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Lighting garden structures

By March 21st, 2024No Comments


Architectural lighting techniques may also apply to features and backdrops around the garden. Outbuildings designed to relate to the architectural features of the home should be lit to match, whether as an accompaniment to a path, a backdrop to a statue, an invitation to other areas such as a guesthouse or pool area, or as features in their own right.


Some buildings may merely be follies built as focal points rather than functional structures, while decorative

façades or false doorways can ornament purely functional buildings. Many ideas fundamental to architectural lighting are described on pages 41-4, it just needs a little imagination to recognize features of architectural merit and to apply appropriate techniques. Of course, free-standing arches and other structures built as perspective and decorative devices are also an invitation to experiment with lighting skills. An arch, for example, may be used to divide two areas. Consider uplighting, to draw attention to it as the threshold to another outdoor room, or to frame the view through it to a focal point.



Recess downlights under a porch canopy to illuminate the front door and provide a focus for visitors

Uplight buttresses or columns with narrow beams to emphasize their structure

  • Introduce uplights between windows, using narrow- or medium-beam lamps, to illuminate the façade without causing glare indoors

Uplight architectural planting to throw the shadows of branches and leaves onto

blank walls

  • Wash lighting down façades over porches or lower structures to reveal their shape distinctly from the main building
  • Crosslight steps leading up to doors for safety and to emphasize the texture of the paving

Use narrow-beam spotlights to emphasize unusual wall features, such as plaques, clocks or relief panels

Use shielded luminaires to light window reveals and to emphasize interesting arches or cornices

Use interior lighting to emphasize unusual glazed features, such as stained glass or unusually shaped windows

Graze up brick or stone walls from near the base to emphasize their texture and colour


Gazebos are built to provide a view- point over the garden as a whole or a particular scene or feature. Bear this in mind before lighting such features purely as focal points in their own right, because ornamental lighting of the structure must be carefully placed to avoid glare to people wandering in and taking a seat. Gentle uplighting or moonlighting is better than crosslighting. which is likely to be invasive within the structure.

Interior downlighting will avoid an unoccupied feel and can be used to illuminate decorative floor detail, but remember that less is more, and keep it soft. The difference between mood lighting and lighting for reading can be important in these structures. It is essential to decide priorities at the outset. Downlighting in a gazebo that is bright enough to facilitate reading will not encourage anyone to sit there quietly to look out on ornamentally lit features: Options for alternative levels of lighting, including the ability to switch off interior downlighting, should be provided.


Pergolas can be illuminated by uplighting the climbing plants that are scrambling up the supporting piers, or by downlighting with luminaires on the crossbeams or the top of the posts or columns. A combination of the two approaches is often the best choice, but will depend on the function of the pergola. If it is primarily an ornamental feature or serves the function of an archway framing a view, uplighting will emphasize the structure and the material of which the uprights are built, as well as casting light across plants creeping along the crossbeams.

The power of the lighting required will be determined at least partly by the colour of the material, whether the evening sky or a dark area is behind it, and by its distance from the focal point. Narrow-beam 20- or 35-watt

lamps in spike-mount or recessed uplights will generally be the right choice. It is usually a good idea to incorporate some element of gentle downlighting to bring the ground into the picture. Pergolas are often built as places to sit and possibly to dine, with associated focal points nearby. Such focal points then become the prime view and the pergola provides the ambience around and over the seating. while downlights mounted on the pergola or among adjacent planting illuminate the focal point.


Where there is a seating area beneath a pergola or a path through it, you may want to consider downlighting as the dominant technique. For a walkway through a pergola, downlighting at the top of columns can show

Dining areas

upward-facing flowers as well as casting the shadow of the climbing plants down onto the path. This can leave the crossbeams unlit. This may not be important if they are silhouetted against skyglow in a city, if there are no climbing plants growing across them, or if there is a focal point at the end of a pergola that is framed by the illuminated columns advancing towards it. Often, however, the best solution will be a combination of uplighting on the columns and downlighting from the crossbeams to provide path lighting beneath.

Where the pergola frames a dining area, downlighting can illuminate the table while uplighting casts light on the surrounding ‘room’ created by the shrub borders or climbing plants growing up the supporting columns or posts. If the pergola is small and huddles closely around the dining table, uplighting the nearby columns or posts will cause glare for anyone who happens to glance backwards. In a closely confined area it is preferable to use mainly downlighting with luminaires fitted with internal glare louvres or external glare guards, both over the table and down the adjacent posts to light the surroundings of the posts and dining chairs. If the pergola has a large tree nearby, moonlighting down can add a romantic touch with its subtle effect, throwing gentle light and the shadow of beams and climbers onto the table below. Even then, do not forget to put candles on the table for a final touch of intimacy. Remember that if directional lighting is used close to areas that people use, luminaires with glare- control features must be used. The lighting must be soft enough to create a pleasant ambience, and luminaires must be carefully positioned both to avoid

glare and to ensure that faces are not left in shadow. Lamps should be 20 watts, at most 35 watts, with wide beams.

