Have you thought about using mirrors in your garden? This unexpected piece of home décor lends itself so well to an outdoor environment. In the home we use them functionally (like for checking your hair on the way out the door) as well as to enliven our spaces by reflecting light or creatively modifying the feel of a space. Outdoors we can do the same thing but there are some special considerations that allow you to get even more creative.
Ideas for Using Mirrors in your garden
- Mirrors can help give the illusion of extra space. I love when small garden owners are able to strategically place a mirror to trick the mind into thinking that there is more garden and more to see. Place mirrors on walls in the shape of a doorway or a window and the reflection will give the illusion that the garden continues to another area beyond. Consider even putting a gate in front of the mirror to highlight the illusion.
- Reflect the beauty of your plants and flowers. With a mirror, suddenly one flower looks like two (and if you get really clever with multiple mirrors, maybe it can even look like more). Magnify the impact of special elements by making them seem bigger with a mirror.
- Use a mirror to brighten up a dark corner. Mirrors reflect light and enliven everything around them. By reflecting light and warmth, you may even be able to alter the microclimate enough to allow you to grow less hardy plants or plants that need more sunlight.
- Mirrored surfaces on sculptural forms add movement and interest in an unexpected way. This type of sculpture doesn’t dominate stylistically like some other more traditional sculpture might. Instead it adds mystery by altering the obvious and making it a little more unexpected. I adore this mirrored monolith (bottom of post) at the Pettifers garden in Oxfordshire England – if this is too much for your garden consider something smaller – like a mirrored gazing ball.
- Play with mirrors to create illusion. Strategically placed mirrors can make a hedge look like it is longer, or can create new perspective line that alters the feeling of a space. Think about mirrored halls and fun houses and how you can use those tricks to make a statement in your garden
- Consider a mirror near a seating or dining area. When you are eating outdoors, often candles and warm lights are used around the table. A mirror will help to highlight this warmth and give a greater sense of enclosure.
- Not all mirrors are vertical. Water in the garden is a great natural mirror that reflects the sky and the landscape the surrounds it. Ponds are great for this, but even puddles can make a scene more interesting.
Weather-Proofing Your Garden Mirror
Using mirrors outside does create some practical issues. While there is no magic fix to protect a mirror that’s placed outdoors, there are a few things you can do to extend the life of an interior mirror that is used outside.
Glass mirrors have a silver backing that gives them their reflective quality. This backing is vulnerable to water. Obviously, placing a mirror outside is going to expose it to the elements. Over time, the silver backing will start to bubble or peel. How many years you will get from a mirror is hard to say – it will depend on your climate and the exposure of the piece. But if you protect it and take some precautions you can extend the life.
Modern mirroring is more durable than older mirroring. Personally, I don’t mind a “weathered” looking mirror – particularly in the garden but if you are concerned, you can seal the edges of the mirror to its frame by using a water-proof silicone caulk or a spray sealant. Run a bead of caulk wherever water might seep in between the frame and mirror or cover the whole back and sides with a spray. This is the best advice I have for extending the life of a glass mirror outdoors – it isn’t perfect, but it should help. Remember too that mirrors are not terribly expensive, and they are recyclable – so if the weathering starts to gets too much for your taste, changing it up for a new one isn’t a big cost.
Make sure that the mirror is securely attached to wherever you’re going to hang it. Assuming that you are using a mirror with a wooden frame, you can screw the corners of the frame directly to the surface where it will be mounted. Adhesives are also an option. If you have a mirror without a frame that has holes drilled in the corners (such as an old bathroom mirror), you can mount it using screws and preferably rubber washers. You can also hang it using NON-RUSTING wire attached to the back, with a securely placed hanger on the hanging surface. I don’t prefer this method though as anything that is outside is subject to the elements – and wind in particular can catch and pull something right off a wall. Mounting the mirror flush and firmly should be the goal.
I’ve never heard of this being a legit problem in the garden but I have seen mention of it a time or two, so I will discuss. Be careful that there will be no problem with the mirror’s reflection starting a fire. It sounds a bit impossible and it mostly is – but not completely. Mirrors can reflect and focus light intensely enough to ignite things – those bushcraft youtube guys do it all the time. Watch when and where the sun’s reflection is directed throughout the day to see where it lands and how hot it gets. The heat of the sun, reflected and magnified with a mirror, can catch leaves and pine needles on fire if the conditions are just right.
Plastic and Other Mirror Alternatives
Plastic is safer than glass and lighter in weight. If you want your mirror to retain its reflective qualities over many years, think about investing in a plastic one. Plastic mirror sheeting looks like glass and has some advantages. It is much more impact resistant and much less likely to cause injury if it breaks. There are two types available – acrylic and polycarbonate. Big-box DIY stores usually carry the acrylic type and you can also find suppliers for both acrylic and polycarbonate mirrors online.
Which is better acrylic or polycarbonate?
Acrylic Mirror mirrors are about 10 times stronger than glass and they are well suited for outdoor use. The drawback is that they are not as clear and reflective as glass mirrors. Also – the bigger the mirror, the more distortion (think fun house mirror) that you will have. If you want to avoid this, increase the thickness the mirror (but also increase the price).
The alternative to acrylic is polycarbonate mirror. Polycarbonate is about twice the price of acrylic mirror, but is 200 times stronger than glass and its reflective qualities are better. This is the best option for an exterior outdoor use mirror if you are looking for a long-term high-end option.
Another mirror finish material to consider is stainless steel. The reflection is similar to glass mirrors and while this is also an expensive option, it can be beautifully incorporated into sculpture and architecture in the garden.
**Warning: Birds + Garden Mirrors**
A Mirror Can Put Our Feathered Friends Into A Tizzy … Or Worse 🙁
Keep wildlife in mind when installing a garden mirror. Some birds will batter themselves to death against a mirror. They also might fly into it because they don’t realize it’s a barrier, or they might attack the “other bird” that is intruding on their territory. Depending on the location and placement of the mirror, this can be a problem and you should be aware of it and watch out for it. Here is a helpful video that talks about research being done to help create building materials that kill less birds. The key appears to be adding lines that are no more than 2 inches horizontally or 4 inches vertically. Keep an eye out for bird friendly glass and mirrors in the market and in the interim, consider adding a suspended mesh in front of the mirror to prevent accidents.
If you’re concerned about wildlife, the safest way to incorporate mirrors into the garden is to add still water. A pond is also a horizontal mirror that serves wildlife of all sorts.
Do you have questions about using mirrors outside? If so, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
images- Leon Davis Design, Aldgate Home, courtesy of David Harber by Clive Nichols, Annie Spratt and Jørgen Håland