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Shine a light

by editor

Extending the use of landscapes after dark can be achieved through the installation of effective outdoor lighting. Lighting can bring a whole new dimension to the built landscape. It is the artistic use of light in the landscape that makes this medium an integral part of good design while increasing functionality of the space.

Strategically placed lighting can dramatically highlight areas, features and plants. The aim is not to flood the landscape with light but rather to create intrigue and interest through selecting specific features within the landscape and highlighting them with subtle beams of light. External lighting can also play a significant role in providing security and safety to any landscape, but it is the artistic use of light in the landscape that makes this medium an integral part of good design while increasing functionality of the space.

Types of lighting
When it comes to selecting the type of lighting system the two primary options are Halogen or LED bulbs. LED are generally considered the better option in almost every category although halogen come up trumps in one very important class: upfront cost. Whilst halogen lights are cheaper, in the long run greater savings will be made with LED installations. LED bulbs have a superior energy efficiency and require replacing less often than halogen. The energy savings are quite significant with up to 75 per cent less energy required to run LED systems. The decision to have to choose between halogen or LED may soon be removed as the Federal Government introduced the phasing out of halogen lights, making way for a near-complete halogen lights ban in September 2020, but pushed back the introduction of new legislation to phase out halogen bulbs by 12 months to keep the policy in line with the European Union.

LED and solar powered lighting
External lighting has become a popular addition to landscapes and with advances in technology, garden or landscape lighting installations can be installed even on a minimal budget. LED lighting is the most popular type of lighting for external use and these days hard wired lighting is not necessary in many instances. Solar powered LED lighting can be effectively installed avoiding expensive installation costs associated with traditional grid powered lights. Solar lighting also delivers the energy savings and reduced carbon footprints that many large-scale corporate projects now require, and residential clients often seek. The solar storage capacity of garden lights has improved as better models became available and can also be connected to a battery back-up to increase power and lifespan. Solar lighting is particularly useful in pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths and parks. There are solar LED systems that can also be programmed with motion sensors that allow for areas to be illuminated on demand. Features such as this in a lighting installation are sympathetic to the surrounding environment and sensitivity of neighbours to light when an area is not in use.

Less is more
When installing garden lighting consider the principle of less is more. One carefully placed spotlight or spread light shining up into the canopy of a tree can be quite dramatic but when it is overdone the effect can be busy and uninviting. Ornaments and containers of plants also make striking features to highlight with a spotlight. The way the beam of light strikes an object in the landscape can also be varied to change the effect. Illuminate plants and objects by directing light upwards, downwards, and sideways before finally selecting the desired position as each direction of illumination gives a different effect. Lighting can also be varied at will to create a changing nightscape. Be mindful of spotlights projecting an upwards beam, as a beam of light projecting into a tree canopy may look fantastic but light falling on a neighbour’s windows could be intrusive.

Pathways and steps
Garden paths and steps can be made inviting and safe at night with low voltage LED lighting installed along their length. Leave enough space between each lamp to gently cast light across pathways with a subtle luminescence. Bollard lights will cast light in a 360-degree pattern and are often placed at the beginning or end of a path as a focal point, guiding walkers in the right direction. There is common misconception amongst many people that you “shouldn’t see the light source,” but these days with the contemporary design and materials used in the manufacture of external lighting, they can actually add to the landscape rather than detract from it. Careful plant selection in these areas can also highlight pathways with grey or silver coloured foliage plants such as Lamb’s ears, Santolina or Liriope ‘Blondie’ or those plants with white flowers including Sweet Alyssum and Petunia which reflect light beautifully. Recessed lights installed into a path provide a soft upward light, but care needs to be taken in selecting recessed lights as they are not all designed to stand up to pedestrian traffic. Downlighting from fence posts or walls can provide the perfect illumination for walkways or property boundary lines and the light being cast in a downward direction provides for a more natural illumination effect.

Outdoor entertainment areas
Increasing the use of outdoors entertainment areas couldn’t be simpler than installing a set of string or bistro lights. Bistro lights with an Edison style bulb add a touch of elegance and ambience for entertaining, with dimmer controls available that can be operated from a smartphone app. Rope lights are another lighting alternative which come in a range of colours. Basically, they are clear long cylindrical tubes with a light source every few centimetres. They also can be used as garden edging and pathway lighting but are mainly used as a short term decorative light source. Rope LED lights are an easy installation but are not suitable for most accent lighting needs, and the quality of LED rope lights can vary dramatically but like most things price tends to match the quality.

Water features
Water features can be brought to life at night with subtle lights that capture and reflect the droplets or water curtain but avoid lighting waterfalls from behind particularly if this will direct the light towards the main viewing positions. Installing misting nozzles in a water feature or amongst the plantings will create a moving tapestry of sight and sound within the landscape which can also be enhanced with strategically placed lighting, particularly when coloured light is involved. Coloured lenses are available to add to the mystique but a simple white light on water is often the most effective. External and underwater lighting that illuminates both the structure of a water feature and the water allows for greater drama between light and shadow, creates visual interest and movement and gives outdoor living areas more dimension at night. Water feature lights are available in both Halogen and LED but as previously indicated LED are considered the gold standard in most cases.

Landscape design and installation
As more people understand the importance of their outdoor space as an extension of the internal environment there will be greater demand for outdoor light installations in landscape design. Any outdoor lighting scheme needs careful planning and consideration as to the overall desired effect. Execution is critical to success; the aim of any outdoor lighting installation should be to achieve both security and aesthetics. Designing enhanced lighting schemes within a landscape will not only improve the aesthetics of the overall design, but it can also increase the functionality of the landscape and increase the value of a property. With so much to gain, why not light it up.

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