Garden Design – Creating Depth

The Interim - Liked the openess

Not many gardens offer the far off vista of a beautiful mountain or the sweep of grassy plain.

This is especially true in Colorado suburbs.  Most often the main eye level view is a flat plane of the six foot privacy fence.  While privacy is great, it comes at the cost of visual confinement.  The barrier that keeps the view of your garden in also keeps the depth of adjacent land out.  This visual barrier can create an increasing anxiety when spending time in the space.  Visual deprivation when taken to the extreme, as in solitary confinement, can lead to mental breaks and hallucinations.  So why is a garden blog talking about mental breaks?  Because a recent study shows the more greenery surrounding your home the healthier and happier you are in general.   Yet I often hear people say they don’t want to take care of a yard or that outdoor space is not important when considering the purchase of a home.  Perhaps is not the maintenance of the yard but what’s offered as outdoor space today.

I believe the distaste people have with the idea of a garden (note I say garden instead of yard) is due in part to the trend towards large houses on small lots.  While a developer’s profit is maximized by crowding as many homes as possible into an area, it comes at a cost to the homeowner.  The standard lot allows only enough room for the proverbial postage stamp yard, with nothing more than a lawn to mow and a fence to stare at. Even small trees can dwarf the already confining landscape if not properly placed.  So what’s a homeowner to do if they want their outdoors to provide the health benefits of greenery?

Below are seven techniques to create the calm green filled space without knocking down fences.

Expanding the visual horizon

  1. Use the long axis
  2. Break up the flat plane
  3. Layer greenery
  4. Borrow views
  5. Trick the eye
  6. Take your relaxation to the view
  7. If you can’t hide it, flaunt it

1. Use the long axis

If your lot is wider than it is deep consider moving your seating area to one end and placing something of visual interest at the other.  Enhance the length by making the bordering lines straight.  The eye will be drawn down the length of the border to the other end.  You can extend the view further by using a borrowed view below.

Side yard
Side yard using long axis

2. Break up the flat plane

A long fence with nothing to break up its dimensions will become the focal point.  Like following the lines of the long axis,  a fence can draw more attention just by the flat plane it creates.  Create variation in the depth along the fence.  This can be achieved with plantings or adding structures like an arbor that pulls the eye forward.  Varying the height of the fence can also break up the plane.

Breaking the plane

3. Layer Greenery

Much has be written about the affect of layering plants with a back, middle, and foreground of planting. The tallest plants at the back, with medium then ground level plants in front.  If you do not have a lot of room to create a deep border bed for layering bushes and shorter plants in front, consider using vines to add height in the back while saving space for your middle and foreground plants.

Wonderful shade garden
Wonderful layered shade garden

4. Borrow Views

A borrowed view can be anything that might appear outside your current garden view.  It could be a neighbor’s tree like the lovely purple mountain ash out my back every autumn.  Perhaps framing a particular view of the sky can draw the eye out, or installing a hammock to look upwards.   Look around before planting to ensure those views are not blocked. You can also borrow a view within your own landscape.  Creating a gated entry to another part of your yard can provide mystery and depth.  Or perhaps creating a window to frame a particular view.

Creating a dramatic entry
Creating a dramatic entry with borrowed view

5. Trick the Eye

Sometimes just giving the illusion of space can add depth and make visual barriers retreat.   A full length mirror placed flush with ground looks like a doorway.  A round mirror placed on a fence becomes a porthole.  If you want a water feature but not the care, place a mirror on the ground surrounded by rocks to create a pool affect.  For less maintenance, try a dry creek bed that narrows towards its furthest point.

Trompe l’oeil doorway, Knaresborough

Tromp L’oil,  french for ‘deceive the eye’ is a form artwork that creates the illusion of a 3 dimensional object.


6. Take your relaxation to the view

Perhaps moving your sitting area to the front yard is an easier choice.  Letting the neighbor’s work be your view is the simplest of all worlds.  Just be sure to invite them to  relax with you after watching them labor.

7. If you can’t hide it, flaunt it

If none of the above fit your situation, perhaps the fence should get the make over!  There is no shortage of ideas to liven up or down play a fence.  Below are some of my favorite free photos.


By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0,
By Rhododendrites – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By Annie Spratt anniespratt –, CC0,

An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.