When darkness is your canvas, designing the perfect outdoor lighting scheme is as much about deciding what to leave in shadow as what to illuminate. And while security lights undoubtedly play their part when darkness falls, for those who love their gardens at night, effective lighting means creating atmosphere without the risk of stumbling about in the dark. Here’s how to go about it.
First impressions count, so make sure your visitors and guests are adequately wowed by the sight of your attractively painted, well lit front door. As well as providing a smart and sophisticated welcome, motion sensor lights over front and back doors offer a great security feature too.
Ugly front door? Not all of us are lucky enough to live in smart townhouses or rustic country cottages. If your front door is a little on the plain side, change the emphasis by lighting the path instead. Solar powered LED stake lights are all you need to turn your hedge into a lighted corridor to your porch.
Paths and borders
Lighting a feature in the middle of the lawn without also lighting the back of your plot halves its apparent size. Using lights to outline the shape of your borders and paths gives a sense of overall space and proportion to your nighttime garden, while also stopping you tripping over paving slabs in the dark.
If you have a long, narrow back garden, avoid placing your lights at regular intervals along the length of a straight path or it will look like a runway. Instead, create an irregular shaped border, or better still, a meandering path that provides additional interest when lit.
Plan your garden lighting around a focal point or it can end up presenting an array of competing features that confuse rather than appeal. Because of its height and spread, an attractive tree makes an excellent centrepoint for your nighttime garden, creating atmosphere for your summer soirees, or simply a pleasant vista for when you sit outside to enjoy a glass of wine.
Choose from all-weather fairy lights which create a magical display, or opt for uplighting, a much simpler option that requires no climbing.
If you’re using your garden at night, install lights to illuminate steps and other obstacles, especially if you intend to entertain guests. For a permanent solution, set recessed lights into an adjoining garden wall or add LED strips underneath stair treads. You need enough light to see by, but not so much that you’re dazzled – 1W LEDs are sufficient.
For a flexible solution to the challenge of lighting your steps, some well placed pots or planters containing solar powered LED stake lights are an affordable option. For occasional use on a summer's evening, you could even go for some well-placed tea-lights, or candle lanterns.
Lighting your garden walls and fences provides an attractive ambience so that you and your guests can see each other as you socialise around a summer braai or barbecue. Again, there’s no need to overdo the wattage – in fact low power should be a feature of your lighting strategy. With LED technology, it’s perfectly possible to light your whole garden and still use less than 60W of power.
When lighting your walls, use uplights as your main source of illumination – wall mounted mains powered designs are an ideal choice. Keep your downlighting soft to avoid glare – think instead of table lanterns or hang strings of lights in your trees and shrubs, or tack them to fence panels.
Patios and decking
Build lighting into your decking at the design stage when you can plan to conceal the wires so they won’t be visible. Think in terms of installing unobtrusive lighting that’s built into steps and under seats, and which you can control with a dimmer switch.
Alternatively, free standing lights are a flexible way to lend atmosphere to your decking or patio area. Tea-lights and storm lanterns are another way to add the sort of ambient glow that’s perfect for when you want to relax and unwind, or enjoy a quiet evening with friends.
Turn your garden pond into a water feature that adds the wow factor to your nighttime garden – all it takes is some lights and a little imagination. Again, the key is to go for soft lighting; even goldfish need to sleep sometimes, besides which, it’s the refraction of light caused by rippling water which gives a nighttime pond its appeal.
Add even more interest by incorporating lights into a fountain or flowing water – a cherub water feature might not have quite the pomp of the Trevi Fountain’s Oceanus and the Tritons, but it’ll certainly be a fun talking point.
Summer is all about dining outdoors on balmy evenings. But to get the most from the experience means creating just the right mood lighting to see what you’re eating and drinking, as well as to encourage good conversation. And then there are the bugs to keep at bay.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a pergola or outdoor building with adjoining decking area, hang a candle chandelier which, with the addition of citronella candles, should help to deter flying insects as you tuck into your antipasto. To add ambience to your table settings, solar powered jar string lights make an unusual addition.
A simple and effective way to light your summer garden party is to place jars filled with tea-lights in every nook and cranny you can think of – bearing in mind that naked flames are always a fire risk. Storm lanterns and candle lanterns are also a great option here.
But for a flexible solution that doesn’t pose any risk, you can’t go wrong with a mixture of coloured solar powered stake lights and higher level string lights. They’re simple to hang from branches, fences, and bushes and with so many great designs to choose from, you can always find something unique to make your soiree stand out from the crowd.
Safety and security
If you leave it unlit, the green space around your home provides the perfect cover for opportunistic thieves and potential burglars. Make sure that you avoid becoming a victim of crime by installing effective and efficient lighting deterrents.
At one end of the scale, mains powered security lighting and camera systems which are wired into your burglar alarm provide an excellent level of cover, often featuring wi-fi technology that allows you to monitor your cameras even when you’re not at home. For those looking for a simple solution, solar-powered and battery operated security lighting and alarm systems are available.
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