Painting the Night

Painting the Night

Landscape Lighting can expand the enjoyment of your property. But where do you begin on the journey of freeing your outdoor space from the darkness? Right here with the queen of landscape lighting herself.

TEXT BY JANET LENNOX MOYER PHOTOS COURTESY OF CAST LIGHTING & GEORGE GRUEL 

Retrieving the visual connection to our gardens after nightfall brings about an incredible—and somehow strangely powerful—connection between nature and home. Viewing your garden through the windows at night changes your experience. Your interior spaces will feel larger and your mood will lighten. However, the process of designing and installing a landscape lighting system is often unchartered territory for Hudson Valley homeowners. So how do you begin?

Start by envisioning your future outdoor spaces. Take a look out of your windows during daylight and think about the elements of the landscape that you would like to continue to see after dark. It could be one special tree, or you could include a soft background that expands the space and gives you a sense of boundary. It could be a grouping of plants and trees. Think about that in all of the locations that you’ll be spending time at night. 

Then, think about what you would like to do in your garden during the evening – things that you do now and activities that you may not do now, but might like to start to do. It could be sitting out on the patio having cocktails with your friends, dinners by the pool, or walking through the gardens to relax after a tough day. 

Once you know what you want, then you can speak wit a landscape lighting professional to start planning a system. Landscape lighting requires technical know-how. The professional will need to be an expert in planning and installing equipment and also have an aesthetic vision of how light reveals and hides elements in a night scene to create a cohesive composition. It may seem simple, but it requires understanding and experience to not end up disappointed and then starting all over again!

Lighting systems start with power distribution and need to include all of the changes you can imagine happening over time. So this is the time you expand your plans on everything you wanted before by going beyond just the now and the next few years. Think further down the line. Maybe you have imagined adding a summerhouse, a folly, a stream, a guesthouse…try to think about everything you have longed for in your wildest dreams. Don’t forget that plants grow and die; you’ll add plants; you may add a new walkway, or a water feature, or a sculpture – at least you may be dreaming of that one day. You want to have enough power in all of the areas of your property so that you won’t have to dig up your beautiful gardens at some time in the future to add some lighting. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to plan everything now and forever be limited to your designs and dreams of now! Lighting systems can easily be added and adjusted over the years with adequate planning during the initial power distribution installation. 

Keeping your outdoor spaces intact isn’t the only reason you want to plan carefully. Landscape lighting is not inexpensive. And, that old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is really true with landscape lighting. There are eight kinds of corrosion we face everyday in the outdoor environment. With rain, snow, fog, and sprinkler systems, etc., there is continual wetting and drying that challenges fixtures. Make sure to use fixtures that can hold up to the environment and to all of the activities in the gardens. Your fixtures can be hit by tools, vehicles, people playing games… the list goes on and on. The construction and finishing of fixtures is critical to their long-term survival, so be careful to ensure that you get good quality fixtures.

While selecting the perfect fixtures can be a lot of fun, it can certainly be overwhelming with all of the options out there! Your fixture choices will be based on aesthetics, function, durability, and placement. The professional that you work with can help inform you about the differences and they will probably advise you that you will need a variety from more than one manufacturer. 

Fixtures can be stake mounted in your planting beds and the stem may be adjustable to respond to plant growth; they can be mounted in your trees; or they can be located right in the ground. Wondering about the best starting point? Start with down lighting. Think about the fixtures that will be mounted in trees, on buildings eaves, in a trellis – or any similar location. Down lighting gives you more coverage; it will look more natural (less dramatic) as it mimics what we are used to from the sun; and it requires less maintenance, as it has fixtures located up out of the way. 

Fixtures can be stake mounted in your planting beds and the stem may be adjustable to respond to plant growth; they can be mounted in your trees; or they can be located right in the ground. Wondering about the best starting point? Start with down lighting. Think about the fixtures that will be mounted in trees, on buildings eaves, in a trellis – or any similar location. Down lighting gives you more coverage; it will look more natural (less dramatic) as it mimics what we are used to from the sun; and it requires less maintenance, as it has fixtures located up out of the way. Fixtures can be stake mounted in your planting beds and the stem may be adjustable to respond to plant growth; they can be mounted in your trees; or they can be located right in the ground. Wondering about the best starting point? Start with down lighting. Think about the fixtures that will be mounted in trees, on buildings eaves, in a trellis – or any similar location. Down lighting gives you more coverage; it will look more natural (less dramatic) as it mimics what we are used to from the sun; and it requires less maintenance, as it has fixtures located up out of the way. 

Now on to controlling your outdoor lighting! Today, the control of your landscape lighting can be right from your smart phone. Some manufacturers have wireless controls and more are going in that direction. The fixtures still need to be wired to your electrical panel and typically to low-voltage transformers, but from there, you can create scenes, dim, and control everything remotely. You can still include time-functions, so that you can automatically have some (or all) your lighting turn on at dusk and then turn-off at any time you prefer. One manufacturer has integrated the control system right into their transformers, which significantly decreases the installation difficulty.

Last thought to consider is your lighting source. LED lighting is today’s hot item. This new technology has changed lighting options significantly. It offers more flexibility than before. From individual fixture dimming, integral beam spread variability, and lower wattages. Most of the developments have provided more freedom to create, but at the same time, it has increased the complications in the planning process. One example – electronics don’t like moisture, and LED have a limited tolerance for heat in the way they produce light. If you want an LED system, this is definitely the right time for it!

Now that you’ve read about the key technical issues necessary to consider for a successful lighting system, you’re not quite a lighting expert yet, but you are certainly better equipped to understand the process. Whatever lighting options you choose, remember, outdoor lighting can be tricky. There are many talented professionals right here in the NY area to help bring your ideas to life. Most importantly, enjoy the process of lighting your landscape. As always, enjoy your outdoor spaces!

RESOURCES

Janet Moyer Lennox www.janmoyerdesign.com

International Landscape Lighting Institute 518.235.4808, www.tllr.org

Cast Lighting 800.914.2278, www.cast-lighting.com