Garden lighting ideas –to illuminate your outdoor space

A clever scheme adds drama and lights the way, allowing you to enjoy your garden way beyond dusk.

Looking for garden lighting ideas to make your outdoor space glow?

Gone are the days when the last rays of evening sun signalled a quick retreat indoors as the garden descended into darkness. Today, there are legions of lighting options that allow us to transform what was formerly a foreboding black space into a magical landscape, complete with colour, beams and a variety of effects, whilst also providing safe passage down steps and through pathways.

When our summers seem far too short, lighting extends the time we can spend outside on those precious warm days and a suitable scheme might include anything from well-placed lanterns of flickering candlelight to a state-of-the-art digital system controlled by your mobile phone; there is something for every budget and any garden, be it a small urban courtyard or large country property. No space is too small to light; even a window box can be given a nighttime makeover with a small spotlight or outdoor fairy lights woven through the planting.

Garden lighting

(Image credit: Ben Anders)

'Garden lighting is now regarded as a vital ingredient, adding a touch of luxury and ‘lifestyle chic’ to your outdoor space, whether it’s a small city garden, a large country home or something in between,' says Janine Patterson, Garden Designer.

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Running costs should be no bar to illumination. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) and fibre optics are very energy efficient, while solar powered units cost nothing to run. However, it’s important not to overdo it. A good scheme works in harmony with your landscape creating layers of light and focal points, there is no need to compete with Blackpool Illuminations, contributing to light pollution, adversely affecting wildlife and masking stars. Turn lights off every night and when you’re not using the garden or viewing it, and do seek advice from a lighting or garden designer, particularly if you’re in a ‘Dark Sky’ area or national park with lighting restrictions.

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Sarah Hogan)

How do I light my garden?

When choosing garden lights, consider the overall look and your practical needs. Do you need occasional lighting to illuminate a seating or dining area, or are you looking for a garden nightscape with equal impact to the daytime view? Alternatively, you may simply need to lights steps and pathways through the garden, or security lighting to protect your property. Look, too, at different design effects, and select features, such as trees and fountains, that can be enhanced with lights. When weighing up your options, remember to factor in the cost of installing an outdoor power supply by a qualified electrician – a basic requirement for most lighting schemes. See our garden lighting ideas below for more inspiration.

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1. LIGHT A PATIO

Sally Storey, lighting designer of John Cullen, recommends you start by looking at features immediately outside your house, such as a plant, walls, and the paving or decking. 'It is important to draw the eye out, especially when viewing the garden from a window or conservatory,' she says. LED spotlights set into decking or paving create a starry effect, while defining the outline of a patio also helps prevent accidents, especially on raised decks.

A small spotlight in a plant pot will also provide a focal point, or, in a modern scheme, try an illuminated container, such as the battery-operated LED Illuminated Plant Pot from Glow. Walls can be lit, too, using a technique known as ‘washing’, where a light is placed at the top or bottom of a wall, with the beam grazing the surface, picking out colours and textures, and creating patterns of light and shade.

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

2. ILLUMINATE THE MAIN GARDEN

Focusing on the garden itself, you can use lighting to dramatise trees, highlight sculptures and transform fountains into dynamic sparkling features. Award- winning garden designer, Janine Pattison uses a range of techniques to achieve these effects.

'We employ uplighting, downlighting, silhouetting, and spot lighting, which, combined with careful use of colour, add a touch of lifestyle chic to a garden,' she explains. Uplighting is often used to illuminate special features, such as a sculpture or tree. The beam from a single spotlight, placed at the bottom of the structure, is focused on the object, making it sing out against the darkness. Downlighting produces a similar effect but the spotlight is placed up high and the beam focused down. When used in a tree, it creates a dappled effect similar to moonlight. Backlighting a feature will throw it into silhouette and, when combined with these other techniques, contributes to a theatrical 3-D effect.

