How to Choose Garden Lighting

Nothing has quite such an effect on atmosphere as lighting. An otherwise plain area can be made wildly romantic with cleverly placed lanterns and candles. Lighting can extend the period for sitting outdoors, can be used to highlight features – such as an interesting tree, fountain or statue -and extends your enjoyment of the garden for winter evenings when you are looking out from the warmth of the house.

Exactly as with interior rooms you should think of outdoor lighting fulfilling two basic purposes – one being utilitarian and the other decorative. The former is deployed for safety and security beside driveways, steps, pools, paths and dining areas while decorative lighting is used to illuminate interesting features and to provide atmosphere.

Plan the positions of utilitarian lights first, as they are often the simplest to place. Start with your parking and entrances to the house, then consider the dining area, and any steps and paths leading off it down which you may wander in the evening. Paths to a swimming pool, tennis court, coal or log store as well as the bin area, will need occasional lighting.

garden lighting How to Choose Garden Lighting

If security is a worry well-placed lights will deter intruders and help the householder feel safer. If you are worried about light pollution and saving energy then lights which switch themselves on when they sense movement are the answer. But be aware that dogs and cats may often trigger these.

Next turn your attention to decorative lighting. If you have a fantastic statue or urn it would make a perfect candidate to be picked out in a spotlight, and moving water or a gnarled old tree will also look spectacular. The angle of the lighting will give different effects. For example, backlighting produces dramatic silhouettes, uplighting picks out unusual features you would not notice during the day, while downlighting is closest to daylight.

For the dining area you will need more muted background lighting, to which you can then add, in keeping with the style of meal you are planning.

As with any electrical equipment, garden lighting should be installed by a qualified electrician. For a complex set-up armoured cables may need to be sunk into the ground. There are heavy-duty weatherproof cables available which can run along the surface and may be disguised with foliage or chippings. These are probably not a good choice for a family garden as they could trip someone, and if accidentally cut would give an electric shock.

The harsh glare of electric light can destroy the atmosphere of an outside dining area. It is impossible to relax when you are impaled by the glare of a spotlight. People are more at ease when the lighting is kept low – although if it is too dim you will find yourself peering uncomfortably at your plate in an attempt to work out just what is what. There are more subtle means of lighting your table, including lighting which ‘grazes’ the wall of the house, or gently uplights nearby foliage.

However, for alfresco suppers the ideal light is cast by candles. It is soft and flattering, the shadows are not as defined as those of electric light, and the candle-light has warmth and life to it.

Lanterns solve the problem of a breezy patio with guttering candles. There are old fashioned storm lanterns, hurricane lights. Indian-style brass lamps with star-shaped holes punched in them, or antique-style, glass, jam jars containing nightlights. These can sit on the table or hang from metal stakes stuck in the ground. The list of candle holders and protective containers is endless.

If you want to make the evening electricity-free from start to finish, guide your guests to the table along a pathway of large garden candles or paraffin-fuelled, oriental, bamboo torches stuck in the ground.

Many candles and lanterns perform a dual function – providing light while discouraging insects. The scent of citronella is delicious to humans but hated by insects and strangely insects find lanterns with orange-coloured glass less alluring than those with clear glass. There are also lanterns that emit ultra violet light. This attracts the insects and then electrocutes them as they land on the element. A few of these placed in a circle a discreet distance from the table should ensure a bite-free evening for everyone.

Outdoor heating

Outdoor heaters and portable fireplaces have long been popular in Scandinavian countries. There are large, overhead, electric bar heaters and free-standing, portable, electric, convector models. But it is very easy to build your own outdoor hearth, or use a barbecue as a raised fireplace. If you really pile on the fuel and light it well before you eat, it should be red-hot by the time you sit down.


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