“I love the nightlife, I love to boogie…”
And if you really want to boogie, who am I to stop you? In this season of glitter and twinkles, here’s another treatise about lights. But this one’s a bit different. I want to show you the many benefits of subtle and well thought out garden lighting, and how it can vastly improve your appreciation and experience of your landscaping at night. You can enjoy a beautiful light show that you don’t have to take down when the silly season is over. If you think smart, you can recycle your Christmas decorations into lovely accents for your garden.
As you know, I am a great proponent of making the most of your available space, both inside and out. People’s budgets and square footage are shrinking, which makes finding ways of extending the time you can spend outside enjoying your garden increasingly important. No amount of vitamins can replace the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. But don’t stop there. Night time outdoors is a deliciously different experience. To fully take advantage of it however, you need lighting.
There are many reasons to install and use garden and outdoor lighting, some of them more obvious than others, and this article will aim to give you some ideas and make informed choices.
Why light up at all?
First and foremost is that of safety. Outdoor lighting plays an important part in home security, but it is only effective if you use it correctly. There have been many studies which show that incorrect installation and usage actually increased crime by up to 77% in the case of property crime, and 40% increase in overall crime.
The “incorrect usage” referred to is the horribly wasteful practice of leaving lights on 24/7. It not only helps criminals commit their crimes quicker (because they can see better), it contributes to urban light pollution, which has many negative points beyond the scope of this article.
The key is to use movement operated sensor lights. These have been shown to reduce the amount and severity of property crimes committed around schools and residential areas. The lights need to be bright enough to see 100 meters and ideally to identify colors.
Gone are the days of blinding lights and frightening power bills. There are compact fluorescent globes that match most existing light fittings, low consumption wired LED systems, and the mostly set-and-forget solar powered ones.
They need to be shaded so as to only illuminate the area required, and not spill over into adjacent areas. There’s a simple test you can do to see if your security lights are aimed properly. If you stand outside the area to be illuminated, you should not be able to see the actual bulb of the light when it’s on.
Garden lighting comes in many shapes and forms, from as cost effective and low maintenance as candles, to amazing high-tech light shows that can be surprisingly affordable.
The simplest form is the candle. Candles have meant many things to many people throughout the ages, and being akin to fire stirs the primitive within us. Fat and tallow candles were the very first type of portable light, and they have since developed a connection with each of us in some way. They have become ingrained in many religious and ceremonial traditions, and symbolically represent peace, hope, healing, light, love, renewal and comfort.They’re a great focus for meditation, which can be another perfect way of enjoying everything your garden has to offer you to its fullest.
They provide food for more than one of your senses, as I have lately seen some with bamboo wicks that give you that crackling sound like an open fire, there are many scented varieties to provide a lovely ambiance, and the citronella variety are excellent at keeping the bugs away.
They’re not great on windy evenings, but this problem can be solved using shades, and the light has a lovely warm ambiance that artificial lighting cannot recreate. Many different candle shades can be purchased, or you can use whatever items you have at hand. This is an excellent way to extend the lifespan of items that may have no practical use anymore. (I know – I’m always going on about re-using things, but it makes sense, right?)
In the same vein, dual purpose items really save you time and money, and give you an opportunity to bring out your creative side. These simple little hanging balls are a lovely thing of themselves, but imagine how lovely they would look at night time with a candle burning inside them. You could also use them for bird feeders or waterers, or charming little pots for small hanging plants.
Cheaper than candles. Really!
There are many LED versions of candles, from amazingly cheap to just cheap. The LED itself comes in many colors, warm and cool whites, and they even flicker to mimic candlelight if you want. They’re actually more versatile than candles as they don’t heat up at all, and this means you can use them in many more places. There are numerous solar powered models so there are no wires or batteries required.
You can get bollard models for safety on your paths, up-lights to make the most of your trees and shrubs, and waterproof ones that float in your ponds and water features. You can get meters of twinkling beauty to wrap around trees, posts, verandahs, pergola’s and just about anything you can think of. With some judicious use of color you could have a light sculpture to be really proud of, like this incredible grape vine creation. Imagine this trailed over your pergola or fence. Just stunning.
If you want more watts than an LED can give you, there are many wonderful wired options to inspire you. They also come in a plethora of colors, shapes and sizes, and there is truly something for every taste and budget. Some of these lights are dual function such as these simple but very elegant step lights. Safety and beauty all in one.
For those with more expansive lawns there are glowing pots that provide one of the most arresting focal points I have ever seen. Have you heard of street cred? Just one of these pots would give you all the garden cred you could ask for! And I can’t help but imagine how a few would look glowing through a mist or fog.
Your water features in particular can be spectacularly enhanced by subtle underwater lighting, and many moods can be created with judicious use of colors. Fish look totally different in light other than daylight, and you can get a whole different level of enjoyment of them as well. This kind of lighting can look absolutely beautiful in a swimming pool as well.
Any digging or electrical installation needs to be carried out by qualified professional of course. Contact your local landscape contractor or gardening center and they will point you in the right direction with respect to products and tradespeople.