How to use light designs in the garden during the winter and beyond...

Kate Gould's Chelsea eco chic, 2009 (copyright Garden Builders)

Kate Gould's Chelsea eco chic, 2009 (copyright Garden Builders) - Credit: Archant

These small spaces have to work hard to please and often they work antisocial hours. The time that they are appreciated is in the evenings or in the early morning before coming back or heading off to work, writes Kate Gould.

Lighting is striking amongst garden foliage (copyright Garden Builders)

Lighting is striking amongst garden foliage (copyright Garden Builders) - Credit: Archant

Early morning light in itself is a naturally beautiful thing but it is often the artificially lit nighttime garden that really shines and where lights can be used to create atmosphere and effect. LED lights are both long lived and cost effective to run and work well as recessed lights in paving and decking where they very effectively highlight steps and changes in level on or around the house and terrace; and used in moderation they work well to highlight pots and planters. These are generally used as feature lights; they won’t give you enough light to dine out or entertain by but used in combination with other lights in the garden they help to create a pleasing picture.

Kate Gould gardening designs (copyright Garden Builders)

Kate Gould gardening designs (copyright Garden Builders) - Credit: Archant

Plants really soak up light. It is amazing how much it takes to highlight a plant or tree successfully. Up-lights; i.e. those lights that are ground mounted, either recessed into the ground or on a moveable spike are the best for highlighting plants and the best plants to highlight are those with architectural forms. Yucca, Phormium, Dicksonia, Phyllostachys and Trachycarpus all look dramatic when up-lit at night. The light diffuses up the plant (often through lower growing foliage) and softly away into the night, which means that the light does not cast great halos into the dark sky. In town settings urban light pollution is a problem for migrating birds, bats and insects and so consideration has to be put to these things too, as well as to neighbouring properties that may not wish for their garden to be washed with the light from yours.

Peter Baistow garden design in Hyde Park (copyright Peter Baistow)

Peter Baistow garden design in Hyde Park (copyright Peter Baistow) - Credit: Archant

Light looks best when contrasted with dark so the play of light and shadow is one way of creating dramatic effect. A simple brickwork or painted wall can act as a backdrop for shadows to play upon and the leafier the plant set against it the better. The effect when lighting your garden is not one of a harsh wash of light over the entire scheme but one where points of interest are highlighted and different plants can be appreciated at different times of year. As the garden begins to defoliate in the autumn it is not the foliage that is highlighted but bark and stems; Birch, Cornus, Prunus serrula, these all have a beauty of their own in the winter and this beauty can be appreciated once it is dark too.

A rooftop design in Putney (copyright Garden Builders)

A rooftop design in Putney (copyright Garden Builders) - Credit: Archant

If you wish to dine by light outside then the kindest way of doing this is by candlelight. A soft and flickering glow around a table casts a warmer and more inviting glow than artificial light and can always be combined with a citronella scent to keep biting insects at bay. Tea lights in little holders make excellent marker points through a garden for special occasions and a good old-fashioned hurricane lamp is hard to beat. Candles or for that matter solar lights are a far more economical way of lighting your garden but they cannot of course be turned on at the flick of a switch, which makes them not so user friendly in our modern and demanding age. On the side of both of these however, they definitely do not require the installation of a qualified electrician or the cost that involves.

Stone walls and alliums, complimented by Kate Gould light design (copyright Garden Builders)

Stone walls and alliums, complimented by Kate Gould light design (copyright Garden Builders) - Credit: Archant

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Money speaks volumes with garden lighting and paying for a good light fitting such as those made by Hunza, Collingwood or Aurora will return dividends in the longevity of their use. Inexpensive fittings can be more trouble than they are worth and in a garden setting where water and electricity have to mix I would always rather pay for peace of mind.

Kate Gould is an award winning garden designer with more than a decade’s hands-on experience transforming gardens of all sizes and a regular exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show where she has been awarded three Gold medals. Visit her website at

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