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Outdoor Lighting Ideas
Now that summer is well and truly here we’ll be spending more time outdoors in our gardens. What better time than now to get some great outdoor lighting ideas.
Whether that’s for a spot of al-fresco eating, lounging around soaking up the rays or playing games with the kids, our gardens will feature a lot in our lives over the coming months. This isn’t a problem during the warm daylight hours when the sun’s rays are beaming down and boosting our vitamin D count. But what about at night when it’s still warm enough to be outdoors and we’re seeking to create a different ambiance?
Evenings in our garden are about entertaining – whether that’s our family or having friends round for a small drinks party. They’re also about relaxing after a long day. Because of this, any garden lighting should aim to provide us with a sense of tranquility, as well as security. In the case of the latter, no intruder will lurk in bushes when there’s strategically placed lighting to highlight him or her.
Indeed, turning your back garden into a warm and inviting space is where outdoor
lighting really comes into play. That could mean using task lighting to turn that rock garden of yours into a dazzling centrepiece to gaze on while dining on the patio. Then again perhaps you’d like to create that ‘floating outdoor furniture effect’ you’ve seen in restaurants via LED strip lighting? Whatever your aim we’ll try and point you in the right direction to make sure you get exactly the effect you’re looking for. Be warned though – reading this you’ll probably come away with a host of other top outdoor designer lamps you hadn’t even thought of – such as stunning table lights from renowned designers like Tom Raffield.
In fact, we are sure there are many sensational scenarios you will be just buzzing to try out. Incidentally, you may be pleased to know that the majority of outdoor illumination these days is of the low voltage variety. Happily, this not only makes the lighting safer to work with but also far less expensive when it comes to your utility bill.
Firstly though, just like indoors, the secret to great garden lighting is to ‘layer’ it. By that we mean employing several different types of lighting such as ambient, task and accent lighting.
Three layers of exterior lighting to deploy in your outdoors
- Ambient lighting – this is a form of lighting that doesn’t have any particular purpose but to create a mood. It’s like background music ie you know it’s there. Examples would be fairy lights strung on a fence or nearby tree.
- Task lighting – lighting which does have a purpose ie to light the stairway on a patio, the barbecue pit, or the stunning engravings on the exterior walls of your turn-of-the-century home.
- Accent lighting – this is used to feature a particular area of the garden, for instance, a central tree or your prizewinning flower bed. It usually involves deploying several floodlights.
Remember too that by adding exterior lighting to your garden at night you’re not trying to emulate the beauty and colours of the garden as they appear in daylight. Instead, you’re attempting to bring into focus a ‘different’ garden. By this we mean there will be far more contrasts and a mix of both shadowed silhouettes and highlighted features. In this way, your garden becomes more of a mysterious place at night.
To create this ‘other canvas’ we need those layers of lighting we’ve just mentioned. That’s because ‘washing’ the entire garden in just one form of light would lead to a flat and dull appearance and make it somewhere you definitely wouldn’t want to gaze on by nightfall.
So, you’ll no doubt have sussed out by now that a certain amount of creative thinking is involved in placing outdoor lighting. For this reason it’s really not a bad idea to call in a landscaping professional for advice. At the same time, the following outdoor lighting ideas should stand you in good stead too:
How to use outdoor lighting to highlight your patio
The best bit about lighting up your patio or decking area is that it helps blur the line between indoors and outdoors. This not only makes your home feel larger, but also gives you and your family far more living space than in the colder months.
Downlighting. Highlight an outdoor dining table or seating on a patio area for reclining with a drink at the end of the day. You can achieve this by strapping spot lights onto overhead trellising or the sturdy branches of a nearby tree. This way the light will shine downwards, avoiding glare in the eyes and help create more of a cosy and intimate atmosphere. In the following image the downlighters work beautifully hung from the overhead roofing:
Incidentally, to get what lighting experts refer to as a ‘moonlighting’ effect, hang the lights around 30 ft high and just above the lower branches of a tree. This way the light will filter down through the leaves on the lower branches, creating a pattern of light and shadows.
And talking of ‘moonlight’, it’s possible to attain this ‘cool light’ effect by using LED white bulbs of 4100 kelvins or more. These have a ‘blue’ tinge to them whereas for a ‘warm, cosy’ light you’d be looking at using 2700 kelvins, with their ‘yellowish’ tinge. Warm bulbs in the form of downlighting has been attached to the underside of the top wooden fencing of the following decking railing to ‘wash’ the boards with light. At the same time it guides the visitor towards the decking area:
Consider using floor lighting too by fitting diodes to the decking. This way you won’t get any glare and it’s a much more subtle form of lighting (even if it does seem a bit disco-like).
