Enlightened gardens brighten the long, winter night

Enlightened gardens brighten the long, winter night

January's long nights might make the season dark and dreary, but a remedy is at hand. Adding outdoor lighting to your landscape can be one of the easiest ways to increase the value of your property while adding countless hours to the enjoyment of your garden. Let's look at some reasons to install outdoor lighting and how to accomplish your goals. By doing a bit of homework ahead of time, you can avoid the costly mistakes that lead to an inferior system.

We're talking about installing low voltage lighting, usually a 12 or 24 volt system instead of household 120 volt current, that can be safely installed by the homeowner without needing an electrician. Sold by most large hardware stores and building centers in kit form or as individual fixtures, outdoor lighting has proliferated into the DIY market in recent years. Once the province of only the highest priced real estate, these recent modestly priced units have made night lighting of the landscape a practical and affordable solution to several garden design problems.

There are three main reasons to add outdoor lighting to your property: safety, security and to enhance the beauty of your garden for extended hours and in new ways. Many landscape architects consider lighting to be as integral to interesting garden design as the plants themselves.

Lighting for safety means illuminating areas that would otherwise prove dangerous after the sun goes down. Paths, walkways, stairs and elevated decks are examples of places that benefit from night lighting. If you have an inground pool, it is a safe bet that it would benefit from lighting the surrounding area to prevent accidents.

Security lighting means eliminating dark areas of your property to prevent access to your home and surroundings. Oftentimes these fixtures emit a light so glaringly industrial as to be offensive to the entire neighborhood. The softer light of low-volt systems can effectively brighten the property without looking like a Hollywood movie set at night.

Enhancing the attractiveness of the garden at night can be accomplished by using the classic lighting techniques of up-lighting, down-lighting, shadowing and spot-lighting. Each style brings out a different aspect of your environment. Up-lighting effectively illuminates the structure of trees. Spot lighting can show off a treasured garden ornament. Lighting a garden at night creates a magical space out of the most ordinary daytime places. There is always an air of mystery and expectation at night!

There are several common pitfalls that can stymie your project and turn you away from outdoor lighting. Try a simple pathway system or other easy project before tackling more complex installations. Purchase transformers that will allow you to add lights in the future. It is difficult to end up with too large a transformer but it is very easy to end up with one that will not allow you to put out enough lights to accomplish your goals. The larger bulbs like those found in spots or floodlights consume watts quickly. Use the proper size wire or go larger for future expansion.

Be sure to ask your seller if the materials are exchangeable, if they turn out to be the wrong choice for the purpose. Sometimes they are not. It is hard to estimate how much light will be needed until you actually have it in place and can observe it at night. Stay flexible in your design and application. Avoid the temptation to rival Disneyland and you'll probably be all right.

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