Lighting Design

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Planning Garden Lighting

It’s that time of the year.  You’ve already tackled the lawn and it’s getting nice enough to try sitting out in the evening.  That’s the moment you realise that you wished you had some great garden lighting to set everything off.  So, for those people about to embark on a house building or garden renovation project, here are four design tips to help you with planning garden lighting.

Lighting a garden dining area

1. Plan your focal points

Think about what your focal points are; if you light it you will look at it.  Consider what you’d like to look at and how you use light to connect one space with the next.  As an example, you might want to uplight some feature trees, but if these are a long way apart from each other them make sure that there is some ‘connecting’ light at low level between them, e.g. through using spike spots in the planting or a discrete wash across a path. You want to avoid spotty ‘islands’ of light with seas of dark between.   Bear in mind that a little light goes a long way at night, particularly if you live in an area with few streetlights.

High output LED fitting in summer border
If you don’t have a focal point then create one.  You might want to feature a sculpture or illuminate an interesting shaped shrub. You can even use a light fitting as a focal point e.g. one or a cluster of contemporary lanterns look stunning on the edge of a patio or coming down some steps.

Planning garden lighting early - detail of LED accent lights set into hard landscaping
From a practical perspective lighting on/near steps or dark paths is always useful, and is best built in at an early stage. The steps after all aren’t likely to move.

External dining tables on the other hand are often quite mobile, but there is an increasingly wide range of very striking, freestanding fittings for outside. Provided you have external 13A sockets within reach you can move these fittings around with the furniture.

2. Think about the cabling infrastructure well in advance.

Garden lighting scheme for trees and hard landscapingIt’s common for garden lighting projects to be considered separately from lighting inside the house.  That’s often simply a function of a building project’s timings or it might be that the garden design is a new piece of work.  Even in a phased project it’s important to try to plan and make allowance for possible future lighting needs.  It might be that you make provision for future garden lighting before you do the detail design.  If that’s the case, start from the inside of the house and then follow through to the outside.

  • How many circuits might you need?
  • Where will you switch or dim them from?
  • Are you using a lighting control system?
  • If so, where will the dimming/switching modules be located?

Once you’ve looked at connectivity from inside to outside, consider any hard landscaping.  Moving cabling within planting beds is relatively easy, but make sure you have cable (or even better conduit) going under your hard landscaped areas (paving, walls).

3. Design out points of failure

If water can get in, it will.  This is the most common cause of external fittings failing.  Try to design out points of failure by planning each link in the chain: the fittings themselves, the connections and the overall approach to cabling.

Firstly it’s important to use good quality fittings; there is a small selection of architectural fittings for garden lighting here.  We can supply a wider range than that displayed on the site so if you’re looking for something specific, give us a call.

Follow the installation instructions and pay particular attention to the detail around connections.  Even properly sealed fittings can fail due to water ingress if the cable connections are not completely watertight. Moisture can enter through connections and ‘track up’ the copper cable inside its outer sheath, so that water actually enters the fitting through the cable.  If connections have to be made in a damp environment then use a proper cable joint kit not duck tape, plastic bags or various other horrors.

Lantern lighting on a garden pathIdeally you want to make connections in a dry environment. Many fittings can be ordered with an extra long cable or ‘tail’ so that the connection can be made away from the fitting.  Cable tolerances have to be observed (and these will vary by fitting) but it’s a good route. If the cable is going to pass under/through hard surfaces or walls then ideally put the cabling in conduit for future ease of maintenance.

LED fittings may have drivers (like transformers) either integral to them or, for very small fittings, remote to them. We recommend locating the drivers in mini hubs around the garden located in waterproof junction boxes concealed in various areas.  This is a far better solution than burying the drivers in the ground. If the connections from the fittings are made in the waterproof box and it’s properly sealed (and ideally mounted above ground) then this significantly reduces the likelihood of water ingress through the connections.  If designing this way then take 230v supplies for these circuits to where the drivers are to be located, not where the fittings are going.

4. Make the most of planting when lighting the house

When planning garden lighting, you might want to light the house itself as part of the scheme.  If you are going to light the exterior of the house have a look at the options that your planting offers.  Using planting to conceal light sources gives another option that can be quite subtle.  It can add another layer and complement lighting on the house itself.

Lighting the front of a Georgian house

 Need help planning garden lighting?

There’s a lot to think about. We’re happy to supply fittings for garden lighting projects but we offer a full garden lighting design service as well.  If you’d like help with planning garden lighting then get in touch with us here or give us a call on 01845 525664.