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The garden at night is a world away from its prosaic daytime self, a place of mystery and excitement, of intrigue and entertainment. At least, it is if it’s done right. Garden lights should tantalise rather than dazzle – too much light and the atmosphere is lost, too little and, well, anything you put down gets lost. Creating the look you’re after is simply of matter of planning, and of putting the right light in the right place. Whether you fancy a glittering scatter of lights or mysterious glowing pools of light, there’s a lighting solution out there for you.
1. Uplights for trees
Accentuate trees and define the shape of your garden by placing uplights at the base of the trunk, or in adjacent garden furniture.
WHEN TO USE: This look works in most gardens, and across most styles. A single, large spotlit tree in a dark sprawling garden will have great visual impact, while a spotlight row might be used to emphasise the ordered geometry of a modern courtyard.
2. Cluster lights
Lighting a whole cluster of trees, rather than just throwing a spot on the ‘hero’ tree, can be a great way to provide soft light to an adjacent sitting area.
WHEN TO USE: When you want to cast a soft, but useable, light on a deck, patio or poolside eating area. Cluster lighting is also an excellent way to add shape and depth to a large garden after dark as it creates pockets of light to draw the eye. On a practical level, it also allows you to use more of the space when entertaining.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: Spike lights work well for cluster lighting, and there are both electric and solar versions available. If you opt for wired in lights, consider having several light switch options available so that you’re not constrained to either all or nothing – there will be times you only want or need a couple of lights rather than the whole effect.
GET THE LOOK: Cluster lighting tends to work best with cluster planting. A bed of architectural plants, such as palms or large ferns, can become almost a sculpture when the whole group is lit in this way. You can add depth to the scene by lighting each plant from a slightly different angle.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: As with any lighting or electrical work, safety considerations should be addressed up front. Choose lights that have been specifically designed to be placed in the ground, and have cables and connectors laid by a professional. If you’re concerned about possible damage due to falling branches, consider consulting an arborist.
GET THE LOOK: Plant trees and place lights at the front and back of the garden to create a sense of depth. Uplights along the side wall add depth to the perspective as well as create a safe passage from the gate to the house.
3. Rope lights
Create a welcoming front path, delineate edges and define the shape of your garden using rope lights or strip lighting.
WHEN TO USE: Strip Lighting work best in gardens where the architecture matters as much as the planting. Walkways, decks, raised beds and stepped areas all shine a little brighter picked out by strip lighting. Contemporary landscapes and courtyards carry this look better than a more natural, cottage-style or wild-edged garden.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: Strip lighting are usually LED and therefore tend to be cost effective and low-energy. There are also solar-powered options on the market. It’s important to look for a robust product – rope lights designed for the Christmas market or occasional party won’t last, so make sure you purchase a model designed for outdoor landscaping use. You might find rope lights or strip lighting to be listed as linear lights by some suppliers.
GET THE LOOK: This is a simple look to achieve and a great way to add instant appeal to a new build. Fill beds with bark or pebbles and introduce fast-growing plants in large planters and, hey presto, a garden. Well, of course nothing’s that simple, but this is a design choice that will give you a great look from day one.
4. Stair lights
Stair lights summon you towards the front door and then help make sure you don’t trip up on the way.
WHEN TO USE: Well, obviously stair lights require an area with stairs, and are welcome anywhere that was previously a stumble in the dark, but the front door is where they really come into their own. As well as focusing attention on the entrance, the ambient light from step lights can be used to highlight surrounding plants or other features.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: There are few practical considerations when it comes to stairs attached to the house, as wiring them up should be a simple task for an electrician. Essentially, the main consideration for most stair lights is making the right aesthetic choice for your overall scheme. There are solar models available for use in areas where wiring is simply impractical, but they tend to be not as reliable, bulkier and, let’s face it, less attractive.
GET THE LOOK: Step lights should be chosen in conjunction with other outdoor hardware, including porch lights, door fittings and, where appropriate, house numbers or the letterbox. If you’ve gone for an angular, brushed steel aesthetic, then recessed stainless steel slot lights are a good choice, while little copper hooded lights will tie in with a more traditional scheme.
Everything positively gleams in the well-placed lighting of this sleek, modern garden.
