What are your needs?
What type of lighting do you require? You can start by strolling through the garden at sunset, watching the play of light on the plants or observing where the moonlight falls. (Repeat the exercise for a few consecutive evenings.) The same can be done inside the house to determine which outdoor elements you'd like to admire through the windows. Take note of the existing lighting (like cornice lights or luminaires) and identify the areas you’d like to brighten up.
- Safety: Which walls, paths, stairs, ground level, posts or doors should be lit up?
- Functionality: Do you intend to use a terrace, pool or spa? Will you be walking about the property or using the paths? Will you be receiving guests in the evening?
- Aesthetics: Are you intent on highlighting an architectural feature, such as a fountain, plant or shrub with an unusual shape or a work of art? Is there a specific atmosphere you'd like to create?
Should you draw up a plan?
If you already have a layout, make sure that you have several working copies. If not, draw one up on plotting paper. Include the property lines, the house, the location of the electrical outlets, as well as the different elements you’d like to emphasize (shrubbery, thepool, the terrace).
As you walk through the garden, take measurements to determine how much wire you will need (if you opt for a low voltage system). How long are the paths? What is the distance between the outdoor outlet and the elements you intend to highlight? How can the wire be safely run along fences or oundations?
The number of light fixtures needed depends on the dimensions of the lighting plan: the size of the garden, the elements you intend to emphasize, the desired lighting intensity and which effects you'd like to create. The golden rule of professionals is that less is always better. A successful lighting plan is not too bright, nor does it illuminate everything.
What type should you choose?
Each type of light fixture serves a specific purpose. The following is a
list of common models and their uses.
- Multi-directional spotlight. The beam is used to highlight a specific decorative element, like a plant or a statue.
- Underground spotlight. A buried fixed beam. Some models, geared specifically to rock gardens, are hidden inside a rock, either real or artificial. Used to shed light on a specific spot.
- Submersible spotlight. Fixed or adjustable beam, depending on the model, installed underwater. Used for pool lighting.
- Path light. Projects light downwards. Used along path edges or in plant beds.
- Oval wall fixture. Diffuses light on all sides. Used for fencing, terraces, pergolas, house walls and stairs.
- Pier post or bollard fixture. Offers diffuse light all around. Used to mark off the edges of a path or plant bed.
- Security lighting. Projects light downwards. Wallmounted and recessed models are available. Used to highlight vertical changes (stairs, terrace levels).
Electrical or solar power?
Two major categories of light fixtures are available.
- Low-voltage electrical lighting. Light fixtures that fall into this category are the most popular and best performing models used by the pros. A transformer plugged into an outdoor outlet reduces the domestic current to 12 volts, avoltage comparable to that of a car battery. But an electrician is required to install any outdoor outlets compliant with the Canadian Electrical Code and to ensure that your installation doesn’t overload circuit breakers.
Disadvantages: Requires several pieces of equipment (transformer, wire, connectors);time must be spent plugging in, as well as running and camouflaging, wires.
- Rechargeable-battery-operated solar lighting systems. These are used mostly for decorative accent lighting. Recent neon and LED (light-emitting diode) models offer performance far superior to that of their pale yellow forebears and provide eight to 15 lighting hours per day. In reality, even when the battery is fully charged, the lighting these systems provide is only half as effective as that of low-voltage systems, barely enough to mark out a small path or plant bed. They are geared mostly to small spaces exposed to the sun but where nighttime lighting needs are minimal (like an outdoor terrace or a balcony).
Advantages: Wireless; do not consume electricity (the rechargeable AA batteries are replaced every two to three years); easy to install, move and store in winter; tabletop or floating models are available.
Disadvantages: Weak lighting; lighting hours and power are proportionate to exposure to sunlight (if days are grey or the lamp is poorly placed, lighting will be weak and shortlived); only available in a limited range of fixtures and colours.
Can you install the lighting yourself?
In general, doing it yourself saves money. If your expectations are realistic and you're willing to be patient, you can come up with a perfectly suitable lighting plan. Don't expect to achieve the kind of spectacular results featured in books, however, as artistic lighting is a specialty requiring know-how, skill and sophisticated equipment.
For a lavish and spectacular result, your best bet is to hire a lighting designer. He or she will experiment with different types of lighting, as well as look at varying intensities and beam widths using professional-quality bulbs and light fixtures. It's not unusual for a pro to use up to 18 different bulb types in a single garden!
The five commandments of good neighbouring
Poorly designed, misdirected or excessive lighting can be blinding or intrusive. To avoid sowing discord with your neighbours:
1 Use the fewest fixtures possible for your lighting purposes.
2 Make sure the beams are pointed in such a way that they don't have a blinding effect on you or your neighbours.
3 Use minimum-intensity bulbs.
4 Use a lighting timer.
5 Devise a plan based on having separate lighting areas to highlight different sections of the garden.