When the sun goes down your beautiful garden in which you've invested considerable time and money becomes invisible. Not only can you not use it, you can't even see it. The solution is to install a lighting scheme. Well planned lighting will make the garden safe and useable after dark. Dramatic lighting effects can also make a feature of the night-time garden.
Garden and landscape lighting is often overlooked or ends up being just the bland wash of a security floodlight and maybe some ugly, low-level spreadlights illuminating paths. That's because garden lighting, like anything else in the garden needs to be planned if it is to succeed on anything other than a purely functional level.
You can change the entire feeling of the garden by night simply by uplighting some key architectural plants, a sculpture, or a water feature. You can even create different effects depending on your mood or the occasion - an intimate dinner, or a lively party. Instead of looking at the rain on the window, you can look out on a dramatic scene with depth and emphasis created by lighting.
Walk around your garden, look out of upstairs and downstairs windows and take account of the focal points and viewpoints. Viewpoints are places from which the garden is viewed. Focal points are those things that are important within the view. Then decide which of the focal points is most important (primary focal point) and those that are less so (secondary focal point). Light the primary focal point more brightly than the secondary focal points, which ensures attention is directed to the most important features in the view. Washing surrounding planting and hedges with a lower level of lighting than that the more brightly lit features creates a backdrop for the focal points.
Security lighting does not have to be bland. Instead of using an overly bright, ugly fixture to light entrances doorways can be lit by downlights that graze brickwork and create a warm, inviting entrance. Rather than illuminateing paths with spreadlights, wash adjacent planting or hedges with light by grazing over their surfaces with pole or spike mounted spotlights. This will provide a more subtle effect which is quite sufficient for safe navigation. Where security lights are essential, for example, to access the garage, these can be put onto a timer with a movement sensor so that they are only on when absolutely necessary. Modern movement sensors can be adjusted so that they are not triggered by nocturnal animals.
Consider what you will want to do where in the garden and put in extra lights to accommodate these tasks, for example, getting to the shed, cooking or eating. Then have more than one circuit so that you can switch on the extra lights when needed.
You can use concealed, spike mounted spotlights to create some really interesting effects in your garden, transforming it into a dramatic night time space. Try downlighting, uplighting, shadowing, grazing for emphasising texture, washing to draw attention to colour, crosslighting to change how a sculpture is viewed, and moonlighting down through trees to create dappled effects. I like to downlight pergola posts as it throws light onto the flowers of climbing plants and creates pools of lights at the base of the posts which provides a lovely gentle light for a summer al fresco meal.
As a general rule using several low wattage lights distributed around the garden is better than one bright light source. A single, bright light flattens out the landscape whereas small, low-wattage spotlights can be concealed and directed so that they highlight garden features to provide the desired effect. Decorative lighting can be designed usually functions well as security lighting enabling safe navigation of the garden and deterring intruders.
Spike mounted spotlights are really useful in garden lighting schemes, they can be moved and easily adjusted. I also use post mounted spotlights to downlight pergola posts and graze down walls onto planting. Good lighting suppliers will supply spike and pole mounted spotlights with a choice of beam wattages and also beam angles. Varying the beam angle of the lamps allows more precision when lighting the garden. A narrow beam angle is perfect for uplighting the slim trunks of small ornamental trees. A medium beam angle works well when downlighting onto box balls in pots. A wide beam angle is required for washing across a lawn. Lamps are relatively cheap so you can buy a few and experiment.
LED lighting is improving rapidly, it is much cheaper to run than mains voltage lighting. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any low cost LED fittings that I like the look of, so I only use them when they can be concealed. I tend to specify low-voltage lighting which requires transformers. It is important to add up the total wattage of all the lights and ensure you are installing sufficiently powerful transformers. Low-voltage transformers will specify a total capacity and this must not be exceeded, in fact, it is a good idea to allow a little spare capacity on each transformer. It is also important not to have long cable runs between lights and transformer this will result in cable voltage drop which reduces the power to the lights and they will not work correctly.
When designing garden lighting, the best way to get it right is to draw a plan of the garden and sketch the planned lighting onto the plan. I use a triangle with a number in it to represent each light. Then make notes about each light and what effect is required. This will result in a list of all the proposed lights in the garden with lamp wattages and beam angles which can be used to get prices for the fittings, lamps, transformers and cables. This plan can be given to an electrician to get quotes and help then when installing the scheme.
Linsey Evans is a garden designer who specialises in designing sloping gardens and tricky spaces.
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