Outdoor Lighting

People have a weird view of lighting that may just be outdated. I find a lot of clients who look fairly mystified when I mention what some lights in a landscape could do for them and invariably end up explaining the entire verse and legend in a long spiel that wears us all out. For what it’s worth, those who I convince to try it invariably applaud their great good sense in purchasing said lights when all is said and done. The fact is, outdoor lighting any more is stunningly easy to set up. The advent of low-voltage lighting is a supremely promising development, bringing it well within the realm of budgetary possibility as well as in its newer ease of installation. A transformer, some wire, a few lights, a plug in and you are off to the races as a lit up maven of outdoor night time beauty and wonder. Suddenly, instead of some dismally dark and foreboding atmosphere outdoors in the dark, we find ourselves drawn even more outdoors, relishing the sights, sounds and personal gorgeousness of our own yards and landscaping.

It also has remarkable results. I have taken the liberty of borrowing a few pictures from John Stone, a friend oft-mentioned in here, who runs a successful local business and who is a true lighting expert and who also – more importantly – has had the wherewithal to actually take pictures at night! These will illustrate some of what I refer to as conceptual guidelines to this very refreshing and increasingly popular aspect of landscaping.

As shown in the above photo, lighting can be used as a simple accent, highlighting desired features in a landscape well worth highlighting. In this case, we have a creek with falls, the lighting for which can not only be seen alongside the creek itself with its running water, but which can also be placed under the falls to highlight them as well. In fact, many times a roaring little set of falls can yield an absolutely “phosphorescent” glow – just an incredibly beautiful sight. What John has done with this particular setting was to shine light along the sides of the creek as well. This is a definitely high rent solution and is as gorgeous as you could want. It makes the creek simply stand out as a true garden feature, drawing the eye to the entirety of the little roaring river. By highlighting such a feature, he has drawn complete attention to what the lighting conceptualizers call a “hot” lighting scenario. “Hot” lights are brighter, simply put, and they are intended to draw the eye. Around them, we might put softer lighting, for example “up lit” trees, walls and, say, rocks whose features are worthwhile but whose status in the lighting hierarchy serve a far different purpose.  Take this tree for example:

Disregarding the glaring light at the front for a moment (for the record, it is practically impossible to take lighting pictures at night owing to the apparent glare of other lights in the way which are not that obsequious in real life, trust me) imagine that tree highlighted at depth, say 40-50 feet away from the house.  This tree is up lit from the ground and therefore featured from hidden sources. Depending on the actual placement of this – or any other tree or similar feature – this can actually act as well as a sort of “wall” of your outdoor “room”, with other trees and features up lit to give a sense of depth and finality to the walls of the outdoor room. The point being that one can literally produce a sense of an outdoor environment complete with a terminating “room wall” with simple lighting. It encompasses and proscribes the area desired to highlight and makes things amazingly intimate and finite.

Other uses for lighting of course involve every aspect of patio life, from “down lighting” accents to accentuation of the gorgeous carpentry features of a gazebo or patio construction. The lights illuminate an entire environment in this situation, providing security and awareness for the party folks who will pour into your patio by the thousands. Trust me.

6 thoughts on “Outdoor Lighting

  1. Hi Steve!
    This is a superb account of the artistry and technology of outdoor lighting. Many people are at work during the day and only see their gardens at night, so outdoor lighting extends ones enjoyment of the garden.
    My friend Karla spoke of outdoor lighting in the 60’s in Los angeles. She became a lighting designer for the stage. She said she was influenced by hot spashes of color such as a magenta spot on a palm tree, or polychrome floods on a concrete brick wall (very 60’s LA 😉
    The way you described this is so poetic and well written for today’s landscape.

  2. Thanks, Phillip!! Good to see you, man! I am so glad you’re back.

    Other unique issues in lighting are even more interesting. Optic fibers have opened up enormous possibilities in landscapes and – well – everywhere. In fact, I may use those zany Burning Man pictures again, just to give some idea of what is possible. They really have adopted it in the most portable senses.

    The idea that lighting opens up new rooms and realms of experience in one’s very own landscape is always the issue.

  3. So true, Steve. And yet (well, not having tried it myself), I can see you need some skills to get it right. The outdoor tree lights that really got me going was the one highlighting the row of trees outside the millenium dome (these days called the O2) in London. I saw it in winter, when the trees had lost all their leaves, and it was still the coolest line of trees I had seen. (just looking to see if I can find an image for you…sorry, no luck). Basically, it was the network of bare branches outlined by strong, coloured light. Perhaps more art than a garden, but still awesome. For my own garden, I have researched the possibility of a very similar Japanese lantern that you mentioned at that post. I agree, just imagine a few of those lit up along a garden path at night… The image only clouded by finding out the price for one of those lanterns…

  4. Yeah..I am agree to this wonderful post.By using the outdoor lighting we can improve our home beauty in the allowable budget and save the nonrenewable lighting source by using solar lighting products.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

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