Area lighting

Area lighting products are sometimes used for illuminating pergola areas, and although some small luminaires make an unobtrusive contribution towards the ambience of a dining area under a pergola, larger ones can be over-bright and draw the eye away from the scene. Halogen capsule lamps can be contained within small luminaires located between the beams or colour-matched to the posts or columns to be unobtrusive.

Hanging lanterns are often a hazard to taller visitors. Luminaires designed for the walls of the house should not clutter a decorative structure or provide obstacles at head height to bump into. Using such unsuitable lighting products in such contexts looks wrong unless the fittings match a design theme, such as oriental brass lanterns in a pergola or gazebo designed for an Eastern effect.

You must think ahead if you wish to avoid a clutter of visible wiring running up a stone column or brick pier. A conduit within the structure provides cable-ways from the ground up to the pergola beams and is an unobtrusive way of achieving this. Metal structures often feature hollow tubing through which wiring can be threaded. Cable channels can be routed in timber posts so that wiring can be hidden under matching trim pieces prepared at the same time as the posts.


Lighting steps for safety is an obvious requirement in a garden, but it can also be decorative. Using downlighting from adjacent lighting platforms is often the best way; downlighting from an adjacent wall can produce step- and pathlighting accompanied by grazing of attractive brickwork, while moonlighting from a tree can give a natural effect in a country garden. One of the newer techniques is based on the linear lighting techniques described earlier. It consists of running a linear lighting source in a channel under the nosing of the step or fixing a moulding or metal extrusion that provides the fixing for the light source as well as shielding it from view as you ascend the steps. It is a stylish approach, but it tends to produce a fairly bright effect because such products are generally developed for commercial and public premises. It is also moderately expensive for domestic use.


If overhead lighting cannot be installed and linear lighting would be too expensive, crosslighting the steps from the flanking walls is one of the best


The aluminium extrusion is fixed under the stair nosing. A linear ‘lightstring’ fitted with long-life lamps is installed in the channel, wired to a remote low-voltage transformer and covered with a protective clear polycarbonate cover.

techniques for lighting steps. Recessed steplights, normally using 20-watt dichroic reflector lamps to project beams across a staircase, graze across the treads to display texture and colour and to light them for access.

Steplighting should be as uniform as possible, lighting both risers and treads to avoid shadowing from one step onto the next. On an extended staircase, there should be no glare directed downwards towards the eyes of the ascending pedestrian. The key to fulfilling these requirements without using blander area lighting techniques is to use more luminaires, each one lighting across two, or at most three, steps. Using wider-beam, higher- brightness lamps may keep the cost down, but it will provide poor uniformity, with dangerous shadow and increased glare. Wider staircases may be lit by using narrower-beam lamps to project further across the steps but be careful to guard against glare.

Most steplights are essentially recessed spotlights. You may need to use internal glare louvres or products


with shielding grills or eyelid hoods. Make sure that any steplight facing a terrace, path, window or other view point is of a low-glare type, using a capsule lamp rather than a spotlight- type lamp, Such products are sometimes designed for surface- mounting and are fairly small because they contain only a small capsule lamp and do not have to cater for a larger reflector lamp. These can be installed where it is not possible or desirable to bore holes in the walls. Another option is a bricklight flushed into the wall. These area lighting products provide a subtle light and will avoid the directional glare of a spotlight. A bricklight with an opal lens but without a louvred front may still appear as a bit of a “hotspot, while louvres to prevent glare will cut out half of the light and limit spread to a smaller semicircle, which, in turn, requires more luminaires.

Spreadlights for steps

Where there is no flanking wall, it is best to diffuse light from the side, Some surface-mounted steplights are available on spike-mounting stems so that they can be tucked into hedges and adjacent planting to provide a small pool of light for two or three narrow steps. For wider steps, a wider

pool of light is required, but it is a good idea to have a hood over the light source to conceal the lamp. This is how the spreadlight, or ‘mushroom light as many consumers think of it. was bom. Selecting a spreadlight that will stand up high enough to perform its lighting job yet still be visually acceptable is the necessary trade-off. Typical spreadlights use a tungsten or halogen lamp of about 20 watts and provide a circle of coverage of 2-2.5m (6-8ft) diameter for a light 30cm (1ft) tall, increasing to a 3.5-4m (11-13ft) circle for one 60cm (2ft) tall.


