You've probably also seen boxes of inexpensive pathway lights stacked near the checkout at your local home store. They are often placed there for a strategic reason-namely to get you to make an impulse purchase as you walk out the door. Too often, outdoor lighting is treated like an afterthought. You drive by someone else's yard at night and see the charming lamppost or lights illuminating the walkway and decide you want to add some lighting to your landscape. Before you start, take time to think about how you use your space. Start by sketching out your landscape on a piece of paper. Pencil in as much detail as possible-noting how you use each part of the space. Where do you walk, sit and eat? Where are the focal points? Are you concerned about safety? How will the placement of light affect your neighbors? Will lights near the vegetable garden attract pests? Do you want to light up a water feature? After dark, grab some flashlights and head out to the garden. With the help of a friend, start playing around with your ideas.
It's a good idea to incorporate some flexibility into your lighting design. Garden landscapes are dynamic. As your landscape continues to evolve over time, your lighting needs may change. A specimen tree you light up now may be ten feet taller 10 years from now. Installing fixtures with swivel mounts or several beam angles will make adjusting to changes a breeze. Also, as the seasons change, a frosted or color lens may be more desirable than a clear one. Take advantage of lighting that can be repositioned or relocated to other parts of the garden. The old way of thinking suggests that when designing with outdoor lighting, only the light cast from the fixture should be visible and never the fixture itself. This is no longer the case. Now there are many beautiful lighting options that serve double duty as garden art and lighting.
Keep environmental concerns in mind when designing lighting for your landscape. Bear in mind that many plants, animals and insects are strongly influenced by light cycles. Certain plants rely on a period of darkness each day to perform certain plant functions. Some may not grow optimally when photoperiods are extended beyond normal.
Lighting also takes energy and outdoor lighting is a luxury. Use energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and solar powered lights when possible. Install timers to save energy and reduce light pollution. If you're concerned about safety and break-ins, keep lights on around lower level doors and windows and consider installing a home security system.
The easiest mistake to make in designing outdoor lighting is overdoing it, either in wattage, in the number of fixtures or by trying to light up too many features. Bright lights are for Broadway and outdoor sporting events. Think about the garish lights in department store dressing rooms and how they illuminate every little flaw. The same is true for plants. Use bulkhead luminaries only for security reasons-your plants will thank you. Keep the focus on one or two focal points and a few pretty accents to avoid distracting from your landscape's true beauty.
Outdoor lighting comes with its own lingo: low-wattage, line voltage, voltage drop, transformers and terminal blocks. Make sure you educate yourself with the basics before you get started. Now your limitations and when it's time to call in a professional. Not only can outdoor lighting add to the safety and aesthetics of your landscape, but it can truly expand your living space and add significant value to your property.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com
Read feedback for this post below. Click here to post feedback.
I placed little white string lights in a silk tree, placed it in a dark corner of the patio, and it is now stunning!
I picked up light fixtures at yard sales, put plugs on the wires, painted them copper (they aged in one season) and presto! Lighting for mininum cost. Makes a beautiful chandelier, and I also got a little "uplight" at a yard sale for $2.00. Watch at thrift stores too. There are plenty and you can be so creative to add silk vines and flowers if you wish.
Add your voice to the conversation.