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.

An Outdoor Lighting Guide: What You Need to Know

Though this is primarily a site about concrete pavers, we of course want to cover all the aspects of outdoor home improvement and design that we can to maximize the beauty and functionality of your hardscape investment. When many people think of outdoor lighting, they think about the string lights that are often put up around homes during Christmas. But this is just a small fraction of the choices for lighting available, and the benefits you’ll get from installing it can be immense. If you are sprucing up your front yard or backyard, don’t forget about making sure it’s visible at night! The right outdoor lighting can transform the appearance of your home, and it can allow you to use your new hardscape and landscape through all hours of the night. Plus, it can also make your home look more attractive from the street.

Another major benefit is not just aesthetic, it’s also practical: safety. Making sure your backyard or frontyard environment is well lit is a good way to prevent trips, falls, and other accidents. You can also use it as protection against would-be thieves or interlopers.

Exterior lighting is resistant to water and weather – as it should be – and is relatively easy to install. However, some projects may require the aid of an electrician, especially if you are dealing with lots of electricity, so you will definitely not want to do this work yourself! You’ll want to make sure that you’re using lighting that’s meant for wet and outdoor areas – lighting meant for dry, indoor environments could short out and get damaged when exposed to the elements. In addition, you may have to get certain permits and follow certain rules and laws given your local area; you may also need periodic inspections to confirm that there are no hazards associated with your installation, especially if you have heavy-duty lights installed.

Of course, the huge amount of lighting options out there can be very confusing. This article thus seeks to give you a good guide to explain the many kinds of modern outdoor lighting available for purchase as well as a discussion of the design options you have at your disposal, regardless of the project.

While much of what follows applies to commercial lighting, much of this advice is most applicable to residential applications.

Picking the Basic Type of Outdoor Lighting Fixtures

There are two main types of outdoor lights – gas powered and electric (bulb) powered lights. Each comes with its own drawbacks and benefits.

Electric powered lights are very popular, as they give an elegant and modern look to the area. There are three kinds of ‘electric lights.’ One kind, powered by the electric mains, gives the strongest light, and is best for security and safety rather than aesthetics. For instance, these are best for outdoor flood lights, especially for a business or secure area that needs to be protected from interlopers. However, there is a ton of voltage and power going to these lights, so safety is an issue – for instance, the main line that connects to the light must be well hidden and protected. The amount of power that can be used ranges from 40 to 1000 watts. Only the brightest lights will need these high values; most will be satisfied with a 40 to 100 watt light.

If you don’t need such bright lighting, you could go with low voltage outdoor lighting. This is often used as garden lighting, such as that used to light up a particular path or to illuminate a flower bed or other landscaping installation. This lighting will not be as high a voltage (usually around 12V), so you won’t need to worry about protecting people from potentially getting electrocuted with it. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure the lines are out of the way and insulated against water and weather, but no extra special precautions need be taken like they do with mains lighting. Installing this lighting yourself is very doable, and there are plenty of low voltage outdoor lighting kits out there that you can purchase and set up without the need for a contractor or electrician.

The final type of exterior lighting is solar powered. These solar powered LED lights are not as bright as the other options, but they can still serve some aesthetic purposes if used correctly. The best feature for these is that they don’t need to be plugged into an electricity source, as they are powered by the sun – simply put them where you want them and you’re done! A solar panel diverts energy to a battery during the day; this battery then powers up the lights at night.

Gas powered lights are more ‘traditional’ but may be a bit more of a hassle to install and maintain, especially if you don’t have any gas to pipe in to the area. Still, if you’re looking for something nostalgic and antique-ish, go with this option, though you might find you have fewer options available here than you will with electric lights.

You will also want to figure out if you want to create a modern or antique theme to your lighting. Most homeowners go with the modern option, though the antique option can absolutely look well in many different home environments. Modern lighting is generally silver and black in color and is not very complex in its lines, while antique lighting can pull in a wider range of colors and designs.

Designing Your Outside Lights Project

Don’t stress too much about your lighting design. Sure, there are plenty of options available for you when it comes to your outdoor lighting design, but don’t worry about getting it ‘exactly right.’ You’ll have to experiment and use trial and error, unless you hire a contractor or designer to do the creating for you, so just go with your gut and what you think you’ll enjoy. Don’t forget the other factors besides looks – function, protection, and safety. And it goes without saying that budget can be an issue – a seemingly modest decorative outdoor lighting project can soon turn financially serious if you’re not careful!

