Outdoor lighting is a very important yet often overlooked part of creating a small garden. Think of it like this; not including outdoor lighting in a garden is like getting all dressed up for a party and not wearing any makeup. It looks like something’s missing.
Not only does outdoor lighting enhance the look of your garden but also provides safety and function. There are many uses for outdoor lighting in the garden; to emphasize or accent certain areas, provide ambient light for you and your guests, demarcate or light a dark path, or for security.
You should begin thinking about outdoor lighting in the initial stages of the landscape design process, but outdoor lighting can always be easily added later on or to an existing garden. You just basically need to decide a few things; what type of lighting you want use and where you want to place it. There are a ton of options out there today, and my intention is to help you weed through them.
3 things to consider when planning your outdoor lighting:
1. Type of outdoor lighting
You basically have two options; solar or electric. Both have pros and cons depending what you are using them for. For instance solar won’t cost you anything to operate, but they aren’t as bright as electric lights. Solar lights are easier to install than electric lights, but they can’t be installed everywhere (if you put them in the shade, they won’t work).
Another thing to consider is the kind of bulb used in these lights. Both of these options can come with incandescent, fluorescent or LED bulbs. And like everything else, they also have their pros and cons.
So, before choosing your lights you need to know what you want from your outdoor lighting, weigh the pros and cons of each type, and decide which will work best for you.
Here’s a tip if using solar lights; clean the surface when you see a film form. If the photocells are covered in grime the lights won’t work as well, I know this from experience. A few years ago when solar lights were becoming popular, I bought some and they worked great for a few months but then became dimmer and dimmer until they stopped working all together. I ended up throwing them away. I didn’t find out until later that they could be cleaned. Fortunately, they were cheap.
2. Outdoor Lighting location/function
These go hand in hand; you want to place your lights in a specific location to serve a specific function. There are basically three kinds of functions for landscape lights; accent lighting, path lighting, and spotlight/task lighting. And within each of these categories you have different types and styles of fixtures.
Accent lighting is used simply to accent something. You can use spotlights to highlight a tree or other garden features or single simple lights to cast a soft glow in certain areas around the garden.
Path Lighting demarcates a path. When thinking of path lighting the first thing that may come to mind are the typical vertical lights with a stake on the end, but today there are many more styles and kinds to choose from. You can even use deck or stair lights to light steps, place them on planters to light your way around, or even on a driveway.
Spotlight/task lighting is a more focused and powerful light; It highlights or lights up a larger area. It can be used to provide security when placed near a gate or the front entry. Spotlights can also be used to highlight a tree or other large garden features. And last but not least can be used to light a social area such as a patio or garden seating area. The rule of thumb when using it this way is to create enough light to be able to see well, but leave enough darkness to create some ambiance.
There are so many options out there that you don’t need to use the same light fixtures everywhere. You can vary the kinds of light fixtures, and even match the style of the fixtures to the style of your house. This will all definitely make your small garden lighting more interesting and intentional looking.
3. Amount of Outdoor Lighting
This can be considered in terms of the amount of overall fixtures and the amount of light produced. Once you know what type of fixture will go where, try choosing fixtures with varying amounts of light. What I mean is, use more bright or higher light intensity for security lighting or highlighting a tree, use medium light intensity for lighting a path and use the softest light for accenting small areas in your garden beds.
This is the trickiest part; there is a fine line between having just the right amount of light and going overboard. When choosing lighting, don’t overdo it. Just like makeup – a little goes a long way. You don’t want your garden to look like a lit up stadium. You want just enough to accent the good features, hide the not so good and create a little mystery.
Last but not least, don’t forget about the house. Aiming a few lights up at the house to highlight certain areas will create some great curb appeal at night.
This is such a complex subject (who knew?) that I couldn’t possibly cover everything, so here are some useful outdoor lighting links :