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Past Articles Library | Trompe L'oeil in the Landscape Part I

Creating illusion in the landscape is just another tool that the gardener has in their wheelbarrow.  It can consist of using scale to make a building look shorter or longer.  It can also be used to create foreign landscapes through plantings, accessories and “tricking the eye” paintings.  But it can also be used to give the illusion of water without the problems that water features can entail.

The concept of trompe l’oeil is to fool the eye into believing what it sees is real.  A good example of this would be a fence that was painted with trees incorporated in an environment that consisted of trees.  The illusion would be just an extension of the planted forest and could be enhanced with landscape accessories such as benches or stepping stones that continued into the painting.

While this illusionary art is very effective, the key to using this technique is that it looks real.  To achieve this in a painting, one must be skilled as an artist.  But there are some simple techniques that one can use to accomplish this illusion without being an artist.  To demonstrate this point, we are going to go over some techniques used to create a trompe l’oeil pond in a landscape without water.

  • Observe the natural environment.  Knowing what defines a particular environment is important to utilizing the trompe l’oeil technique.  In our example a pond environment is surrounded by certain plant material such a cattails, reeds, and moss.  Observe also how this environment changes through the seasons.  Include in this observation how the sunlight hits the water during different times and what animals visit this environment.  Utilizing this information in your design will aid one in creating a pond environment that is not stagnant in time but instead flows with the natural environment. 
  • Listen to the environment.  Part of the trick to using trompe l’loeil in the landscape is to mimic as much of that particular environment as possible.  In our example, listening to the sounds that are associated with a pond environment are just as important as to the plant and wildlife that is associated with that space.
  • Smell the environment.  Each environment has a particular smell associated with it.  Environments that have water as a main component also have a moist smell.  Mimicking the smell is one more way of convincing your garden visitor that you really have a pond in your garden space.
  • Touch the environment.  Texture and how the environment feels is another aspect that one needs to consider.  What does it feel like when you walk up to a pond?  Do you notice temperature changes?  Does the environment feel moister?  Do the plants seem to be softer to the touch, such as the case with moss?  All of these characteristics are important when one is trying to create a complete illusion.

At this point, one may be scratching their head and wondering how all this can be accomplished.  In our example, a pond environment is easily created with some common household items.  In part II of Trompe L’oeil in the Landscape, you will learn how to create a successful illusion of a water feature for any size landscape.


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