Landscape Lighting Basics

Night View Of Flowerbed With Flowers Illuminated By Energy-Saving Solar Powered Lanterns Along Path Causeway On Courtyard Going To The House

Lighting is a very important element to consider when designing a garden or landscape. There are two basic considerations when applying lighting: Safety, and enhancing aesthetic appeal of plants and architectural elements. In more public landscape designs lighting a path or space with more (and brighter) lighting is necessary for safety, but too much lighting in the residential landscape will detract from its appeal. In private garden I use lights to play with the effects of light and dark, adding mystery to the landscape. When using lights in the landscape do not try to recreate the effect of daytime; play light against dark, use them to highlight trees and other elements. Playing light against dark creates a sense of mystery about what is around the corner, the layout of the next space, allowing a person to experience the landscape in an easily digestible series of vignettes. Good lighting will create a magical experience.

Things I like to think about when designing lighting schemes:

  • Light gathering spaces with soft light to create a nice ambiance.
  • Think about the type of mood you want to create when designing the lighting for an area
    • Lighting can be designed to be dimmed.
    • Lighting can be designed to be redirected.
  • Lighting fixtures come in all shapes and sizes
    • Fixtures should be installed and matched carefully to the overall design.
  • On stairs, the lights can be built into the risers, into the railings, or into a wall next to the stairs.
    • Stairs must be lit because of safety concerns.
  • 12”-18” tall fixtures, casting light onto the ground plane is the most important to safety.
    • Important not to shine lights into the pedestrian’s eyes.
    • Most of this type of lighting is placed along the division between the planting bed and the pathway, creating a sense of mystery.
  • Ambient light is subtle and more appealing.
    • Avoid focused light unless you are highlighting specific elements.
    • Think about uplighting your house, trees, and sculptures.
  • Try using non-permanent lights such as tiki torches to create a nice, soft glow, for parties, and gatherings.
    • White lights in trees provide a nice effect all year long.
    • Think about using votive candles to provide instant ambience.
  • Try using white blooming annuals or perennials because they reflect the smallest amount of light.