It may sound perverse, when discussing garden lighting, but be aware that it is best to hold back and not over-light landscapes. Clever, restrained lighting can be really quite magical whilst accentuating certain features and detracting from any negative points. On the flip side cranking up the lumens can make a garden seem flat and dazzling, rather akin to a football pitch. Relations with neighbours can sometimes be tense, especially following an extensive building project so be wary of invasive lighting tipping the scales.
Consider the placement of lighting in areas close to neighbours’ boundaries and where possible keep it low and angled down so there is no light spill into adjoining gardens. As well as the visual and neighbourly aspect one needs to consider light pollution and if you’re a lover of wildlife you will find that nocturnal creatures, such as owls prefer a more restrained lighting scheme.
Light the outside for inside
Lighting a Mediterranean garden is altogether a different task to that of lighting a landscape in the Northern hemisphere. Sadly, the majority of the year is not spent enjoying evening barbeques in our gardens and although such wonderful events should be planned for we should also light out gardens for the colder months.
With so many new-build designs featuring large expanses of glass and the trend being to connect the design of the interior and exterior spaces it makes sense to consider how the garden lighting will look from the inside. Accent garden lighting placed near the house can visually extend the living space and relieve the cold appearance of black glass panes at night making occupants feel less vulnerable.
Take a critical look at your building and planting to see what existing features you can highlight. Rough stone walls take on a magical warmth when lit upwards with low glare inground fittings and a sleek white facade can look sharply architectural with a sequence of simple wall lights. Reflections on water can be positively alluring as can picking out sculptural trees and shrubs such as palms, silver birch and olive trees.
Up-lighting and back-lighting trees and foliage can be dramatic and effective although positioning of the light source should be carefully considered to create impact with minimal glare. Fixed in-ground lights with adjustable lamps within the fitting can work well for larger trees but for shrubbery that will grow and alter throughout the seasons, the ubiquitous spike spot is a wonderful tool offering flexibility and effect at a relatively low cost.
There is no doubt that exterior lighting can bump up the cost of a project but it is a lamentable mistake to buy cheaper fittings with the aim of stretching the budget further. If the bottom line is looking too inflated it is better to choose fewer fittings and still stick with quality.
Beware of believing that the term stainless steel denotes quality as there is a vast range on the market and cheap fittings have been known to corrode within six months near the coast. Go for 316l stainless steel or galvanised when selecting steel; alternatively copper is incredibly resilient and tones down well and bronze is practically indestructible. Alternatively hard anodised aluminium can work well or a good quality powder coated finish can be more economical.
It is true to say that with modern technology it is now possible to illuminate an entire garden with the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Whether the decision is made to light the exterior entirely by dedicated LEDs or a mixture of light sources will rather depend on budget and logistical factors such as the placement of drivers and transformers. Mains fittings offer more flexibility and combine well with retro fit LED lamps although for smaller punchier lights LEDs are general the best choice; the cooler colour temperature 4000°K gives a greater output than warmer tones and works well in exteriors being more akin to moonlight.
Ideally there should never be less than two control circuits, three being the optimum and a fourth giving prime flexibility. The first will be atmospheric lighting close to the house, the second will be security and facility lighting (this will often be on a PIR with a timer and over-ride facility), and the third will generally be for landscaping beyond the immediate vicinity of the house, such as driveways and additional features.
The luxury of the fourth can allow for an entertaining circuit such as illuminating a barbeque and dining area, swimming pool or hot tub if such indulgences exist. Lighting a garden can be a functional exercise or an exciting adventure which will add a totally new dimension to a property. There’s no quick fix solution to creating it but with careful consideration and measured planning the effect can be a work of art. It’s a matter of choice.