And, just because your patio floor isn’t made of wood it doesn’t mean you can’t still have floor lighting. This garden designer has cleverly embedded a coloured LED strip into concrete to separate the seated patio area from the rest of the garden and to add overall interest:
LED fairy lights. Candles create a romantic air for your outdoor dining table but there’s always the risk they’ll get knocked over and set something alight. These tiny fairy lights are one of our favourite outdoor lighting ideas. Scrunched up inside glass domes they create an ambient light, are far safer and well, just look so cute.
How to use exterior lighting to highlight trees
Uplighting. Trees look terrific when lit from below since the light illuminates the trunk’s texture and adds softness to the foliage. Just make sure you do actually light up the trunk otherwise you get a bit of a ‘UFO hovering effect’ when it’s just the foliage that’s lit up.
Floodlights (with a typical light width expanse of 40 feet) are better for tall trees (up to five bulbs of around 50 watts each). Bullet lights and spot lights have a narrow field and are therefore better for shorter trees (trees which are less than 20 feet tall only need a couple of 20 watt uplighters).
Buy lighting fixtures which are hooded so that you can be directional with the light and avoid ‘washing’ over an unnecessarily large area. Get three lights and circle them around the tree, rather than have them all illuminating the front. Note too that placing uplighters in trees also adds more of a sense of height to a space:
In general this use of outdoor illumination gives you a great overview of the landscape in your garden.
To make sure you don’t have to alter your lighting fixtures over the years as the tree grows, it’s best to buy above-ground outdoor lights which can be easily moved.
Meanwhile, the well-lit trees in the following image, together with a tabletop candle or two, provides enough light for this whole decking area:
How to use outdoor lighting to highlight shrubbery
Uplighting. Place the uplights behind the shrubs or plants. Ideally, if they’re nestled in mulch beds then hide the above-ground lights in these to make the display look neater. Place the outdoor pretty far apart too so that you get pools of light rather than a continuous flood of brightness.
Another way to highlight shrubbery – and yet another of our favourite outdoor lighting ideas for your backyard – is to place a footlight around two feet in front of the shrubbery as in this next image:
Create a silhouette effect if the shrubs (and trees) are in front of a wall or wooden fence. You can do this by aiming a row of lights at the wall of your house rather than the shrubs. It will show the shrubs up in black, creating dramatic shapes, as in the following image:
Strip lighting. Use LED strip or rope lighting to outline the edges of a planting bed. In the following image it’s also used as a path marker:
This close-up of LED rope lighting shows just how sturdy the fixture actually is:
Then again, instead of using uplighters to highlight shrubbery, look at wall texture instead. See the following image for an explanation. Incidentally the flusher the light is to the wall of the house, the more intricate the texture of the bricks illuminated:
Highlighting the shrubbery surrounding it takes away the need to light up the pathway in the following garden:
How to use outdoor illumination to highlight your doorway
Lanterns at either side of your door of the house look great but make sure you don’t destroy what is potentially a charming feature by putting too bright a bulb in them. Think of door lights as being ambient rather than task-oriented. This way you’ll keep the light low so that it doesn’t glare into the eyes of night time visitors, causing them to squint every time you answer the door.
If you’re fortunate enough to have columns or pillars in front of the door then light the back of those too. This will draw the eyes of visitors automatically to the door – and with an interesting sense of drama too.
How to use outdoor lighting for paths
Spot lights. In order to create interest – and safety – when using exterior lighting to highlight a path in your back or front garden, use light on both sides and vary the distance between spaces. Keeping the lights uniform and symmetrical will make the path an unwanted focal point considering there is so much else to see in your garden at night. Meanwhile, putting lighting fixtures too close to a path could cause the lights to be stepped on and easily broken.
To keep the landscape lighting looking subtle use lights which point downwards and remember too that moonlight provides extra assistance in leading the way. Really, you want your path lights to appear as ‘gentle hints’ rather than ‘directional arrows.’ Always keep them below eye level in order to avoid that unnecessary – and annoying – glare, again.
If you have various shrubbery, plants and trees alongside your path then you could put lights in them to highlight the variety of shapes and colours.
How to use outdoor lighting for water features
Uplighters. Water features can be lit by placing a waterproof bulb within the center of the attraction, and with directional uplighters around its edge. This ensures the water feature becomes the focal point of your garden. In the following garden it’s the small waterfalls (the most exciting parts of the water flow) that have been highlighted using uplighters:
Then again, you could randomly place uplighters at the bottom of a goldfish pond, as in the following image:
Downlighters. For a more subtle approach try hanging downlighters from nearby tree branches in the area of the water feature so that it becomes a mysterious part – rather than the highlight – of your garden.