The same considerations and design techniques discussed for steps (see pages 91-2) also apply to paths, although the length of the path is likely to be greater than the width of the steps, so the emphasis is on the spread of light. This means that brick lights and spreadlights will be the preferred fittings, although down lighting and moonlighting will be the preferred decorative techniques. Where the path is wide or the circulation area is a larger one, area lighting techniques, as applied in some cases to drives, may come into play.

The fundamental difference between lighting a level route and lighting changes of level: people are accustomed to walking along a level surface and need less lighting than for negotiating steps, unless there are obstacles, such as children’s toys, lying around. Lighting focal points and adjacent planting for a reassuring ambience also serves to waymark the route, so in most gardens pathlighting does not need to be as bright or uniform as steplighting Indeed, it can be a useful means of avoiding the runway’ effect of regularly spaced luminaires along a straight path.

Regular spacing of lighting helps to make sure that the eye does not have to try to adapt too frequently to different fighting intensities, which can cause disorientation. However, a path in a garden is usually a meandering, pedes trian route that is intended to allow friends and family to move around a

garden while they enjoy each other’s company and the garden features. In a formal garden layout we would expect to see regular lighting patterns, but in an informal setting too much regularity can destroy the atmosphere. As long as there is enough lighting to enable a person to walk along the path without having to think too consciously about it. they can also enjoy illuminated features along the way. It does not matter if the layout is not strictly spaced or if luminaires are paired along either side of the path or staggered on either side. As long as the pools of light from the various sources overlap, or nearly so, then it will be uniform enough.


Lighting driveways is usually at compromise between providing good lighting and keeping the light sources invisible, but this is not always possible. Moonlighting from trees is an attractive way of lighting a horizontal surface in a natural way that is suitable for both town and country gardens. However, if there are no trees, walls or structures to act as lighting platforms. the light fittings are bound to be visible. Area lighting on walls, or lanterns perched on gate pillars, will provide lighting that is mainly for orientation purposes- that is, giving enough light to see by, to find the way. to fetch and carry objects, to perform simple tasks, such as finding a key Lighting planting and features adjacent to the driveway certainly marks the route, but some lighting will usually be needed for pedestrians to use the road, Around driveways, as well as wide paths and open access areas for parking, bollard lights, which project more outward light than spreadlights, will give broader coverage but there will be some increased visibility of the light sources. Small halogen bollards are often popular because of their size, and some models are available in modern shapes and fashionable finishes such as copper and stainless steel. For practical purposes around a driveway, particularly around parking or turning areas, taller

mains-voltage bollard lights with higher power light sources are required Column-mounted lanterns-either real or scaled-down street lights- will always be a popular choice with traditionalists of for lighting on a grand scale, but they are used as daytime omaments as much as working night-time light sources

Patios and terraces

There is a large number of possible. lighting combinations, but for large patio areas different combinations of wall luminaires and low-power floodlights under the eaves will be required for different functions. Brighter lighting may be necessary when you have to keep an eye on children, whereas something a little less bright would be appropriate for gatherings of adults. Provided this s done with taste and restraint, it can create a satisfactory compromise between mood lighting and the higher light levels needed for activity and security. For smaller, more intimate areas, a more subtle approach is needed. Moonlighting is again the most suitable lighting technique for horizontal areas and atmospheric spaces, but there is not

always a large enough tree close by, especially where the patio is immediately outside the house, to provide the necessary support.


Downlighting from below the eaves of a house can be an effective way of lighting paths, terraces and planting around the house to create a welcoming atmosphere. It can also produce a grazing effect if the lighting of a surface from an oblique angle emphasizes texture, such as roughness in brick or stone and the patterns of the mortar joints. This effect can also be produced by placing uplights close to the base of a wall to create a feeling of warmth and intimacy around a terrace.

Downlights and wall-mount spots should be discreet and match the mounting surface or other external fittings as closely as possible. Glare guards or internal honeycomb louvres are often useful for a soft lighting effect and limiting glare. Recessing weather- proof downlights into the soffit below the eaves can be especially neat. Where structures exist over or next to the area where you require lighting, use ideas for lighting pergola areas (see pages 88-91). Lighting patios often requires a combination of downlights and products that will provide softer area lighting, and uplights to add contrast and emphasis, by uplighting individual features as well as balustrades, trellises or walls.

