Garden lighting is practical, attractive and not expensive to run; two units of electricity will light the average garden from dusk to midnight. The lighting of walls, patios and possible danger points such as steps helps prevent accidents and discourages intruders. Effective outside lighting also lengthens the time you can enjoy the garden and can reveal an unexpected attraction in familiar surroundings. This can be achieved by using fittings attached to the outside of the house or with the more mobile low-voltage lighting set. But whichever you use, it must be safe.
Mains voltage lighting
There are complications in using mains electricity outdoors. Many lighting fittings can be fixed to the wall of the house and connected through the bricks to the house wiring; but garden spotlights, pool lights and lights in herbaceous borders will need an outdoor connection. Weatherproof 13amp sockets mounted on the outside wall of the house are an inexpensive way of providing temporary lighting for the patio, but will not have the same atmospheric effect as lighting sited away from the house.
Types of light
Spotlights are the most effective way of lighting a garden. Mains voltage 100 and 150 watt spotlamps screw into waterproof holders and are tough enough to withstand most outdoor conditions; the holders can be supplied with an earth spike or a mounting bracket. Spotlights can also be mounted on trees or walls to light a path or section of the garden. When lighting trees, the spotlights should be placed at ground level or low down on the trunk and directed so their light goes up into the branches.
Tungsten-halogen miniature floodlamps give 300-500 watts of brilliant light from a small finger-size glass phial mounted on a fitting about 150 x 75mm (6 x 3in). They are powerful for their size and have a life of about 2000 hours. To light the garden, they should be placed high on a wall and must be fixed in a horizontal position.
The simplest method of lighting paths, patios and porches is to use the `light brick’ or `bulkhead’ fitting; this is a square or oval of opal or moulded glass which clips over a weatherproof holder. The fitting is commonly available in sizes from 200 x 125 x 114mm (8 x 5 x 4fin) and is suitable for a 60 or 100 watt lamp.
Post lanterns wired with buried armoured cable can be mounted on a low wall or on anti-tamper bollards and used to light entrances and drives.
Low voltage lighting
There are several low voltage lighting sets available; these can be safely installed even at ground level, where children are likely to touch them. They operate at 12 volts through a portable mains transformer (the output of the transformer is described in volt-amps rather than watts); you simply plug the transformer into any convenient socket outlet and trail the cable down the garden, connecting in spotlamps at any point in the length of the cable. The lamps are easily attached and can be pushed into the earth on spikes or fixed to trees.
Types of lighting set
The `ropelighe is a recent innovation and operates from a 12 volt DC supply, which can either be a special mains transformer/ rectifier or a car battery. It consists of a line of coloured lights within a hose-like flexible plastic tube. The lights come in 10m (or 33ft) lengths which can be draped around the garden. Fixed flashing lights are available or you could use chaser lights. Which appear to move along the rope.
There are also specially mounted lighting units which can be used under water or floating on the surface. If these lights are used with a 12 volt submersible pump, special water jet rings can be clipped around the lights to give illuminated fountains. Both fountains and lights can be controlled on one cable from an indoor switch or a waterproof junction box and transformer can be concealed close to the water in a simple rockery stone or brick housing to protect it from the weather.
A waterfall can look particularly effective when lit. Small lights can be concealed among the plants and stones on the edge of the stream and low voltage lamps are purpose-made to be concealed in simulated rocky stones.
Connecting up lighting sets
Position the transformer under cover in the house, garage or shed close to a 240 volt mains socket outlet. The rating of the transformer will limit the number of lamps you can have. A transformer with a 36 volt-amps output can serve up to two lamps; a 72 volt-amps rating is suitable for up to four lamps and 108 volt-amps rating is for a maximum of six lamps.
Connect special low voltage, twin core cable to the transformer output connector block. One end of the cable is sealed for weatherproofing, so be sure to connect the unsealed end to the transformer. Run the cable to where the lights are required; it can be taken outside through a small hole drilled in the fixed part of a window frame. It is safe to allow the cable to trail on the surface of the ground so the positions of the lights can be easily changed; or you can bury it in a trench, which you should then cover with tiles to prevent accidental damage from garden tools.
When the lights are roughly positioned, connect them to the low voltage cable. With one low voltage system you should take the back cover plate off each light, drape the cable in its channel and press the cable down with your thumb so the projecting metal spikes make an electrical connection. Replace the cover and adjust the light to the desired angle. Fit the transformer mains lead with a plug to suit the socket outlet; the plug should be fitted with a 3amp fuse. You can now plug the transformer in and switch it on. To ensure a satisfactory electrical connection after each season’s use, you should move each light along the cable by about 25mm ( 1 in) and then reconnect it; wrap insulating tape round the previous connection area.
Another system uses conventional connector strips and a car-type lamp connector; in this case you must bare the cable and connect it in the screw connectors at each fitting.
Colour is important when lighting outdoors and most spotlamps are sold with colour filters. The thing to remember when lighting a garden is to concentrate on what is being lit and not on the lights themselves. White js most effective since it brings out colour; red turns foliage brown, while yellow turns it grey. Green highlights grass and foliage, while blue has a mysterious quality especially on birch trees; it also attracts insects, so place it away from a terrace or patio. Lights should be hidden from view or placed behind large plants; where concealment is difficult, you should mount them above the normal lines of vision.
Concentrate on trees and larger shrubs. Trees such as elm, which have a high canopy, should be lit from below so the spotlight shines upwards into the leaves. Silver birches should be lit so the beam just touches the main limbs and conifers should catch the light along the edges of their branches. One or two spotlights placed in herbaceous borders can give a dramatic effect, casting a warm glow over the flowers.
When experimenting, choose a dry night and use an ordinary 150 watt lamp in a simple bowl reflector. Seen from a distance, this will give you an idea of the effect you will get when you eventually install the proper equipment.