Whether you are planning a new garden or giving your current landscape a face-lift, outdoor lighting brings everything to life. My top design tips for getting the most value and enjoyment from your lighting follow.
Select light fixtures and placement based on function, not appearance. Think about function from both a safety and aesthetic perspective.
Fixtures come in many different styles including path lights, uplights, downlights, spotlights and specialty lights (step lights, etc.). Within each style, there is a wide array of light outputs, such as wattage, beam spread and luminosity, to suit particular needs. With the exception of path lights, most fixtures disappear into the landscape as plants mature, so choose a fixture color that complements your design.
Just as your garden grows, so will your lighting needs. Consider a light fixture with an interchangeable lamp (bulb) so that you can increase the watts as needed when the surrounding plants mature. In other words, when your newly planted 12-foot tree reaches 30-plus feet in height, you’re going to need more light. This requires forethought in wiring and transformer sizes. If you are planning to add lighting in a later phase of construction, include the infrastructure now rather than later.
We all know that you get what you pay for in landscaping, but this is especially true for lights. Buy high-quality fixtures and transformers with manufacturer warranties, because the landscape environment can be harsh on lighting.
“Inferior product quality only leads to failure, especially where electrical connections and water are concerned,” said Mike McPherson of Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting.
Quality also results from hiring qualified landscape contractors for installation. To avoid the daisy-chain effect where lights are strung in a row and gradually get dimmer the longer the run, consider the “T” method. This technique results in a more balanced system providing even voltage to all fixtures. With a multi-tap transformer you can accommodate longer cable runs. Tip: Keep runs within 25 feet of your T-Connector and overall distance less than 50 feet, while staying within three to five fixtures per run.
Finally, when you consider lighting, be considerate to neighbors. If you live in a neighborhood that promotes dark skies, like Portola Valley, read the city’s lighting ordinance and adhere to all restrictions. Remember that downlight creates a more natural appearance than uplight because it mimics moonlight.
Other glare-reducing techniques include adding frosted lens and honeycomb louvers to the fixtures. Hiding the fixture within the landscape design so that the actual light source is not visible creates the most realistic effect.
When in doubt, hire a professional. A professional landscape designer can guide you through the planning process to a new garden illuminated so that you can enjoy it both day and night.
Julie Orr is a landscape designer and member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. For more information, call 468-8020 or visit www.julieorrdesign.com.