Lighting your garden makes it more attractive to use in summer evenings and gives it a more interesting outlook at night and in the winter – lit-up snow scenes are particularly appealing. Additional security is an added benefit – especially if you fit an automatic timer. Many low voltage lighting kits are readily available, and you can carry out the installation yourself.
Planning your system
How many lights you use depends on the effect you’re trying to achieve. Don’t overdo the number of lights, as a general guide about 10 per 1000 sq ft (90 sq m) will look good. Try to keep it subtle – creating atmosphere by the use of low light levels is more satisfactory than a starkly lit scene, and experiment with different strengths of bulbs until you achieve a pleasing effect. Leave areas of darkness for contrast.
When you’ve decided how many lights you need and where you want to place them, you can decide if a lighting kit is available or whether you need to make one up yourself. Kits come with instructions and are very simple to fit. Alternatively, you can buy the components of a low wattage system and assemble them yourself.
What to light
Use spotlights on attractive specimen plants, garden features, sculptures or fountains. Light evergreen plants which will look good in autumn and winter. Light steps and hazardous areas for safety at night. On a path or drive, alternate lights from side to side to avoid an ‘airport runway’ look.
Tip: When lighting a patio, place bright lights carefully as they will attract flying insects.
Assembling your system
A low voltage system consists of an outdoor quality transformer that plugs into a wall socket – an indoor socket or a weather-protected outdoor socket are both suitable. This converts mains power to 12 or 24 volts for safe garden use.
Garden Lighting continued
The total power rating of the transformer (specified in watts) will determine how many lights can be used. A low voltage cable leads out through a hole drilled in the house wall or window frame and connects to the 12 volt or 24 volt lamps in your desired locations. The cable can be buried or left on the surface, but take care when using mowers or strimmers.
Positioning and fitting the lights
The simplest lights to install just have to be pushed into the ground with a spike. If they are the low-fitting types, line a hole with gravel and partly bury them. Aim the lights carefully: you want the object to be seen, not the source of the light. Uplighters make a dramatic statement but remember not to shine them towards neighbours’ houses! Use them instead to shine on trees from below – use more than one light so the tree looks solid. Backlighting is good to silhouette a border against a wall or hedge.
Use downlighters, fitted in a tree or pole, to shine on lower plants or a water scene. This gives a soft and romantic effect. Illuminated water is particularly attractive.
Tip: Use coloured lights with care. They work best lighting moving water. For tips on installing a water feature in your garden.
Warning: Mains lighting can be used but is costly, and using a qualified electrician is recommended as incorrect installation can be lethal. Low voltage lights are safer. Solar powered lights that require no wiring are also available but they are more expensive and not very powerful.