How to light your garden in style

At this time of year, many of us will be cleaning the garden furniture and getting ready for summer entertaining. But have you considered how to light your outdoor space and make it look its best?

You may opt for twinkling fairy lights, strategic lanterns, or solar lights to enhance the mood – but top garden designer Andrew Duff warns there are pitfalls you’ll want to avoid.

Outdoor lighting can transform your garden

Outdoor lighting can transform your garden

What are the common mistakes people make?

“The main one is overlighting. If you overlight a garden, making it too bright, you lose the wonderful mystique of the space,” says Duff. “But people still think the more the merrier – the more it is lit, the better it’s going to be. But it’s really about washing areas with light, so it’s really gentle.”

Are solar lights adequate?

Duff says solar lighting won’t be appropriate for seriously illuminating steps, or other areas which need to be clearly visible. “Solar lighting is really gentle, just a subtle glow. You can’t use it for security or for lighting steps. It’s just little pulses of light through planting, in the same way we might use fairy lights or lanterns.”

What lighting should you use for entertaining?

“We are seeing a massive return to the use of candles, storm lanterns on the table, soft romantic light we used to have before we overpowered our gardens. Make sure the area around the house is lit, but in a gentle wash, flooding the light out at ground level so it’s not on the people as such,” says Duff. “Get a qualified electrician – a good lighting supplier will give you the technical data you need – to ensure it’s all safe.

“In terms of tabletops, gone are the days of spotlights over the tables. Now we are using candle lights as we would inside the house. Strips of warm, white LED lights work beautifully, because then it feels natural.”

How would you use coloured lights?

“There’s so much colour in a garden and if it’s lit correctly, you don’t need coloured lights. In a wonderful contemporary garden, a single colour can be almost sculptural in its effect, but be careful that you don’t over-complicate the colour choice,” says Duff.

Will it involve excavating brickwork or other hard landscaping to accommodate new lighting?

“Not necessarily. Many new lights on the market have cabling, which is really fine and subtle. There’s no more big chunky armoured cable because the power to them is so low,” says Duff. “You don’t always need to channel out huge things. You can hide it in planting and in gravel. When the terrace is a wash of gentle lights, think about what features you can highlight in the garden. It might be lighting sculptural pots or a tree in the back.”

How do you best position lights to do that?

“A lot of people feel that if you put the lighting under the tree, that’s the best thing, but actually it’s better to put it in front so that the light washes through it and produces an amazing shadow on whatever is behind. The thing to do is experiment,” suggests Duff. “It doesn’t need to be permanent. Play around with your lighting until you get it right. Planting grows and it covers light, so it’s good to have lighting that you can reposition in the garden.”

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