Lighting options for your landscape abound
Photos at top and above courtesy of Tim Ryan
by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.
Southwest homeowners have an average of $12,000 invested in their landscapes according to the Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and yet each evening as darkness falls, the landscape is virtually erased from existence. Don't surrender to the dark — shed a little light on your investment with landscape lighting.
To create a tranquil nightscape, you don't need floodlights blazing everywhere. Remember, it's nighttime, which calls for a different kind of light. Diffused light gently illuminating paths and seating areas is a good start, but also be sure to illuminate the splendor of our dramatic Southwestern plants such as yuccas, agaves, columnar cacti, and uniquely sculpted native trees.
Landscape lighting has come a long way in recent years. The technology of bulbs and transformers has improved as well as the selection and durability of fixture materials and finishes. Solar powered landscape lights have improved enormously as well, but they still lack long-term durability, especially in our searing Southwestern heat. Specialists recommend that if you plan to live in your home for just a couple of years, go solar. Longer than three years, install low-voltage lighting.
Low-voltage lighting uses a transformer to step-down the standard 120-volt house current to a safer level for gardens. A standard transformer generally runs up to five different lines of five to 10 lights each. For most homes, one transformer can run all the lighting. Placement of the low voltage transformer is important in the Southwest. For the longest life, and fewest future headaches, it must be out of direct sunlight.
Start the lighting process with planning. Decide where and which types of light you want. Path, pavement and post lights are used to safely illuminate walking and seating surfaces. Decide how bright you want this lighting to be. Brightness is a function of bulb wattage, which only goes so far. Brightness is also controlled by the size and number of fixtures installed.
Path lights are the most popular type of landscape lighting, and there are dozens of fixtures to select from. Try to find a style that fits in well with your entire landscape — you'll also see these fixtures during the day.
In-ground lighting is an ideal option if you are installing or redoing your hardscape. In-ground lights come in a wide variety of styles, shapes and colors that match most landscape paving, including flagstone and slate. Their flush mounting minimizes obstructions, and many are durable enough to withstand a truck running over them.
Uplights are used to create drama and add dimension to your nightscape. These fairly powerful lights point upward and bounce light off trees, walls and other garden accents. Uplighting fixtures are fairly simple in design, yet also come in a number of finishes to match other lights you have selected. Since they are powerful lights, they're best installed as part of a low-voltage system, rather than solar.
However you light your night, it's worth it to be able to use your landscape investment to its fullest potential.
Jacqueline A. Soule has been gardening in the Southwest since an early age, and writing about gardening for almost three decades, with weekly and monthly columns in a number of Southwestern publications. She has degrees in plant sciences, ecology & environmental biology and botany, obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Texas. She currently resides and gardens in Tucson, Ariz.