Many options available for landscape lighting
By C.L. Fornari
Standard exterior lighting around most homes doesn't extend much beyond the porch and a light post at the end of the driveway. This is a shame because landscape lighting can serve many purposes beyond illuminating entrances. The right lights can extend the use and appreciation of your garden throughout the year.
Outdoor lighting makes your landscape safer, more atmospheric and functional. While large, bright lights triggered by motion detectors offer great security, you'll want something a bit more subtle when it comes to lighting gardens, decks and patios. Michael Casey, owner of highly rated Michael J. Casey Electric in Springfield, Pa., says there are many options for deck and patio lighting. "We install a lot with low-voltage lighting," he says, noting the popularity of lighting deck railings. "It's used for ambient, accent illumination."
Lighting patios and decks makes these spaces more useful at night and invites Northeasterners to utilize their outdoor space beyond daylight hours. Casey says when adding such illumination for safety and enjoyment, it's wise to pay attention to pathways and stairs. "There are lights that get cut into the riser of steps to illuminate stairs and these can be set in stone or wood," he says.
In addition to extending the time spent outdoors, exterior lighting visually expands living spaces, making the home seem larger. A combination of path and patio lighting and even plant illumination draws the eye outside when viewing the yard from indoors.
James Deoliveira, owner of highly rated JDO Electric in Sommerville, Mass., says homeowners don't realize how many options there are for making their garden more dramatic. "You can put spotlights on the ground at grade level and these can be pointed to shine up into trees or bushes," he says. "These lights can also be placed so that they shine onto a house so it glows at night." Illuminating individual plants can be especially dramatic in winter when shrubs and trees are bare or snow-covered. A specimen tree can become downright sculptural when lit from below.
When it comes to paying for outdoor lighting, both Super Service Award-winning professionals are in agreement: Don't go for low-cost lighting. "There are lighting products in a range of prices, but in the Northeast, with the type of weather that we have, it doesn't pay to use the least expensive," Deoliveira says. "Overall, you're better off buying the middle of the line or higher, and this type of work should absolutely, positively only be done by a licensed electrician."
Casey offers another reason why you shouldn't skimp. "Lighting is about the same as everything else," he says. "You get what you pay for. People who get inexpensive, do-it-yourself outdoor lighting usually end up calling me in three months when it no longer works.
Fornari is a writer, garden consultant, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to creating beautiful landscapes and successful gardeners. She gardens on Cape Cod, blogs at WholeLifeGardening.com, and offers other garden articles at GardenLady.com.