Everything You Need to Know About Garden Lighting
Create a cosy ambience in your garden with this expert guide to getting the lighting spot-on.
If you’re planning a garden redesign, it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll illuminate the space in the evening. However, garden lighting can be difficult to get your head around as there are many things to consider. To help, we’ve sourced information from three garden landscaping professionals to share their essential guide to creating the perfect outdoor lighting scheme.
Where should I position my outdoor lights?
“First, we establish if there are any paths or stairs that need lighting for safety and practicality,” says Karen Rogers of KR Garden Design. “Then we concentrate on lighting the focal points of the garden, such as trees, water features and sculptures. We keep the rest of the lighting subtle.”
Lee Bestall of Bestall & Co Landscape Design agrees. “The first phase is often based on a client’s lifestyle – for example, whether they keep a bike they use for commuting in the shed, have chickens that will need feeding in the dark winter months, or have wheelie bins at the bottom of a dark driveway,” says Bestall.
Bestall adds that the second, decorative layer of lighting could include uplighting trees, such as multi-stem and pleached varieties, back-lighting strong topiary shapes, and ‘washing’ lighting over steps, driveways and paths.
“It’s really important not to overdo it, as less is more in many instances,” says John Davies of John Davies Landscape. “However, light the space evenly, taking care not to create black holes between highlights.”
“Garden lighting is as much about what you don’t light as what you do,” says Bestall. “In an open country garden, for example, we never illuminate boundaries, as it makes the garden appear smaller. Also, if you can’t figure out where your land ends, it adds a sense of mystery to the scheme.”
How can I highlight features in my garden?
“There are different ways of lighting garden features, and combining them can achieve some fantastic results,” says Davies. “There’s nothing more dramatic than an uplit tree, and in fact, it’s possible to use uplighting exclusively in a garden.
“However, think about lighting the horizontal plane by way of contrast,” he says. “Light cast across a step or over a lawn makes a great contrast to uplighting and is a good way to make sure you avoid black holes.
“Lighting your way along a path or driveway also works really well and leads the eye through the space at night time,” he continues. “Also consider downlighting on a wall or fence, particularly if you’re worried about light pollution.”
Which type of outdoor lighting should I choose?
“A garden can be lit using either mains or low-voltage lighting [where a transformer reduces the number of volts needed],” says Davies. “Mains voltage may be cheaper, but I’d always recommend the use of low-voltage on account of safety.”
Bestall agrees and says, “Low-voltage is quick and easy to install, especially if you use a plug-and-play system. Don’t opt for a cheap one, though, and make sure the transformer is an external one, as these usually come with a simple plug that you can place into an outdoor weatherproof socket.”
As for the fittings, Rogers recommends ground and mounted lights. “Mounted lights can be installed on trellises,walls and trees to cast light across areas underneath,” she says. “However, most of our lighting is ambient plant lighting using spike spots or ground-fixed spots.
“LED strip lighting can illuminate dark gaps beneath stairs, and inset lighting in paving can highlight objects such as pots,” she adds. “Step lighting can be recessed into the side walls, so the tread is well lit for people to climb.”
Bestall isn’t convinced by solar lighting, though. “I’ve yet to find one that works for longer than two years, so I’m not sure how eco-friendly that is,” he says.
At what stage of a garden redesign should I plan lighting?
“It needs to be planned in from the onset, especially if you’re modifying the house, too,” says Bestall. “Don’t underestimate the importance of thinking through how to control the lighting.”
If you’re hiring a landscaper, Rogers explains, “They will need to know where the lighting cables are to go and whether there are any other features that need an additional electric feed, such as a water feature, gas fire or shed.
“We review the lighting plan once the planting plan has been agreed, as very often the planting plan will differ from the original concept,” she adds.
“If you’re renovating, conduits from the building into the garden should be prepared prior to the completion of building work,” says Davies.
“You don’t have to decide which features you want to light or how many at this stage, but you do need to think about what type of lighting you’d like and also how you want it to be switched.”
How is garden lighting installed?
“An electrician will liaise with the client about the exterior source or outlet for the lighting,” says Rogers. “They will then connect an armoured cable to weatherproof junction boxes around the garden. The cable is usually laid along the garden boundaries or below ground [750 millimetres deep] along a trench.
“The junction boxes are usually secured against an outside wall or post,” she says. “The light cables from these junction boxes are then fed through plastic ducts under the paving or through raised bed walls to the planting beds.”
Rogers advises you should always hire a garden lighting expert or electrician, and pay particular attention to the earth connections and any waterproof seals, as it’s vital your units are weatherproof. “Check all finished work with a socket tester, or a voltage tester for lighting circuits, before using them,” she says.
Can I retrofit my garden lighting?
Retrofitting garden lighting can be tricky. “Nobody likes to see ugly cables running over garden features,” says Davies. “Laying and preparing cabling could then involve chasing out and repairing walls, and lifting and relaying paving, which can be disruptive and costly.”
Bestall says it’s possible to retrofit lighting, but advises, “I’d always plan it in if you’re doing a transformation. However, there are so many different types of lighting available now, and if you just can’t manage it, use festoon lights – they cosy up even the darkest garden.”
What can I do on a low to medium budget?
“If you can only afford one or two lights, illuminate the front door and a focal point,” says Bestall. “For a medium budget, I’d say keep the lighting close to the house and layer it, just as you would in a kitchen.”
Can I incorporate smart technology into my garden lighting?
“Definitely, we do it all the time,” says Bestall. “It’s fun, too, to use products such as a smart bulb, which is an easy retrofit to existing lights.”
You can also connect programs to your voice-activated technology indoors, says Bestall, and extend an indoor lighting system to incorporate the lights outside.
“Smart systems allow wireless switching, which is incredibly convenient,” says Davies. “This can be to a wall-mounted switch, a fob or, even better, via an app on your smart phone. In the same way you can now unlock, de-ice and warm up your car via an app, you can control your garden lighting from any location, as long as you have internet access.”
How do I minimise disturbance to wildlife?
Avoid leaving lights on overnight. “It’s important to restrict the lighting to only when you’re sitting outside or you’re inside and want to light up the garden for ambience,” says Rogers. “Artificial light can disrupt animal behaviour, especially breeding and hunting, and can disorientate nocturnal pollinators.”
Source: Amanda Pollard, Houzz