Area lighting

Wall-mounted lights on the house provide light for a patio area immediate ly outside French windows or a kitchen door and are the most familiar form of exterior lighting. They generally do a good job in providing the lighting needed for orientation and the performance of general tasks. Luminaires mounted at, or just above head height, provide lighting for everything below eye level and may cast some decorative light on the wall on which they are mounted, as well as any adjacent planting. At night the lights will draw as much attention to them- selves as they do to the area they are intended to light, and for this reason it is important that the style should suit the house and that the lamps that are fitted are not of excessively high wattage. A wider area of illumination is worthless it

it is at the cost of being made to feel uncomfortable because of the glare

While such lighting is not directional like a spotlight beam is, the light produced still has a direction of travel and will produce shadows. Anyone seated with their back to the wall light will see the faces of people seated opposite, but their own faces will be in shadow unless additional lighting has been provided from another direction. Good patio illumination, for dining especially, should be all-enveloping while preserving the view of the illuminated garden or landscape view. It should be wired by means of a separate switch so that the view out from the house is not inhibited by bright area lighting on the patio just outside the windows


If you are going to dine outside, the chances are that you may also be cooking there. As with a dinner party indoors, you will want to leave the preparation and cooking areas out of sight once the meal is served. This is a simple matter of having one or more lights near the barbecue that can be switched off separately from the

ornamental lighting and the lighting over or around the exterior dining table. The switch for the barbecue lighting should preferably be a weatherproof one near the barbecue.


In a small space around a dining area. consider gentle uplighting to reveal the shape of the space and the presence of planting to create an intimate feeling that contrasts with the indoor ambience. Uplighting can also throw the shadow of climbing plants upwards onto a rendered wall for added interest This is particularly appropriate for courtyards, which are often shady places during the day but have walls that offer opportunities for creating a subtle and romantic ambience in the evening Walls with interesting stone or brickwork can be grazed by uplights or downlights to emphasize the texture, the colour of the material and the shape of the walled enclosure. Low-power downlighting can throw the foliage shadow onto the paving below in an imaginative miniaturization of the moonlighting effect seen with trees.

Balconies and roof terraces

Lofty terraces on the top or side of buildings have a magic of their own at night: their dizzy height commands a view and it is the job of lighting to reinforce this, not negate it by lighting the space only for its own sake. Lighting should be secondary to the view and consist mainly of low-level lighting across the decking or paving. accepting the wash of interior lighting through picture windows and so easing the transition from interior to exterior. Overhead lighting, if suitable mounting points exist, can perform two functions. First, it should add downlighting for key plants or features; and second, it should provide lighting for dining or reading. Both types of lighting should be wired on separate switches so that brighter lighting can be switched off to allow the vista beyond to be seen more clearly. Any ornamental lighting, whether it is downlighting or uplighting, must be discreet and concentrate merely on framing the view and contributing a pleasant ambience.



Free-standing barbecue against a wall

Free-standing barbecue under a pergola

Free-standing barbecue near a tree

Free-standing barbecue in open area

Barbecue with brick or stone surround

Barbecue with raised brick or stone surround


Spotlighting down onto barbecue or area lighting fixed to wall above

Spotlights fixed to overhead beams

Spotlight foed to tree by means of mounting bracket

Post-mounted lantern or portable light on nearby table

Post-mounted accent light or spreadlight on surface mount

Bricklights or steplights set into walls at either side

In an integrated garden design, remembering what not to light and by how much is as important as remembering what to light; a good design will exploit the potential of shadow to create depth and perspective. Although every garden is different, some general guidelines can be applied to creating lighting plans, which can be adapted to suit different types of garden. The ideas and examples will help you devise a plan for your own garden.

Editing the view

If you do not light it, you will not see it. Observing this rule for compost heaps, outbuildings and utility areas may seem obvious and, although lighting for access to these areas may be required for functional reasons, the lights should be on separate circuits so that they can be switched on separately from the ornamental garden lighting. It is also important to consider this rule when you are placing luminaires so that they are carefully directed only at the objects you wish to light and not at the children’s climbing frame or other back- ground areas that do not contribute to the ornamental view.

In newly planted gardens, the small size of the initial planting is likely to limit the amount of lighting installed in the first year, unless there are attractive walls or trellis to stand in as lighting subjects while the plants develop. Unless you are installing an entire system in one go, first-year installation may be limited to areas of hard land- scaping, focal points, structures and any existing mature specimen plants. To attempt more can often result in nothing more than a well-lit fence.

The scope for adding luminaires as planting matures should have been planned at the beginning. Avoid over- lighting by illuminating every shrub and paving stone. As with so many things, less is more.

