Garden Lighting Ideas, Tips, and Designs

Garden lighting, also known as landscape lighting in some quarters, is a particular class of outdoor lighting that can add much beauty to your home, garden, and landscape.

Whether you go antique or modern, old-school or contemporary, you’ll be sure to add much value, beauty, and elegance to your home and garden by using these lights. However, the sheer variety of information and kinds of lighting and design that’s out there can be intimidating. To help you out, this article will give you a basic understanding of the ‘universe’ of outdoor lighting that exists out there. This article will be continually updated, so check back often for more information.

Benefits of and Reasons for Garden Lighting

There are many reasons to light up your garden or your landscape. The first, most obvious, reason is aesthetic – at night, no one can see the landscaping that you’ve spent so much time, money, and energy designing and creating. Of course, while aesthetics are important, they’re not the only reason: for instance, some use garden lighting to help protect their gardens, landscaping, walkways, etc. from people accidently stepping where they shouldn’t. You can illuminate a flowerbed to prevent people from stepping into it at night and potentially harming your installation. You can also light up a walking path through your yard and/or leading to your home to prevent people from tripping – this is the important safety element of proper garden lighting design.

Others install garden lights to help improve security around their home. Having a well-illuminated home may prevent robberies and other criminal activities – sometimes the best cure is prevention! This is especially true if you set up a motion-sensor connected flood light leading up to your house – this will prevent someone from sneaking up on your home unaware, and may prevent them from entering the area even if you’re not home, potentially discouraging robberies or vandalism.

The final major reason for installing garden and landscape lights is probably the most important – it enables you to make use of these spaces at night. For instance, you can light up your backyard patio, walkway, pool area, garden, and landscaping, enabling you to have an all-night barbecue or other party without fear of being left in the dark.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to installing garden lights. The main drawback is expense: outdoor lighting may not be cheap at times, especially when you’re dealing with fancy varieties or complex installations. But don’t worry if you can’t afford it all at the same time – this is the rare kind of home improvement project where you don’t have to do it all at once. Pick and choose what’s most important at the time, and then just do that – later, when you have the money, time, and inclination, expand your lighting as you see fit.

Kinds of Garden Lights

The most popular kinds of garden lights include low voltage garden lighting and (LED) solar powered garden lights. Lighting connected to mains is probably not going to be appropriate for most garden installations, simply because the light will be too bright for the purposes that most people want to use garden lighting for (soft, simple illumination). However, it is possible to use this, such as if you want to install a flood light of some kind, though you will want to hire an electrician to deal with this as you’ll want to make sure the installation is safe, well hidden, and protected against the elements.

The other main option is low voltage (usually 12V) lamps. These are connected not to the mains but to electricity that has been ‘transformed’ down to a lower voltage. You can get your own low voltage outdoor garden lighting kits and install this yourself with few problems – compare this to the main connected lighting above.

While most garden and landscaping lights will be powered by electricity, other lighting can potentially be powered by gas and other natural fuels. However, this is generally not viable for the purposes described in this article, as having open flames is usually not a good idea near vegetation and other potentially combustible areas. However, you can get garden lanterns and torches that emulate the look and feel of natural gas and propane alternatives if you’re looking for that antique appearance to your lighting.

If you are looking to save energy and protect the environment, solar garden lighting is probably your best bet, as it’s easy to install on your own since you won’t have to deal with laying wires or dealing with electricity in the usual sense. These LED garden lights options can either be powered individually, as each bulb will have its own photovoltaic cell and solar energy generator; or you can hook the lighting you’re your home’s solar panel system if you have one. However, this lighting is usually not as bright as the electric options, and if it doesn’t get enough sunlight it may not last long enough into the night for your taste. However, you can also get battery powered backups for these lights to make sure they have enough juice even during the cloudiest and darkest periods of the year. You can easily purchase solar outdoor lighting kits for relatively low cost, especially considering you probably won’t have to pay labor costs to get it installed by a contractor.

Garden Lighting Design Ideas

The first thing to keep in mind when installing your garden lights and designing the project is figuring out where you want to put them. For most projects, the location of the exterior garden lighting will be somewhat obvious. However, what may not be obvious are the ways to mount and display these lights.

The debate between mounting your lights and keeping them mobile is a debate that can’t be solved generally – it needs to be considered on a case by case basis. Having mounted lighting can give you the most options when it comes to the types and styles of lights to use, but of course it will be difficult to change things up. On the other hand, mobile lighting will restrict your options for light varieties while also allowing you to move your lights and experiment at will with different arrangements.

While we go into a more in-depth discussion of the locations of lights in the article about outdoor lighting, we’ll repeat them here:

