Whether you’re after a dramatic effect or a soft and subtle glow, clever use of lighting can take your garden to the next level. Not sure where to begin? Let our 10-point checklist be your guiding light
1 Where to start
Most outdoor lighting is 12 volt, which means you’ll need a transformer to connect it to the 240 volt mains power in your house. Getting an electrician to install a transformer before you do any hard landscaping work (paving, decks etc) is a good idea, ideally in an unobtrusive dry spot that’s still easy to get at. From the transformer, conduit and wiring can be laid along the edge of paths so you’ll know where they are when any digging is to be done.
2 Which areas will benefit from outdoor lighting?
Think beyond pathways and patios with your outdoor lighting. Is there a tree with beautiful structure that deserves attention or a group of potted topiary? Water features, ponds and pools take on a whole new dimension at night with subtly concealed lighting. And don’t forget the exterior features of your house. Lighting pillars, beautiful windows and doors or a stone façade are great ways to add interest to your outdoor living spaces.
Well-designed garden lighting can make evenings even more magicalallowing you to stay outdoors long after dark
3 What position should I put the lights in?
After you’ve found the perfect spot, it’s time to think about positioning. Often the most useful position will be on a built structure such as a fence, pergola, shed or the house. When positioning lights in garden beds it’s wise to use fittings that can be moved as the plants grow. Avoid lighting the boundaries of your garden as darkened edges will make it feel larger and will keep the neighbours happier.
4 How much lighting do I need?
Bright or strongly-coloured lighting doesn’t usually work well in a garden and it will probably drive your neighbours crazy. One well placed light will do more to enhance your garden than a dozen badly placed lights. Try not to light the whole garden evenly – pools of light within areas of darkness look much more interesting. In very small spaces two or three spotlights may be all you need.
5 What angle should I illuminate the garden with?
The angle you light from makes a big difference to the effects created and what you see. Where possible hide the glare of an outdoor light source using foliage or a structural element. Avoid glare or blinding lights shining into people’s eyes as they move around the garden or back towards the house and outdoor living areas.
6 What type of light do I need?
The type of light you use depends very much on its use. For cooking you need good light, preferably one strategically placed directional light, with low-level lights for other parts of the outdoor living space. Safety lights for steps, paths and pool edges are essential but don’t make them too obvious, concealed lighting will usually do the job. Conversely one light from above may be all you need for a staircase rather than lighting each individual step. Submersible lighting will add mystery and interest to pools and water features.
Even the dullest of gardens can be transformed into a romantic oasis at nightwith a few carefully positioned outdoor lights
7 What effect?
Lighting should reinforce the atmosphere you want to create for different spaces in the garden. For a festive atmosphere string fairy or fibre optic lights through the branches of a tree alongside an outdoor entertaining area. For a more relaxed look go for subtle down lights in the branches of the tree. Up lighting or small spotlights focus attention on a piece of art, an attractive architectural feature or the form and texture of plant stems. Dramatic silhouettes on plain walls can be produced by backlighting plants or sculptural features whereas interesting shadows are created by lighting them from the front. For a softer feel allow gentle washes of light to play on foliage and flowers.
8 What style should I choose?
Choose lighting to suit the style of your garden. If you have a Balinese theme for instance, consider bamboo flares or lanterns with floating tea lights in water bowls. In contemporary gardens you might up light the sculptural form of cycads or succulents or use LED lighting around a pool or cabana. In a formal garden you could use directional spotlights to draw attention to a row of topiary or a fountain, whereas soft washes of lights through plants or against a wall might suit an informal garden.
9 How safe is it to install myself?
It’s best to use a professional electrician to help with installation unless you are using a low voltage system designed for amateur use. You may need mains voltage if you are using a lot of lights or you want to highlight a feature some distance from the house, in which case a qualified electrician is essential.
10 What’s new in the outdoor lighting world?
Two products to make a big impact on the use of outdoor lighting in recent years are fibre optic cables and LED light bulbs. Fibre optic cables can transmit light for long distances without using heat or electricity. LED bulbs are a more energy efficient option than traditional halogen and incandescent light bulbs. Neither require specialist installation and both are relatively inexpensive, safe, easy to use, low maintenance and perfect for lighting water features and pools. For a “greener” garden consider solar powered outdoor lights which are available in an increasingly wide range of fittings.