Inside looking out

When you have installed garden light- ing, a window ceases to be something to be covered with blinds when dusk falls. Instead it becomes a frame for the picture of the illuminated garden. However this only works if the balance of interior and exterior lighting is correct. Insufficient outdoor light results in the ‘black mirror’ effect – you see your own reflection and that of the room around you in the dark glass of the window. If the primary objective is to enjoy the view from the house, the exterior lighting must be brighter than the interior lighting so the ‘black mirror’ will become transparent glass and allow the view through. This is also a matter of making sure that the interior lighting is not too bright or, perhaps, that it can be dimmed according to mood so that the garden illumination becomes more visible. Nowhere is this more important than in a conservatory where almost the whole room can become a black mirror. In a conservato ry, ‘point’ sources of light, such as chandeliers, should be avoided because these are reflected brilliantly in every pane of glass. Using discreet downlight- ing by surface- or track-mounted spot- lights or wire-lighting systems onto interior features and seating areas can produce better results. If a chandelier or decorative lantern is used over a dining table it should be connected to a sepa rate switch so that it can be removed from the view when not needed.

Setting lighting priorities

Lighting selectively should not depend on random choice. It must be based on establishing a sense of priority within the view. Once the viewpoints are estab- lished from windows, as well as from the the patio and seats around the garden, each view must have a balanced composition, It is essential to decide on the primary focal point within a view (see pages 82-51, because a pair of objects demanding equal attention can confuse the eye. If there are several important features, perhaps a group of figures, for example, either light them as

a group or establish a hierarchy between them so that the primary focal point is most brightly lit, while features of sec- ondary or tertiary importance are less so.

Make it easy on the eye

Although we praise the notion of contrasting light and shadow, it is important to remember the difference between shadow and darkness: Shadow is created by light, whereas darkness is the result of an absence of light. Leaving some areas in darkness may be a creative decision so that illuminated objects in the foreground stand out, or so that a vista is maintained if there is a view of a city or landscape from a balcony or roof garden. It may be a result of a fall of the ground if there is no backdrop to light behind the statue or tree and we must be content with the sunset sky or the glitter of stars for our background. There is always a danger of being too selective, either because of a conscious decision to light only one or two features or a lack of awareness of the resulting starkness.

Most subjects benefit from being given a sense of place in the garden, especially by having a background of a hedge, wall or planting illuminated at a lower level. It is important to provide a link between focal points so that the eye is not continually adapting to brightness and darkness as it pans across the scene. Lighting shrub borders is one of the main ways of achieving this in the vertical plane, but if the horizontal plane is also lit it will add the third dimension to the view. Moonlighting onto a lawn or introduc- ing some simple spreadlighting of a path are ways of achieving this.

Emphasizing depth

Ideas for emphasizing depth and providing a link within the view are always worth considering, but they assume an added importance when we consider perspective, which can appear quite different in artificial light- ing compared with daylight conditions Lighting a statue more brightly will make it appear closer to the viewer, but it will recede further into the view if it is less brightly lit

The choice of lighting brightness depends partly on the relative impor- tance attributed to the features, but also on its distance from the viewpoint. A small statue placed near the edge of the patio close to the house may well be over-lit by anything more powerful than a 20-watt lamp. If the same statue were placed three times as far

away, you would almost certainly need to use a 35-watt or even a 50-watt lamp. Bear in mind that a small statue may be too tiny to be seen from the house, in daylight or at night if it is too far away, and it will therefore lose its role as a focal point. Replacing it with a larger subject at the same distance from the house may require two or more lamps of 50 watts or more. No matter how brightly we light a subject in relation to its distance from the viewpoint, lighting a distant subject should be avoided if it is not to appear to float in blackness. Aim to achieve a blend between a brighter focal point and a less bright middle ground consisting of a little light cast on the lawn and illumination of shrub borders on either side. Lighting flanking shrub borders will visually ‘push the sides of the garden view outwards to make the space feel larger and avoid the tunnel vision that is associated with a single illuminated focal point.

Front gardens

Front gardens are often neglected areas as far as ornamental lighting is con cerned. While paths, steps and drives usually receive lighting treatment of some kind and lighting around the front door is almost universal, decorating our home does not often extend to having a front-garden lighting scheme. Lighting decorative features helps to put the home in the context of its plot and to put the paths and steps in the context of the space they cross. Lighting may need to be protected from vandals by being recessed into the ground, but otherwise there is no reason not to use all the ornamental lighting techniques possible for other areas. The illumina tion may be a little more low key than in rear garden areas, and some home- owners may prefer to have it wired to a separate switch from drive or house wall lights, so it can be used more selectively.

Preserving a vista

If the balanced view we have achieved between distant focal point, back- ground and middle ground is to be appreciated, the foreground lighting must be subtle and subdued if we are to see beyond it to the more distant panorama. Leaving the foreground unlit can distort the perspective, however,

because the outer view will appear closer than it really is. Gentle, low-level fighting of foreground features, such as ums, architectural planting or the low branches of a tree near the patio, will frame the view and maintain perspective. This is particularly important where the distant view is just that distant.

