When designing your house one of the last considerations is the landscape lighting. Often the exterior lighting is limited to a decorative fixture by the front door and security lights on the corners of the house. Light pollution regulations that require fixtures to be shielded also need to be considered. Exterior lighting can either be for you or the neighbors. When the front of the house is lit, it makes a statement, but you cannot see it from the interior.
Most of our local houses have large windows to take advantage of the great views of the lowcountry landscape. Without the proper landscape lighting the windows become black mirrors at night creating a boxed in feel. Layering light in the garden connects you to the outside even at night by visually expanding the interior space. It is important to remember that you are not recreating daylight, but a dynamic composition to enliven the outdoor room.
Like interior lighting, you want to use different levels of lighting in your garden. Task lighting is used for grilling or reading. These lights are typically down lights and should be switched separately from the other exterior lights. Ambient lighting is indirect lighting that softens shadows. Accent lights provide depth and dimensions and should be used sparingly. Finally decorative lighting is the finishing touch.
Path lights are ambient lights that bounce off the ground. Care should be used in selecting one with a fully shielded light source so they do not appear to be a runway. Stair or step lights can be mounted in sides of the steps to illuminate the treads. This is also a safety concern to prevent falls. Step lights should also be shielded to only light the steps.
Accent lights are spot lights that are directed on statues or specimen plants. If they are located on the ground, they should be screened by the surrounding plantings. Be sure to layer accent lights with ambient lights so the garden does not appear spotty.
Decorative lights can be tricky because they are often way too small for the location. Remember that the decorative fixture will be viewed from a distance and should be in proportion to the door, porch and size of the house. Fixtures appear smaller in enclosed showrooms than in exterior spaces. If you are uncertain about the size of a fixture, make a cardboard silhouette and place on the wall.
Besides creating a safe environment, landscape lighting can expand your enjoyment of your garden when designed in anticipation of how you will use the space, whether it is alfresco dining, a swimming pool or enjoying a specimen tree from the inside.