think back to the Greek legend of Narcissus, the young boy who fell in love with his reflection in a pool and died.

Reflections are tricky things, full of symbolism and possibility. Consider mirrors, for example. Viewed positively, they are a way of looking inward and gaining self-knowledge; viewed negatively they are signs of vanity and excessive self-regard. Which explains why Narcissus died — he couldn’t tear himself away from his own reflection.

Interior designers often use mirrors to make a space seem larger. The same thing works outdoors. A small garden can seem much larger when a mirror is well positioned. Sometimes the eye is tricked, trompe l’oeil style, into thinking the garden extends beyond its borders.

This image is from Maureen Gilmer’s MOPlants. I don’t know where the garden mirror is located; I found the photo on-line.


Other times the mirror reflecting the garden is a decorative feature, reflecting the people in it.

This photo is from the Art of Gardening. It shows a home-made mirror in a garden in Buffalo, New York.


But mirrors can do much more. In the photo below, I am taking a photograph of a sculpture — and a photograph of myself. Did I take this picture to record my presence in a particular place at a particular time? to capture an image of a work of art? to show to friends when I got home.?  Maybe it was vanity — maybe I thought I looked good that day and wanted a picture to prove it. Whatever prompted me to take the photo, though, the result is the same. I am mirrored in the landscape behind me. Visually I become part of the sculpture, and part of the world that surrounds it.

Taken at the Cass Sculpture Park in Sussex, England
Gate: a sculpture by Rob Ward at the Cass Sculpture Park in Sussex, England. The title invites people to enter it. So does the shape, although that is hard to see in this photo.


Mirrors link us to our gardens, putting us quite literally into the picture. But that picture isn’t always an accurate one.  How many birch trees are there in the photo below? Are we seeing a reflection of the forest or are we looking through the tinted plexiglass at the forest beyond? Or are we doing both?

A plexiglass sculpture by Hal Ingeborg, at the Reford Gardens in Metis, Quebec.
Réflecions Colorées, a plexiglass sculpture by Hal Ingborg at the Reford Gardens in Metis, Quebec, both mirrors the surroundings and allows us to look through it to the forest beyond .


Some years ago I visited Le  Jardin Precambrien at Val David, Quebec. An elaborate mock Italianate fountain created by the Quebec artist Marc Dulude was set in the forest.  The water in the fountain was suggested with mirrors set at odd angles. Seen together, the mirrors broke the surroundings into fragments, sending a message about a world at odds with itself.

Mirrors set at different angles reflected different parts of the forest and the sky above.
Mirrors set at different angles reflected different parts of the forest and the sky above.


At the same time, the distorted reflections spoke of county fairs and the fun houses children like to walk through. The mirrors intrigued spectators of all ages, made them laugh to see themselves turned upside down, stretched wide or narrowed to a point. And to see the world treated in the same way.


A boy is turned upside down as he looks into the mirror.
A boy is turned upside down as he looks into the mirror. Trees towering above him seem to be growing upside down, too.


Mirrors aren’t used in gardens very often, and when they are, their primary purpose is to make a space seem larger. I suppose this is understandable: people may be afraid a mirror will break or get dirty, and that certainly can happen.  Even so, it seems a shame. There’s an opportunity that’s being missed.

Searching through my collection of photographs from around the world, I found many images of mirrors used outdoors as part of a piece of art. I found very few where mirrors are used to add meaning to a garden. One exception is at Througham Court in Gloucestershire, England. Here the garden owner and designer Christine Facer Hoffman has keyed in on the fact that mirrors show what is behind you.  She has used this metaphorically, to say that a mirror looks into the past.


The words are hard to read but I think they say 'Looking into the past"
The words are hard to read but I think they say ‘Looking into the past.” Does that mean you can see yourself as you were when you were younger?



Some photographs do the same. I took this picture of me photographing myself about ten years ago, before the word selfie had been thought of.  I was visiting Les Quatre Vents, the garden of the late Frank Cabot in La Malbaie, Quebec. The mirror here extends the allée.  And I seem to remember that it did something more.

The umbrella reminds me that it was raining that day. The sandals tell me it was warm.
The umbrella reminds me that it was raining that day. The sandals tell me it was warm.


I think there were two mirrors, one at each end of the allée. If so, I didn’t —  or couldn’t — photograph both of them. And  it was so long ago that I can’t remember for sure. But when there are two mirrors, parallel to each other, they set up an infinite series of images, receding into the distance. A great idea for a garden, if you have the right place for it. Or if you have the right frame of mind.


I am confused

September 9th, 2013 | No Comments »
Do I look confused? I am.Help straighten me out!Last week I included a survey in my blog post. Many of you responded. But even more of you did not.Will you take a few minutes now to respond? I'd really appreciate it. Your input will help me make the blog better! And that, I hope, will make it more enjoyable for you.Just click here.

Borrowing a View

June 18th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
In England, the idea of enlarging the view beyond a garden wall -- whether the wall is real or metaphoric -- dates back to the 18th century. The furniture and landscape designer William Kent is said to be the first to recognize that land outside a garden's designed space could appear to be part of it. He understood that someone else's fields or farmlands could be 'borrowed' visually to make one's own lands seem larger. At Rousham House in Oxfordshire. Kent "leapt the wall and saw that all nature was a