  • You can install lights on posts or poles in the middle of your flowerbed or landscape. This also includes installing them in or on trees in the area.
  • Garden lights can also be mounted on walls nearby the area that’s to be illuminated, for instance near the home, a shed, or other area. A variant of the wall-mounted lights are the strings of lights that are strewn about the home; you can also place these strings of lights directly on the plants and landscaping that you already have set up. While the above two ideas (pole and wall mounted) give you illumination from above, otherwise known as “down lighting”…
  • Lights can also be buried ‘in grade’, or ‘recessed,’ to have illumination come from the ground up. They can also rest directly on the ground, as they don’t necessarily need to be buried. This is called “up lighting.” One example of this is path lights or concrete pavers lights; these lights are installed directly into the project to allow for illumination to line the path or trail as necessary. You can also bury these lights into your flowerbeds and other landscaping installations to create subtle but effective illumination in those areas. You can also put other lights at the ground level of trees and other shrubbery to illuminate them differently than simply putting them up at the top of the structures. Putting them in flowerbeds and other landscaping installations can illuminate your flowers, statues, stepping stones, walkways, and other structures that you want to be visible at night.
  • Depending on what you’re working with in the area of illumination, you can also mount these lights on ceilings (hanging lights).
  • String lighting is also interesting, not only for trees but also shrubs of any kind. It doesn’t have to be Christmas or the holiday season to use these!
  • Much of these garden lighting ideas are stationary, but you can also get lighting that is a bit more mobile. Torches, lamps, and other lighting fixtures can be easily transported as aesthetics or function dictates (for instance, if you want to move the main gathering area for a party).

Some Other Outdoor and Deck Lighting Ideas

  1. Besides motion activated lights, you can also get lights that turn on according to the directions of a timer. Some lights will also turn on automatically when the ambient light gets to a certain point (i.e. they will turn on at night and turn off in the morning by themselves).
  2. Note when installing any garden or landscape lighting to be careful about the wiring. You want to make sure that the wiring is accessible enough to be maintained or replaced as necessary but not so vulnerable as to be potentially cut or damaged during other excavation or digging. Thus, you may need to hire an electrician or contractor to get the job done correctly. This is one of the advantages of solar garden lights – you often don’t have to deal with any wiring at all.
  3. Note that some lighting will require permits and other applications to your local town or county, so make sure you do research pertaining to your local area before you commit to any project. Note that many landscape designers and contractors will probably be able to tell you what you need to do here, so use them as a resource.
  4. Some general garden lights landscape advice: aside from the location of the lights, don’t forget to think about their orientation. Where are they pointing? In what direction? What is the interaction between different lights in the area? There’s an art and a science to all this, so don’t be afraid to experiment, especially if you have access to cheap garden lights that you can play around with liberally.
  5. You can also integrate your lights into your hardscape structures. We’ve already discussed paver lights, used especially for walkways, outdoor patios, pool decks, and driveways, but don’t forget the vertical structures. Adding lights to retaining walls and paver steps may be a great way to illuminate these structures for both beauty and safety.
  6. Don’t forget about underwater lighting? If you have a pool, pond, fountain, or waterfall, or any other body of water, don’t forget the possibility of using these outdoor lights to illuminate them. The lighting can wall mounted, submerged in the water, or even floating on the surface, among other options!
  7. Note that heat is an issue – you don’t want the lights to get too hot for the kinds of plants you have, lest you kill them!

Some Final Garden Lighting Tips

Here are some final tips to help you when you’re putting the finishing touches on your project:
Note that you may not want the light itself to be visible – thus, consider blocking it or covering it with another structure (rock, bush, whatever) to make the light itself disappear while still allowing the illumination emanating from it to do its job.
Don’t forget the possibilities of using lights to ‘pick out’ or highlight particular areas or structures in your yard. For instance, you can illuminate your new waterfall solely, or use lights to illuminate the entire garden area. What the light ‘focuses’ on will often determine how the entire area looks.
Experiment with different light brightness levels. Bright lights are more appropriate for functional and security reasons, while dimmer lights and ‘backlights’ may be more suitable for aesthetic reasons – i.e. they will look the best from a distance.

4 thoughts on “Garden Lighting Ideas, Tips, and Designs

  1. You should also think about the purpose of the ground lighting as this will decide which type of solar lighting you need, how powerful it needs to be and where it should be placed. For example, aesthetic lighting of a focal point won’t need to be as bright as functional lighting used to illuminate a path or seating area. It’s important to decide exactly what the light is for before installing it whether you’re going for actual garden lighting with function or just stylish lights.

  2. If you’ve invested a lot of time, talent and energy into your home, you’re undoubtedly proud of all your hard work. If you have a beautifully landscaped yard and garden, or a new deck overlooking your yard, use landscape lighting and deck & stair lighting to deliver the finishing touch. Outdoor lights provide a touch of beauty and elegance to your home, but they also come with an added benefit, increased home security. Adding spot lights, motion sensor lights , pathway lights , solar lights and in-ground lighting is a great way to keep your home secure during the night. They also provide other safety benefits by lighting up steps and walkways so your family and guests can move around without risk of tripping or falling. Upgrade your existing outdoor lights with new energy efficient outdoor wall lighting, post lights , flood lights and outdoor ceiling lights and save on your utility bills. You can also use landscape lights and submersible pond lights to show off your garden after sundown and keep away unwanted animals and pests.

  3. Once you have sketched out your plan for where you want to put your outdoor lights , landscape lighting installation is actually much easier than your think. If you have chosen to go with solar lights, installation will be a snap, especially if you don’t have much shade in your yard. But even if you’ve decided to go with low voltage garden lights, installation will not be nearly as much of a problem as you may think. Most home improvements stores and even some websites sell kits that can get you started.

  4. Solar garden lighting is easy to install, but only if you do the proper preparation to make sure that you place them in the right areas. If you do end up wanting to install a light in an area where there is shade, don’t fret though. You can always install a few low voltage light fixtures in your yard and make the rest solar powered for a great hybrid system!

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