One situation in which garden lighting, whether ornamental or practical, will be secondary to anything else is the balcony, roof garden or hill- side terrace with a city view or perhaps a seascape. In these locations, the view outward will have priority and any artificial lighting within the area will have only a supporting role. The task) here is to preserve the view, which may be achieved by framing it through subtle lighting of plants or structures, or by introducing lighting within the space to cater for eating and entertain- ing but that can be controlled at will, with separate switches for different lighting functions and moods. The same applies in larger gardens where you wish to see the illuminated garden) rather than any brightly lit areas near the house or viewpoint. Switching off area lighting close to you will enable you to see the view beyond the patio.

Outdoor rooms

These days, gardens are often divided into several ‘rooms’, which are separate from each other, may have different uses and may or may not be directly visible from the house or patio. If there is a swimming pool, for example, we do not necessarily want to see the area around it when we look out of a window.

When there are several rooms within a single garden, individual vistas may appear differently according to the part of the garden from which they are seen, or a view may be seen unexpectedly as you walk from one part of the garden to another. The lighting scheme might, therefore, have to include separate switches for light- ing within each garden room while at the same time taking account of the layout of the overall garden and the need to provide lighting for access between the different rooms within the garden. There are occasions, however, when multiple viewpoints will not make any difference to the controls: a front garden should be attractively lit whether someone is entering or leaving the house or simply looking at it through a window.

Creating flexibility

For every type of garden activity, there are a host of personal variations. Just as the design of the garden itself is determined by the style of the house and the personality of the owner, the lighting scheme will be similarly affect- ed. In addition, the lighting must take into account the lifestyle of the home- owner and reflect constraints imposed by the seasons. For example, it may be important to be able to light the garden for both large parties and intimate gatherings. Someone with a large garden might even want a scheme that allows a range of activities to be carried out in different parts of the garden at the same time. Lighting

must also be flexible enough to suit the mood of the occasion. At the end of a meal, for instance, being able to direct light towards a table is less important than lighting the view from the patio.

Seasonal changes may necessitate alterations in the way that lighting is used. Some people will want a lighting scheme that allows them to look over the garden from a conservatory or sitting room in winter, or makes barbecues more enjoyable in summer. In winter there is no need to light the herbaceous borders, which will have died down. Moonlighting can look stark when the leaves that provided the dappled shadows have fallen, and underwater lighting will not be needed when the pump has been switched off. Although these may seem obvious points, they are easily overlooked, so that the extra switch or cable needed is amitted from the original plan. Considering every potential use of the garden at every time of the year will ensure the lighting scheme is useful all year round.


This book is primarily about gardens, but it would be a mistake to think that gardens include only trees, shrubs and water features. Many have an equal or greater emphasis on hard, built features than they do on plant life and all are, in any case, set within the context of a house and its related buildings. These buildings themselves may be of sufficient architectural interest to ment illumination in their own night. In addition, the interface between the two may not be clear cut. The idea of bringing the garden into the house and, conversely. extending the house into the garden is becoming a more widely held idea, and not only in areas that enjoy warm climates throughout the year. We should not neglect the buildings when we are thinking about lighting our private piece of landscape Although the nw are not mutually exclusive, we are dealing with two distinct ideas. First, we are thinking about bringing light to that aren between the house and the garden so that we can make a continuous environment; second, we are thinking. about lighting the buildings, either as whole things or detail by detail, as a part of a grand view. We will begin by thinking about the part between.

The Traditional Conservatory

A conservatory is a product of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and many houses dating from that time had one or if it hasn’t fallen down or been demolished, still have one. Adding a conservatory to newer property is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in cooler climates where they are used as a means of being outdoors while being protected frons the elements. A conservatory is, in fact, just a glass room, and they were used traditionally for growing exotic plants, brought back by botanists and other enthusiasts from the 1700s onwards, and many people do still use them for this purpose. Most of these plants will be tropical or semi-tropical and they will need a good deal of heat and humidity Any lighting put into conditions such as these should be waterproof, as should the switching, so dunk of it as a bathroom and put the switches on the outside- that is possible indeed it might be sensible to use exterior fittings even if they not strictly necessary

If you have a conservatory that you use in this way, you might like to consider installing growth enhancing lamps; such as are used by nurseries and florists. They are usually in the form of fluorescent strips and are intended to encourage vigorous growth, particularly among young plants. They do not, however, give a pleasant light to live by, so using them exclusively might restrict your use of the conservatory for other, less specialized purposes

I suspect that most modem conservatones are used as an extra sitting room rather than for being

used to grow specimen plants, and this will require quite different lighting.

