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CONDUIT (6) - Lighting for Winter Gardens


This will be the last article for The Conduit magazine for a little while and I hope everyone's enjoyed my little outings into the Land of Lighting.

I was inspired to write this piece on garden lighting in winter following a client demonstration a few weeks ago; the weather was cold and the plants were settlign in for the winter, but the garden still held that beautiful mystery that nature always offer us - and what better time to look at the exotic sculptures of bare trees and shrubs than from the warmth of a living room looking. Open the curtains and let that beauty in!

Here's the text:

Winter is coming up the front path with the promise of frost on its boots, and we’re getting busy building our nests in front of the fire - draw those curtains!

Which is a shame really, because this is exactly the time of year to enjoy a night-time presentation of our gorgeous winter gardens. As the evenings draw in, we could be looking out onto an aspect of our gardens that we usually choose to ignore. Rather than seeing the winter months as the ‘dead time’, dedicated (grudgingly) to sweeping up leaves and a load of pruning, let’s look again and see the visual wonders that winter can bring us.

Most of the time, garden lighting looks entirely at the garden in full bloom and – of course – that is a wonderful sight to see. With the planting in its pomp and the beautiful colours presented by the leaves and flowers, how can the winter scene offer any kind of comparison. Well – here’s a thought for you.

From my living room, I can look out across the Purlieu Meadow towards the ridge above New Road. During the summer, the trees along the railway line are in leaf and my view stops on the other side of the road. But while I can enjoy the birds and general wildlife that inhabits the lands to the east of the town, there’s a bit of frustration that my view doesn’t extend further. But now is the season when the view opens up enormously; and it’s that sense of depth that the winter garden can offer us.

When it comes to lighting a garden, I always try to get an idea of what’s behind the thing that we’re trying to light, so that the planting, or the statuary – whatever we’re actually looking at, has some kind of backdrop to it. That’s a technique that comes into its own during the winter. The plants themselves may have little to shout about, but as part of the overall scene they still act as a discreet foreground to . . . what . . .  a brick wall covered in ivy? fencing? a hedge or tree line?

There is a practical aspect to all of this, as well. Installing garden lighting during the summer risks upsetting the planting at their most active. Its never the light fittings that are the problem, of course, its all of the cabling that needs to be installed between the house and the lighting locations. And you’ll be taking things like this into account:

  • are there areas where ‘practical’ lighting is needed – a patio area or barbeque location, or pathway, for example;
  • how do you want to control your garden lighting; will it be all on at once (boring!) or in sections so that you can alter the lighted appearance of the garden.
  • get all of that work done during the winter months while the planting is taking a well-earned break – then you’ll be ready for the growing season.

The tendency is always to have garden lighting mounted on the ground and lighting up onto planting and features and I’m not suggesting that you don’t do it, but consider that it’s also possible to install light fittings along tree branches and up onto walls and posts. The Dark Sky movement has done a lot of good in promoting greater control over upwards light in the built environment and Dorset is one of the counties to have embraced the principle (Durlston Park in Swanage is a Dark Sky Discovery Site, for example). So limit uplighting into trees.

A few words on floodlighting and security lighting. I don’t believe that anything needs to be done unattractively. A lighting installation may never be used in its security role, but could be used almost daily as part of an elegant garden lighting scheme. Ne’er-do-wells aren’t put off my ugly floodlighting; they’re put off by the simple fact that the house-owner takes care of their property in the first place. So, by all means, have motion sensors / presence detectors to switch on some exterior lighting if needed, but let’s move away from all those eaves-mounted floodlights if we can.



And to read more of my thoughts

on Home Lighting Design,

please click HERE






RIBA CPD in 2015

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