Draw up a plan of your home, or have someone do it for you. On this picture, mark where you will want to install outdoor and landscape lighting. Obviously, if your project is small, you can skip this step. Make sure that it will be feasible to install the lights in those areas; for example, you may need to run a significant amount of wiring in order to have your plan work out like you want – this may mean added time and expense to your project.

One of the first things that you need to figure out is the location of that you want to set up your lights as well as how you want to ‘mount’ them in the area. Some of the popular areas to put lights include: walkways, patios, pool decks and other yard decking, gardens and landscape features, entrances and exits of yards, homes, and sheds/garages, and mounted on walls and columns to illuminate large patches of the back or front yard. They may also be useful as security, especially if they are set up with motion sensors. Some lights can also be put into water, such as if you have a waterfall or pond or pool in your backyard that you want to light up. Don’t forget about using lighting for ambiance as well – sometimes very low level LED landscape lighting is all you need to transform your landspace. There are many ways to mount your lights, depending of course on what kinds of lights you are dealing with. Your options include:

  • The most basic kind of mount is putting the light on a wall. You can either attach it directly to the wall or other surface, or you can mount a bracket on the surface of the wall and then set the light up there. These brackets themselves can give you many design options, as you can buy these items in a variety of styles and materials.
  • Mount your lights on a post or column. The column can be made from many different materials (such as wood or metal) and can be installed wherever you want at whatever height you want. This means you can mount your light at whatever height you want in order to produce the desired functional or aesthetic appearance. This option obviously includes the lights and torches that already come in a column or post format.
  • If you have an outdoor area available that is covered by some kind of ceiling, you can add hanging lights to the area.

During this process you also need to determine how many lights you will need to cover the space. Obviously this depends on a number of factors, including the types of lights you’re using, the square footage of the area, other light that may be already installed, and the amount of light you want to use (or the ‘effect’ you want to create with your lighting). This is where somewhat of a judgment call comes in, and you may want to experiment a bit with different kinds and numbers of lights (if feasible) in order to get the look you want. Obviously this testing won’t be possible for those on a smaller budget, so your mileage may vary here.

In addition, realize that there also many different ways to ‘display’ your lighting. In other words, you can do things like down or up lighting, spot lighting, shadowing, cross lighting, and much more. In other words: where is the light pointing? Is it direct or diffuse? How is it interacting with other lights in the area? Obviously, you don’t have to go fancy here if you don’t want to, but just be aware of these options here.

Note that getting lighting just right can be tricky. Sometimes lights that you think will be ‘understated’ will be totally invisible or even too much, while other times the opposite can be true. That’s why, though it’s useful to consult with pictures, videos, and other visual aids in order to see what works best in certain environments, it won’t be a cure-all, as your specific home context will be different from anything else you see.

Suggestions for Outdoor Landscape Lighting (Ideas)

  • Lanterns are an interesting throwback, though modern ones are also available. These can either be mounted on posts and columns, wall mounted, or bracket mounted. Some of these lanterns can be truly unique, so you’ll have a lot of freedom to explore different styles and designs, all depending on your home’s theme and your tastes and style.
  • Outdoor post lights are also a great way to either set off particular areas for seating (such as patios), but these poles are probably best used as a way to line a path or walkway through your yard or walking up to your house.
  • One of the coolest outdoor lighting ideas is path lighting. You can use path lighting for your gardens, walkways, and other installations. One very popular option for those who use concrete pavers or other paving stones is paver lights – these lights can be placed within the paver installation so that they seamlessly blend with your project. A especially useful version of this kind of lighting is step lighting – having your steps illuminated, or even surrounded by path lights, will both increase their beauty at night and prevent injuries, trips, and falls.
  • There are many different uses for outdoor wall lights, but most of the time these lights will be mounted in the front or back of your home. They can be used in the front to light up the façade of your home, or you can use them in back to help light up a patio or pool deck area, depending on the layout of your home.
  • Hanging lights are a bit less flexible due to the fact that they have to be ‘hung’ from somewhere. Of course, if you have an enclosed patio or walkway, this could work very well as a way to light a path in a unique way. However, don’t discount the use of these lights at the front of a home, hanging down from the roof or other overhang. They can be a great way to call attention to your home and make it stand out from the crowd.
  • Note as well that you can often get energy efficient or low energy bulbs. This is a great idea if you’re planning on leaving your lighting on more or less permanently, as otherwise you could face a rather hefty electric bill.