The Conservatory as an Indoor- outdoor Room

The one thing that a conservatory can do really well is blur the boundary between the inside and the outade. It can bring the garden to the house and extend the house into the garden. In daylight this is comparatively easy. A well-designed planting scheme, inside and out, will achieve this, especially if it is combined with glazing in large sheets to cut down the amount of visible framework. But the effect is fragile and at night it can easily be lost. The problem is the glass. If you want to have light inside and still be able to see the garden, getting the balance right of critical importance

Lighting a conservatory is similar to lighting any reception room, although the emphasis is more on accent lighting than on practical lighting, but if we are going to pursue the idea of blurring the boundaries, bear in mind that any lighting indoors will tend to turn the windows into mirrors and will to some extent, eclipse the lighting outside, and it is precisely that which we are seeking to avoid. We want to render the glass invisible, at least as far as

A glazed lean-to will often be built to house a Jacuzzi or hot tub, and there are few pleasures greater than sitting in a hot-tub at night and looking at the stars or out into the garden. You will need some light inside, it only to find your glass of wine but the emphasis should be the light outside so that you lose sight of the glass as much as possible.

The best way to deal with the problem as to keep the light low to the floor and to conceal the light sources. Low-level downlighting, perhaps under benching or among planters, should be placed so that it throws shadow, rather than light, on to the glass This should allow any light outside to be easily visible from inside and will help to remove the glass. It will certainly reduce the minor effect

Of course, you may want the space to have a bit more flexibility and to allow for more than just passively observing the garden. In this case, you should think about two distinct groups of lights, one to sit and look out by, and another for practical purposes. If you want to be able to use the space as an alternative sitting room or dining room from time to time, narrow, shielded downlighters should give you enough light while still preventing it from spilling on to the glass. You won’t eliminate all the reflections, that would be impossible, but it should help. I suggest you experiment by moving small lights around to obtain the best compromise arrangement before committing yourself to a permanent installation.

The Garden Room

If your main sitting area is in a room with french windows or pano doors you could treat it in a similar way to the conservatory. Clearly you will need much more light in a sitting room or you would restrict its use too much, but you can take advantage of its relationship to the garden. Group pots, inside and outside, immediately next to the glass and conceal small lights among them. Keep the inside ones slightly dimmer than those outside, if possible. Again, you won’t eliminate the glass altogether and the effect will be different from that in the conservatory, but it will go a long way to help

If your sitting room or conservatory is planned to be one of your main viewing points for looking at the garden at night, this technique will be helpful. but do experiment. Remember it is the balance that will determine the best results. The side of the glass with the brightest light will become the mirror.

The Garden House

Many people have a garden house of some sort. It need not be an elaborate affair, a deck with a lightweight roof would class as a garden house as much as any grander construction If you have a summerhouse or any garden building it will, almost by default, become one of your main viewing points provided it is not just a shed (though even that might be convertible). If you have one that you use in conjunction with a swimming pool, to change in or to keep food and drink in, then you are just as likely to want to use it at night as you do the pool. And if you still want to see the garden, you will have the same problems as you did in the conservatory

An open-air structure, such as a gazebo or an arbour, can be lit easily (see pages 78-9), but the moment you introduce glass you create a lighting problem, Glass will become a mirror unless you control carefully the position of the light sources and the balance of the light. Again, you should keep the light at or near ground level, and shield any light sources so that no light shines directly on to glass And again, you should make sure there is no more light inside than there is out.

Architecture and Architectural Detail

The outside of your house is just as much a part of the garden as are the trees, shrubs, water features and so on, and it can often be an interesting object to light in itself Just as many public and commercial buildings are floodlit at might, so can your home be it doesn’t have to be grand or old, almost any building will have some feature of interest that can look great at night with the right lighting

If you are fortunate enough to have a home of particular architectural interest, and you do decide to light the outside, there are a number of ways in which the installation should differ from a similar project for a commercial or public building. You are living in the building so you will not want the light to shine directly into any of the windows. Clearly the light has to hit the house, so you cannot conceal the light sources entirely from view but you should am to minimize the impact. This will be a compromise The closer you can get the luminates to the walls the better for minimizing glare, but the more difficult it will be to light the whole structure.

Try to strike a balance with the distance, and place the uplighters between the windows rather than underneath them. If you have an appropriate building, setting downlighters into the eaves is a good solution, but the eaves do have to be fauly deep and don’t forget the heat that will be generated in what will inevitably be a confined space; the luminaires may need to be ventilated.

