improving your garden lighting


Lighting in our gardens began with the very first project and continue to evolve over time, playing a major role in enhancing our designs. So much drama can be achieved with such simple techniques, adding atmosphere and extended use. While practicalities such as illuminating paths, steps and sitting areas form the basic prerequisites, styling the focal points specifically created for each design personalise the space. An important factor to consider is the infrastructure, which when installed effectively at the outset, will prevent niggling glitches later on. Not a great deal is required, except the concealment of cables, installing a safety device and adding enough power in the transformers to reduce the mains voltage current into a safe 12 volt. Lighting gardens in the UK is highly valuable due to the low light, short winter days and weather patterns - augmented further in contemporary gardens, where the essence of the designs is significantly increased.

1. Features 2. Atmosphere 3. Elegance 4. Concealment 5. Direction 6. Silhouettes 7. Water 8. Cavities 9. Controls 10. Maintenance

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Many of our clients use their gardens in the evening as they are either at work during the day or away at the weekend. There is nothing better therefore than illuminate the garden to extend its use. There are certain features in every garden that serve as important focal points and these can be enhanced immeasurably with up lighting and down lighting. Architectural plants are most conducive to lighting and strong forms such as multi-stem allow the light through to the canopy creating volume and depth. Lit trees add the most drama as their height and spread inspire many lighting techniques such as moonlighting from above, up lighting the trunk and lighting the canopy from multiple locations. Sculpture, water features and pools are all easily enhanced with lighting.

garden lighting features

Grosvenor Wateraide roof garden


The contrast between dark voids and luminous objects defines the atmosphere in any landscape and indeed in many of our garden design projects. The strength of the light, the angle of its beam and the overall impact over certain parts of the garden all add up to the atmosphere we want to create. We have so much more control over the appearance of the garden during darkness as we can manipulate what we do not want to see and heighten the exterior of important elements. Where the floor has interesting texture, low level cross lighting will draw attention below eye level. Where there are interesting tree canopies the eye can be drawn upwards. By using down lighting the atmosphere becomes more formal and functional.

garden lighting atmosphere

Fulham garden


We use low voltage lighting in gardens. Some first time users may expect a flood light effect and others may find it just enough. Low voltage lighting is safe and efficient and more than anything it is subtle. Most of the lamps we use are 20W with some being 35W or 50W on larger objects. For trees and large bodies of water large lamps are required of course. This subtlety gives elegance and by separating the garden into various zones, employing moderation, concealing the fittings as much as possible and using the right size lamps one can achieve all-important refinement.

garden lighting elegance

Clerkenwell roof garden


One of the strengths of good lighting design is the illusion of light – seeing the object without noticing the source of light. For this reason low voltage garden lighting fittings are increasingly becoming smaller with their colour ranging from brown through bronze to black. We prefer to avoid silver and metallic finishes (unless they are for over head lighting) as more earthy tones tend to be camouflaged well in borders, around decking and trees. After dark, we try and avoid glare by positioning the fittings away from areas where people may sit. Another tricky area to work around is reflections in glass and sometimes this can be reduced by using glare guards on the fittings and changing the angle slightly. In this small garden, all fittings are concealed within foliage to create a striking effect.

garden lighting concealment

Belgravia small garden


Directional lighting can present a great sense of rhythm in paths, walls or through plants. The spacing of the fittings, the angle of the beams and the strength of the lamps all determine the desired effect. With LED technology, strip lighting has become a great way to create highly sophisticated architectural results.

garden lighting directional

Grosvenor Waterside roof garden


A small Yucca can create huge scale when projected onto a brick wall behind it by angling a small fitting through its leaves. The shadow on the wall becomes more important than the plant itself and when the plant becomes bigger there is less and less light being able to penetrate through. In contrast to the romanticism of elegance, shadows provide the all stimulating, all intriguing aspects of a more mysterious landscape. Here, the upright stems of a Horsetail replicate their structure via back lighting onto a concrete water feature.

garden lighting silhouettes

Chiswick garden

  7. WATER.

Something quite extraordinary happens when light travels through water. Even the slightest ripple in the shallowest of waters sends remarkable shadows through to surfaces overhead. Whilst underwater cross lighting can be contained within the body of water such as a swimming pool or pond, up lighting through water can reach the top of a building with the right angle. Lighting upwards or downwards through running water gives a mesmerising effect. The face of a waterfall or a small bubble fountain have the capacity to become unexpectedly amplified with the help of a light fitting.

garden lighting water

Hampstead garden


Voids, hollows and cavities, which exist in the design or in the buildings and structures around the garden, have great potential to add ambience and mystery when discretely lit from within. There is something quite primordial about this effect: the unknown, the mysterious and out of reach. There are many ways to conceal an LED tape or recess a fitting into a wall. Most importantly, it is the selection of colour warmth in the light to generate either warm or cool hues of white, yellow, orange, red or blue.

garden lighting cavities

Regent's Park garden


Old fashioned switches are being replaced by remote controls or by integrating the outdoor lights into indoor systems such as Lutron Electronics. As such systems can be wireless, the ease of operation is far greater although not without fault. Any problem with the computer software or the Wi-Fi signal and you’re without lights in the garden or terrace. I usually prefer to have a separate system outside so it can be easily isolated if need be. The remote control fobs these days are small and efficient and are the simplest apparatus one needs to change the lighting effects in the garden.

garden lighting controls

Regent's Park garden


Interestingly, garden lighting is one of the areas least in need of maintenance in a garden as long as the design is properly conceived and implemented. One of the most common problems is wires being severed by gardening tools and so this is one area that needs careful consideration at the design stage. Low voltage cables are easy to repair and are safer to handle at 12V. Quality lamps provide a better beam but all lamps begin to fade after a while so should be replaced. In the same manner, the reflector, lens and flange will benefit from a wipe periodically to keep the light bright and vivid.

garden lighting maintenance

Islington roof terrace

Compared to many other aspects of building a garden design, lighting is one of the least costly areas – yet it provides an enormous amount of splendour, extended use and a safety attribute. Even with a limited budget it is possible to create a highly visual display by choosing the right objects and surfaces to highlight to infuse an outdoor space with renewed character.

amir   Written, photographed (unless indicated) and posted by Amir Schlezinger.

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