WHEN TO USE: Spotlights are a great way to highlight architectural features and landscaping, as well as garden planting. But spotlights really come into their own in possible danger areas, such as poolside or around a split-level patio or deck. Beyond their visual impact, a couple of well-placed spotlights can be a good security measure.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: Once you’ve decided what you want to spotlight, and have taken the usual safety questions into account, it’s worth considering whether the situation calls for complementary lighting. When you’re throwing a lot of light in one spot, the areas around it can seem darker. One way to combat the effect is to install little downlights in the corners of the space.
GET THE LOOK: Long rectangular gardens can be livened up with the clever use of planting and lighting. Break up a long stretch by spotlighting trees, or architectural features at regular intervals. Turn the spot on mature trees at the end of the garden to add a sense of perspective to the scene.
6. Coloured lights
The interplay of light and colour against a dark background lends a sense of drama and possibility.
WHEN TO USE: If you’ve got a flair for the dramatic, and want your garden to reflect that, then coloured lights are right up your alley. Forget about those strings of multi-coloured light globes that shouted ‘student party’ in the 1980s; today’s coloured lights are a whole new ball game.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: Once you’ve taken all of the normal practicalities into account, the first thing to ask yourself is whether you want to use colour as a permanent feature, or as a flexible add-on to use when you’re entertaining or celebrating. If you’re looking to create a permanent feature, it’s worth considering whether it will have an impact on neighbours and taking that into account when deciding on the scale of any installation.
GET THE LOOK: Coloured light is a fabulous way to add a modern twist to an established courtyard. Choose a colour that reflects another element, such as the paint on the surrounding walls. Strong accents of bright colour, whether plants or lighting, look modern placed against a dark palette, like the stone and pebbles used here.
7. Pool lights
Sharp colours, bright light and deep shadows make for an inviting party atmosphere around this pool.
WHEN TO USE: This one’s easy: pool lights are best used when you’ve got a pool in your garden.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: There’s more to lighting a pool than just, well, lighting the pool. Safety of use, of both the pool and its surrounds, is an obvious consideration. It’s vital that any in-pool lighting is professionally installed, and that the configuration doesn’t create pockets of dark that might lead to someone in trouble going unseen.
HOW TO GET THE LOOK: The glow from a lit pool always contributes to the ambience of any poolside entertaining or dining areas. You can emphasise this by installing lights on the non-pool side of the space. Coloured pool lights can be gaudy (which is not always a bad thing) but there are some subtle ones on the market as well. You can also enhance the radiant glow of a lit pool by using a light-reflecting treatment on the pool surface.
Light can be as much about shade, about the shadow it throws in relief, as it is about the illumination it throws.
WHEN TO USE: Backlighting is a powerful visual tool in a garden or courtyard based on sculptural shapes and architectural lines rather than softer planting. Backlighting is all about shape and works most effectively in a contemporary-style garden designed along clean lines.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: As it’s use is generally confined to courtyards and other walled areas, backlighting doesn’t usually throw up many practical obstacles. It does, however, tend to throw any faults or disrepair in the area into sharp focus, so it’s worth considering whether the relevant walls and pavers need a little attention before they’re shoved into the spotlight.
GET THE LOOK: An astute use of backlighting emphasises the sculptural quality of the scene. Choose sharp, dramatic plants and oversized planters with clean lines for best effect. Choose the background wall with care for best effect. Stone, reclaimed brick and well-maintained rendered walls all work well as a backdrop – the light will bring out texture and pattern as well as colour.
9. Feature lights
A well chosen light can be a feature in its own right, drawing the eye as well as lighting the scene.
WHEN TO USE: Feature lights are a great way to add interest to an area. Whether you’re trying to break up a long wall, or waiting for a new garden to mature, installing a feature light can be the answer.
WHAT TO CONSIDER: Once you’ve scoped out the practicalities of the site, the first thing to consider is whether form or function is paramount. If you’re looking for a light primarily as a way of introducing visual interest, then taste and budget will be the deciding factor.
GET THE LOOK: A statement light can have a big impact, acting as a feature in its own right as well as throwing reflected light onto surrounding plants. Think big when choosing a feature light for a contemporary garden – oversized globes add real impact. In a traditional setting, an iron lamppost makes a pretty feature. Standing lamps and bollard lights are also a great choice when you need to bring light to a long, dark stretch as well as add a pretty feature.
Article by Francesca Newby