It is not necessary to light the whole structure, of course. Much will depend on the complexity of the style, but the architecture of the house may not stand up to full illumination. An alternative and possibly better way may be to bring out the details. Even the most modest of buildings will have some detailing that would make a good subject for lighting, or that could be lit m such a way as to give it more visual interest than it really has

Small tightly controlled spotlights can be used in

A traditional

outdoor lantern. This is excellent

for general

illumination in

the right circumstances

a variety of situations around a building, and they will often give a much more interesting and subtle result than large Bloodlights will ever do. They should be placed so that they pick up the modelling of the detail in question or so that they graze the brick or stonework in much the same way as discussed for garden walls and screens (see pages 71-2) Remember that plain, rendered walls with sharp corners make excellent projection screens.

To light details you will have to take a long hard look at your house. Make an inventory of its most attractive or quirky features and start your planning from there. Good subjects include the pooch to the man front door an elaborate chimney, an interesting corner, an archway or a window reveal. If you are clever, you may be able to illuminate the whole structure with the combination of these details although achieving this successfully will require a careful balance of wattage, beam width and distance.


A porch is a good place to start, since it will send to be a focal point by default, and a downlight inside might be all you need Think about how you use the light-being able to see the lock would be an obvious bonus, but it need not be by overhead light. Strip-lights beneath a shelf at waist height would do the job without creating glare or inappropriate overemphasis. If your porch is constructed on a grand scale, with columns and a pedument, you should treat it in much the same way as any othin garden structure. Try strategically placed uplighters at the foot of columns or pillars, either on the outside or set into the floor on the inside to cast light up the structure and up towards the ceiling

Corners and Angles

Many buildings, while not necessarily of special architectural interest have interesting comers and angles. This se especially true of buildings danng from more than one period, which have been added to over the year, sometimes taurly indiscriminately, You might, for example, highlight the point where the roof meets an extension or where it is pierced by a chimney: Corners and angles created by additions and alterations make good subjects for lighting. Use uplight or downlight here, whichever is the more suitable for the specific circumstances, but try to place the luminaire so that the beams will pick out the feature to its best advantage. Don’t forget the shadows that will be cast and think how you can project them on to an adjacent feature or wall


Arches, whether they are part of the building or are free-standing structure are often lit as part of grand public schemes. Yours may not be on the same scale as for example, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but it will still make a good subject for lighting. Formal arches are rather like bridges in that they are often best lit from below to emphasize their height, which makes them appear grander than they really are. The same is true for arches that are part of a building

Uplight confined within a shallow arched feanne

will bring out its form and change the whole feel of i

the wall that contains it. Any arch through a wall or a

The arches are a strong feature during the day with good texture. The lights here will illuminate the immediate area but will do little to bring out the strength of the feature Adding uplight within the arches, with the light sources concealed by the planters, would be better.

hedge is a point of conjunction, marking the point where one area stops and another starts. The right lighting can exploit this for dramatic effect, and if you get the balance right you can draw people towards and through the arch as if into another land. Providing strong lighting for the view through the arch and putting small, low-level uplights on the viewer’s side will help achieve this and with care, it can be just as successful the other way around:


The technique of confined uplight also works well for window recesses. You should take care that the light source doesn’t create glare, but try a suitably baffled strip light along a windowsill or a pair of miniature spotlights, one each side of the frame. either focused to cross each other or to shine straight up the inside of the window reveal. Much the same result would be achieved by placing the lights on the inside of the window-it would, inevitably, be different but need not be any the less interesting. There is an added advantage, also, in that you can ave micro track inside which means nuuch mote discreet luminaires, and you can exploit the sparkle inherent in unshielded dichroic lamps;

Although simple, the architecture of this house is very emphatic. However, the exterior lighting is modest and does not really do it justice.

Gates and Entrances

If you have an impressive entrance to the garden, perhaps some wrought ironwork or a timber lych gate, you should definitely think of illuminating it because such structures make excellent subjects for lighting Apart from announcing your entrance the better to your visitors, however, a well-lit gateway can make a fine spectacle in its own night. All the same rules apply as for any other garden structure. but you must take care that the lighting does not interfere with the passing traffic or cause a nuisance to your neighbours

If the gate is not of particular interest in its own right but you still want to illuminate the entrance. you should think about what you can use around it. Indirect light is no less effective than direct light would be and lighting any adjacent trees, or other large planting, might well provide, indirectly, ample illumination for your entrance. You could try grazing the surface of the drive with low spots or install recessed dave-over luminaires into the surface to act as directional beacons

One detail that is often overlooked: if you have powered gates operated from a keypad or an entry phone of some sort. provide it with a light if it does not already have one built in.

George Gitau

Meet George, an advocate for traditional craftsmanship. I will provide you with educational content, techniques and ideas for your next garden and home improvement project. Together, let's create beautiful spaces that are not only beautiful but also functional

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