Tips for putting lights in your garden

Gone are the days of bulky, ugly fittings – now you can really make your garden glow.

If there’s one thing I really loathe in a garden – apart from weeds, dead palm fronds and anything yellow – it’s solar lighting. To be fair, it’s not something I’ve investigated lately, so my experience so far is that eerie, rather watery-blue glow sent out by cheap, nasty aluminium fittings you poke into the ground on prongs. Just hideous. I am prepared – in fact, I am keen – to stand corrected by anyone who can tell me that solar lighting has moved on from there.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to light the garden with candles and braziers, and show guests back to their cars with a torch. The reason is that good garden lighting is expensive. It never seems to climb up my priority list – past the 500 plants we still need, the pontoon to sit over the river so we can dangle our feet, the carport, the summer house, the small swimming pool and the partner’s insane desire to plough up our acre of front lawn and replant it with something that will make it look like a golf green instead of a kikuyu paddock.

However, now that winter is here and the evenings are dark (I mean country dark, as in pitch black if there’s no moon) we frequently say to each other that we must “do something” about lighting. Having departing guests stumbling over rocks and impaling themselves on spiky bits of garden art is not ideal, and a negotiable driveway without the help of a burning taper might be a nice idea.

Outdoor lighting needs to be planned. If you’re going to ring the electrician and ask whoever you have in your life to dig trenches, you might as well do as much as you can in one hit – thereby containing the cost. The two main reasons for lighting up the garden are safety (guests not falling over) and aesthetics (everything looking fabulous). The safety aspect is fairly straightforward, and common sense will get you a long way.

Choose light fittings you like and can afford. Make sure you have enough of them to adequately light up the path, steps, or driveway, and make sure you place the lights so they don’t shine at eye level and blind people as they arrive. When it comes to useful lighting, less is best – several small lights better serve both safety and aesthetics than one big spotlight.

To avoid creating unnecessary brightness, use low-glare light fittings. Pathway or eyelid light ensures that the light is directed down onto the ground where you need it.

A work of art

The aesthetics of garden lighting are much more fun. Good lighting can turn the night garden from a black hole into a magical place, creating ambience around lawns and sitting areas, giving specimen plants and trees a spectacular splash of drama, and lighting focal points such as water features and sculptures.

Subtlety should be your aim. Bright light will turn everything one-dimensional, whereas muted lighting adds depth, shadows and an air of mystery.

**Out of sight

**Once your plan is in place (if designing the lighting plan is outside of your comfort zone, there are professionals who can step in) you need to investigate the type of lighting devices and products available. If you’ve consulted a designer, he or she can help with this.

Otherwise, you’ll have to muddle through with the help of your chosen retailer. Make sure you choose a lighting shop with someone who knows what they’re talking about and can explain it to you in one-syllable words.

We’ve come a long way since the preferred method of lighting the outdoors was a white, plastic double spotlight attached to the house. There have been considerable advancements in lighting technology – the main change is the increasing use of LED (light emitting diode) lights. LEDs are more energy-effi cient than regular lights, so they’re a bit more eco-friendly. You can use them for stair and path lights, bollard lighting, and spotlights.

Most lighting used in the garden is low voltage. A transformer will convert normal household power from 230 volts down to 12 or 24 volts, making it safe and relatively easy to install. Experts agree that function over form is best when it comes to lighting your outdoor space but fortunately, you can often have both.

Many modern light fittings are works of art in their own right, and if they’re going to be visible, they may as well be attractive. Generally, though, lighting designers advise that light fittings are best hidden, especially if you are lighting for dramatic effect. The aim is to see the effect of the light, but not where it’s coming from.

If you’re trying to create a spectacle in a particular area, rug up and spend some time positioning your lights. You can shine light upward into the canopy of a tree, create a silhouette effect, illuminate

unusual trunks or foliage, or create an overall glow. If you choose a lighting system where fittings are movable, shift your lights as plants grow.

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