Outdoor lighting: How to make your garden glow this summer
Jun 13, 2023
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By night, your whole garden can be a glowing stage with layered in various lighting that’s both ornamental and discreetly practical.
Setting up permanent mains lighting or draping out solar luminaries, we look at the basics of getting this lighting planted out and flourishing.
THE TORCH TRICK
Starting with no lights other than the bleak security spot out in the spirit sucking, black void, fetch out the biggest, brightest torch you have, and take a ramble around at dusk. Train the light upward through branches.
Point it up through, around and across features, areas of walling and planting to bathe them with soft, scattered or raking light.
Would a distilled wash of light be more suited, or a determined spotlight?
Have someone hold the torch so that you can stand back and see the effect.
The house will be the main feature, guiding the whole garden layout. Think about safely traversing areas of the wider garden safely to and from the house and/or outdoor entertaining area. From there, consider zoning and layering your lighting plan to highlight and/or make better use of those areas in the evening.
Use your first set of cheap solar lights to see what further solar or low-volt mains, outdoor lanterns, bollards, strings, festoons, stakes, pendants and even table lighting might work where. Solar stakes, plunged into the lawn or bedding deliver instant, inexpensive direction and focus.
Make a cheerful, inexpensive addition using a string of solar lights overhead from one tree to another or between posts with a couple of light outdoor solar pendants suspended on that length like glowing fruits. Press cheap battery or solar strings into large glass jars as glow-worm table lighters.
Where you cannot make solar-powered lighting work (and it works in so many situations) combine it with low voltage mains-fed lighting (12V) that can go anywhere a cable and suitable transformer can be laid and powered. You will have to do some light digging to hide wiring, along the edges of lawns and through beds – but it’s not back-breaking stuff.
Keep a hard copy plan of where you put any buried cabling to avoid strimming it or separating wiring with a spade in the future.
It could be as much as 50cm underground if it’s serious armoured cabling.
Add up the wattage of each individual unit, select the correct transformer with a higher wattage than that total, and connect them by water-tight connectors and cables, finishing with a residual current device (RCD) to your power point.
If your fittings have a higher voltage (230 volts), or have any complexity, they should be handled by a RECI qualified electrician. If it’s wired back to the house, have the set up certified by the sparks for your records. Ensure you use smart timers, app-based control or your index finger to turn off mains lighting when it is not needed.
Using any lighting set in beds, the wattage must be low enough not to burn the leaves and petals of your plants. Keep in mind, that stand-alone solar is fantastic in terms of price, operates at zero running cost for tens of thousands of hours, and best of all - wire-free it can be effortlessly re positioned.
The key trend in feature, ambient and crucial task lighting for summer 2022 is low-hung pendant in chic, indoor style, combined with al fresco table lamps that again, look suited to the house.
These can be mains fed or solar, but they should be married by position to your table by keeping them low enough to spread and gently bounce flattering light right over the dining party, while not impeding an adult eye-line and stifling conversation.
Groups of pendants in soft diffusing materials including polypropylene give the appearance of paper but can safely bob about in the drizzle.
Use them suspended from outdoor roofing, beams or even trees if there are conveniently located.
Stagger the height and size of one design for a collective, mesmeric light show.
Take solar pendants down the garden and try using them hung from your favourite specimen trees, inviting guests to wander and gather in different areas of the garden.
Using table lamps, stage these new sophisticates right by a favourite chair, bench or lounger, just as you would indoors. Ensure you choose weather resistant-framing such as powder-coated aluminium rated for outdoor use.
Low voltage recessed LED lighting for patios, decks and walling has a highly sophisticated edge, and mains fed can be used year round to ensure you travel easily down to ground level from any elevation. Sharp, muddling shadows are the enemy here.
Ensure any illumination is adequate to navigate that path or steps 24/7 whatever the weather. Recessed deck or path lighting set in walls, steps and boards.
Ensure that any flush “indicator” lighting set into the ground, shining up, is not too sharp, as it could otherwise make you miss rather than hit a step, and could also be cheerfully blinding guests.
For a suite of lights, combine larger spots set into or perpendicular (on walling) to the steps, softened by a frosted (glare reducing) lens, and smaller points of LED light set into the risers.
Alternatively, wash the steps and decking with generous spots or bollards set slightly off the ground from the side of the steps or set in planting.
The new fashion for this summer is strip LEDs set under the nose of each step washing the one below.
Experiment with low voltage strips set under benches, wall edges and more for an ethereal Hollywood glow. Dead sexy.
COLOUR ME HAPPY
Colour change lighting can be boldly theatrical or subtly atmospheric, so mix up those washes of soft golden white light with some brilliant performers embracing tree trunks, shrouding shrubs or wrapped around posts, gates and pergolas.
Depending on the brand you can map the show with colour phasing, having integrated strings come and off, changing colour or light pattern in tune with each other — it’s a little bit of Christmas every-day.
Choose from fairy and festoon lights that shift colour or a sparkling pattern automatically, or can operate by a simple remote or via an app on your phone.
Pushed back into the bushes simple battery or solar offer pretty twinkling blossoms of light.
Philips Hue outdoor lights are highly intelligent and used with your smart home hub, come as standard line-voltage (wired into your home’s electricity) and low-voltage (LowVolt) which simply plug into any outdoor outlet.
You can use the outdoor coloured lighting integrated into dedicated water features like bamboo fountains, or retrofit them to ponds and detailing you already have (did you notice the amazing waterfall set at this year’s Eurovision?) — magical.
As with all of your garden lighting, be aware of your neighbours, and ensure your glittering carnival is not going bleeding over the fence in the worst way.
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