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Alun Callender)

3. LIGHT WATER

Reflective pools, contempoary cascades and fountains will all be enhanced when illuminated at night. Underwater lights can be halogen, LED or fibre optics, but they must be encased in waterproof, IP-rated fixtures. 'For small cascades, direct underwater spotlights onto the plinth of flowing water, or run a colour-changing LED strip along the rill from which the water emerges,' suggests Sally Storey.

'Fibre optics can also be fully integrated into a cascade or fountain, making the water look like it’s illuminated from within, while locating a fibre optic within the jet of a bubble fountain gives the impression of a night light glowing inside.' You can also light up swimming pools, introducing a slab of colour into the night garden, but avoid underwater lights in planted ponds, as they will highlight weeds and roots. Instead, direct a light onto marginal planting or a sculpture beside the pond, which will then be mirrored in the water, producing dramatic reflections.

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

4. USE COLOURED LIGHTS

Introduce colour into a dark garden by threading a string of colourful lanterns through a tree or over a pergola to create a party atmosphere, or install LEDs, which come in a wide choice of shades and can be programmed to create colour- changing sequences. The best effects are achieved when coloured lights are used in moderation or to enhance a contemporary design. In more traditional settings, Nigel Parsons of Hallam Garden Design, suggests using soft white lights and focusing them on painted walls or plants, rather than using the light source itself to inject colour.

Garden lights

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

5. INSTIL INTEREST

Make the most of existing structures to create outdoor lighting features. This entrance through a thick laurel hedge is framed by large lit hessian stars, while the path and gate are illuminated by strings of fairy lights creating a mood of fantasy and intrigue.

Garden lighting

(Image credit: Ben Anders)

6. CREATE MOOD LIGHTING

Decorative candle holders and oil lamps cast a soft, romantic light, and are ideal for occasional use on a patio or in a small garden – try Indian Garden Company, Nordic House, and Rowen and Wren. Table lamps that mirror stylish interior designs are now available for gardens too – take a look at Made in Design for on- trend lights to dress an outdoor living room.

Parasol lights are another option, either as integrated units or lights that clamp on to the top of a parasol pole. Easy to install, many run on AA batteries, such as the LED lights from Lakeland. Solar lights provide subtle pools of light, but lack the power to produce a targeted beam: 'Solar lighting can be used to define the edge of a drive or path, but you have no control over them, as they can’t be switched on and off,' adds Nigel Parsons.

Garden lighting

(Image credit: Alun Callender)

7. STAY SAFE AND SECURE

Lighting can be used to enhance the safety of your garden, illuminating steps and paths, as well as areas around the house to both welcome guests and deter intruders. Consider fitting LEDs on either side of step risers to illuminate the treads, and light paths with small spots or bollards, which can also contribute your garden design by doubling as illuminated sculptures.

Security lights that brighten an entranceway can be spotlights or lamps fitted with a PIR motion sensor that turns on as people or cars approach – adjust the sensor to ensure lights only come on as people enter your property and not when they are simply walking past. Floodlights are really only suitable for large properties or long driveways.

Garden lighting

(Image credit: Alun Callender)

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8. DEFINE OBJECTS

'Pick out with light the key sculptural elements that define the garden structure, such as sculptures, water features, and specimen trees, adding infill lights to the flower beds where necessary,' says Sally Storey, Design Director, John Cullen, johncullenlighting.co.uk

Garden lightS

(Image credit: David Brittain)

9. USE A LIGHTING DESIGNER

A garden or lighting designer will create a plan tailored to your particular garden and needs, and also take into account cost, safety and security. Joseph Best of The Light Garden explains the service he provides. 'We always begin with a visit to walk through ideas and designs. We then draw up a bespoke scheme, with costs, and often return for a night visit to demonstrate different lighting effects in the dark to show clients how they will look.'

You can find a designer through the Society of Garden Designers, or seek recommendations by word of mouth. Ask to see examples of a designer’s work, and ensure the specialist or electrician that installs the lighting is registered with one of the following governing bodies: NAPIT, ELECSA, ECA, or NICEIC, which will ensure the contractor installs to BS 7671 (the electrical regulations) and meets the necessary building regulations.

Garden lights

(Image credit: Emma Lee)