Garden Lighting

Lighting allows a garden to be used and viewed at night. Thoughtful use of lighting can offer a wide range of possibilities in the garden that just aren't available during the day. Dark, hidden or forbidding spots can be turned into delightful new features.

Daylight penetrates every corner of the garden, illuminating both those things you want to see as well as those you don't want, however night lighting can be controlled. It is possible to direct light in a narrow or wide stream, to block its flow, to control its reflection and even to change its colour.
Night lighting may come from fire (eg. a bbq, bonfire or lamp), moonlight, solar or electric lights. Often it comes from a combination of sources.

Depending on its source the light can throw different shadows and create different effects. Think carefully about the purpose of outdoor lighting, where you want the light and where you don't want it, and develop the garden to achieve your aims.

If you plan to do a lot of outdoor entertaining at night, you may choose to use "Fijian style lamps" on bamboo stakes and burning citronella oil. This will not only provide a light source, but will also repel insects. However, this type of light is uneven and unreliable in windy conditions. If you want a stronger or more reliable light source you may choose to install some form of electric light as well.

If you want to make full use of natural moon light, think carefully about where you plant trees and build pergolas and other structures. What might be a desirable feature in the day time may throw shadows at night making lighting more difficult and expensive; and perhaps creating security problems. Lighting for security has become increasingly important given the increase of burglaries in many areas during recent years.

Lights should be located to achieve their intended function, for example, so you can see when walking or sitting outside at night, or for visual affect, or perhaps so you can see the garden when sitting inside.

Main Types of Lighting:
  • Sensor lights - to light areas or spots when in use or triggered by someone passing or entering the scanned area.
  • Spotlights - for illuminating a specific feature (eg. a statue, fountain or street sign)
  • Grazing lighting - to illuminate objects (but not features) which it is close to such as a wall or section of water on a pond.
  • Spread lighting - to primarily illuminate a circular patch of low plants.
  • Silhouette - placing lights behind objects such as a wall or shrubbery to create an illuminated background while leaving the foreground in darkness.
  • Flood Lighting - attempting to create a daylight type affect in one whole section of a garden (eg. an outdoor living area).
  • Layered or selective lighting - where parts of a garden are lit and other part are left shaded.
Sources of Light

Electric Garden Lights
When planning with electric lights, consider the cost involved, length of underground wiring, appearance of the light itself, illumination strength and number of lighting units required. Small jobs can be done by the home gardener by purchasing one of the many garden packs available at garden stores. Larger jobs however may require professional installation and council approval. Always keep records or plans of underground wires and pipes. There would be nothing more dangerous than a spade going through a live wire. Most small garden packs run on small voltages that are not dangerous to humans, however it is still best to be safe than sorry.

Automatic timing switches can be connected so that they turn on and off at specific times. Motion sensitive lights are also beneficial giving a theatrical display as you walk through the garden or as an aid to security.

Battery Lights
These are not that common due to the expensive requirement for batteries. They still may have a use in your garden, such as temporary lighting for a garden party. Each unit runs independent of the next. For this reason they can be placed virtually anywhere without the need of expensive connecting powered lines. A waterproof unit is essential otherwise batteries and internal components may be damaged.

Solar Lights
Relatively new in the garden field, these lights can be placed anywhere, are recharged by the sun therefore running costs are cheap, can provide light up to 12 hours, can be moved easily and in the long run can be cost effective. They are however a bit expensive initially and the solar cells can be damaged by hail, rocks, sticks, etc. The illuminance tends to be much lower than electric therefore a more subtle lighting effect is achieved.

Selecting Lighting

Lighting can be permanent (fixed in position) or temporary. Portable lighting can be moved as desired.

Permanent lighting is most often used for entertainment areas such as back patios, verandas or decking. These systems are generally permanently wired into the homes' mains system (240 volt) – this type of electrical work should only be done by a qualified tradesperson. The location of the lights is fixed, but the angle at which the light points can be readily altered. The types of lights can also vary considerably, including flood for broad area illumination, spots to illuminate specific areas, and florescent tubes for diffuse lighting.

Low voltage units are commonly used in garden areas. These are usually 12 or 24 volt systems for safety purposes. They usually plug into a transformer that is plugged into a mains (240 volt) system. These low voltage systems are designed to be weatherproof. The lights will often be mounted on a spike that can be pushed into the ground to anchor the light. They can also be mounted on walls, trees or even draped amongst plants.

Care should be taken to ensure that the low voltage cables are not damaged during gardening, chewed up by pets, or played with by children. It is a good idea where possible, when these lights are placed in a permanent or semi-permanent position to bury the cables. Ideally they should be protected, when buried, by plastic electrical conduit, or as a cheaper alternative (but not as strong) by black 19mm irrigation poly pipe. Alternatively run the cables along the back of sleeper or stonework walls so they have some protection.

Garden lights are commonly used to illuminate water features, to spot light sculptures or feature plants, to show the way along pathways or drives, to provide broader illumination of garden beds, flowers displays, to create displays amongst the foliage of trees and large shrubs (as with Christmas lights), and to provide light in structures such as pergolas or gazebos. The possibilities are just about endless.
Want to Know More?
Consider doing a course or buying a reference book from our school.
If you would like to communicate with one of our professional tutors, consider using our free course counselling service. click for details
If you want to browse our bookshop, go to
To browse our courses, go to


More from ACS