How to use outdoor lighting for statues
Highlighting a particular feature is known as accent lighting. It’s best to use warm light (ie with a ‘yellowish’ tinge) for this, especially if the object in question is a statue. That’s because warm light softens the features, as well as prevents glare and shadows. Use at least two lights so that the cross beam will cut back on any harsh shadows.
Incidentally, work out how you’ll do your exterior lighting before you actually plant the statues, flag or other landmark. This way you’ll know for sure that there won’t be any shrubbery getting in the way of the exact effect you’re after. The following image uses several warm yellow uplighters to beautifully highlight the water fountain:
Then again, you could make that statue or feature the source of the light itself. The landscape designers in the next image have attached an oil lamp to each tip of the steel cactus plant:
How to use outdoor lighting to create general ambience
Spotlights. These can be used to highlight a general area such as these lights in the wood supporting the plant beds below. They throw a lovely wash over the paving area when dark, gently highlighting the greenery. The wash of light along the pathway also creates a feeling of ‘flow’ at night, encouraging people to follow the direction of the lights:
An arbour in your garden isn’t just for stringing roses and climbing vines on. You could also use it to hang LED strip lighting in order to create a twilight twinkling sensation:
Types of outdoor lighting available
LED bulbs are by far the most popular form of lighting around these days – for both indoors and outdoors. That’s because they’re not only more energy efficient (they use 80 per cent less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb), but they’re also less expensive in the long run. They also last far longer.
Halogen bulbs are less efficient than LEDs but they are less expensive to buy initially. Many people still prefer the light from these bulbs to LEDs (which tend to offer either a ‘warm’ white or a ‘cold’ white).
Lighting controllers can come in many forms, the most common being automatic timers, while wireless keypads and fobs allow you to control the lights manually.
Top outdoor lighting ideas at home
- Even if your garden is tiny, you can still make your indoors seem larger by placing floodlights outdoors. That’s because the windows of your home will appear less ‘black’ and imposing. The floodlights will ‘open up’ the space.
- Don’t sit in your garden much? You can still make use of outdoor lighting in the form of a burglar deterrent ie to illuminate anyone lurking there.
- Don’t go overboard with path lighting so that it looks like you have a mini airport runway in your garden. Remember that moonlight can be pretty strong and provides effective lighting too.
- Using a light with a blue filter will make the green leaves of trees more intense colour-wise.
- As well as using landscape lighting to illuminate favourite areas of your garden, use the darkness to disguise those parts you dislike and need to attend to.
- To add depth to your home and garden, don’t just light up the house but the garden too – otherwise the building becomes very ‘stark’ looking.
- Spiked lighting fixtures make it easy to move the lights around when plant growth threatens to cloud out the beam.
- Make sure the beams from any spotlights you use don’t shine directly into a neighbour’s window!
- Coloured lights – and yellow in particular – are great for keeping away insects of all sorts. That’s because yellow (which is a lower coloured light) can often be difficult for the insects to see in the first place. But don’t use it to highlight shrubbery as it will make it look as if it’s dried out.
- When choosing your actual lighting fixtures, avoid items produced from iron because rain will cause these to rust over time. Instead opt for lighting made with steel, brass and copper. A patina may develop over time but they’ll last far longer and cost less since they’ll need replacing less often.
Maintenance of outdoor lighting
Once you have your outdoor lighting in place the next thing to consider is its upkeep. In order to prevent lights from overheating it’s important they aren’t obstructed by leaves and overgrowing plants. If this does happen remove the offending bulb immediately to prevent the rest from suffering due to short-circuiting.
Look out for condensation too – especially if you live in a rainy or cold climate such as the UK or Scandinavia. A good way to prevent this is to rub petroleum jelly on the base of the bulb on installation and every now and again over the years. In fact, check all bulbs several times a year – especially after winter.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the above outdoor lighting ideas and that our article has indeed sparked some interest for your own night-time garden plans. Or maybe it has helped rekindle an old interest which had dwindled – thanks to the over-proliferation of garden solar lighting in recent years?
Without a doubt, smarter and ever more energy efficient outdoor lighting fixtures have been entering the retail market every spring and summer for years now. And 2016 is certainly no exception. Some of our personal favourites include floor lights for lighting up dark corners on your outdoor decking which resemble the moon – both in shape, shading and using a blue’ish white light – and which you can see in the image below:
Or how about dual-purpose outdoor lighting LED cubes which double up as excellent seating? Whatever your exterior lighting needs you’re bound to find something that fits the bill – and at an affordable price, since the cost of LED lighting in particular is decreasing as time goes on.
Then all you have to do is get those outdoor lighting ideas wired up and sit back while indulging in some expertly-illuminated night time al-fresco dining and entertaining. Enjoy!