I’ve put together an easy to follow guide on outdoor lighting to help you set the mood, and show off your best bits, enabling you to enjoy your garden all year round.
At the time of writing this blog post, the people of the UK are eagerly awaiting the prospect of being able to entertain their friends and families in their gardens and outdoor spaces. It is a much anticipated and exciting time for sure, but I’m not convinced that all of the gardens up and down the country are up to the challenges often thrown at us by the good old British weather and limited daylight hours.
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to planning your lighting design is forgetting to plan in the power points for the garden that will accommodate your outdoor lighting. You know that overwhelming first fix stage in a renovation when the builders are asking you where you would like all of your power points to go before you’ve even got the walls up…well, in an ideal world you would be instructing them at this stage that you absolutely MUST have power in the garden.
However, understandably, it is often either forgotten about, or not prioritised at this stage of a renovation, and people then end up giving up on having any electrical powered lighting outside, as it feels like too much of a big job.
Solar powered lights can be a great cost and energy-saving alternative of course. They work brilliantly to create pockets of light, and to add atmospheric lighting, but they’re not really up to the job of task lighting, particularly if you live in an area that doesn’t get enough sunlight to fully charge them, so electrical lighting, using LED bulbs would be the more desirable option.
Let’s start at the very beginning because that’s always a very good place to start. How much will it roughly cost to get power put into your garden? The cost of having an external power socket installed will of course vary depending on the tradesperson’s hourly rate and the extent of the project.
A few other affecting factors will determine the cost of your project, such as the materials used, the number of sockets requiring installation, the ease of access to your property and the quality of the products used. Generally, in the UK, installing an outdoor power socket can cost anywhere from £40 to £120 and on average, a qualified electrician will charge around £40 per hour or anywhere upwards of £100 for the day.
If you already have power in your garden in the form of wall lights or a socket, it is much easier for an electrician to connect to this source and take the power further out into the garden. To do this they will more than likely use waterproof junction boxes that can be concealed within the planting. For a garden of our size, we needed 6 of these and it took our electrician half a day to install them and connect it all to our internal light switch, so that they can be easily switched on and off from the inside of the house.
Before you choose your lighting, it is important to consider if it is safe to use outdoors. Outdoor lighting needs to be able to withstand the elements as water conducts electricity, meaning that it can carry an electrical current and cause an electric shock if you touch the fitting. To ensure the fixtures are suitable for their location, you’ll need to check what IP rating they have. IP stands for Ingress Protection and is a rating of a product’s resistance to particles and water.
Lightbulbs are generally not waterproof themselves, no matter what type of bulbs they are and it is the fitting which needs to be waterproof. IP ratings provide more information on exactly how waterproof the fitting is.
IP ratings are written as ‘IP’ followed by two numbers – the first number refers to the amount of protection a fitting has from solid objects, such as accidental touch by fingers, and the second number refers to the protection level provided against liquids, ranging from 0 for no protection, to 8 for fittings able to be immersed under water. For example, an outdoor fitting exposed to direct rain, mounted on a wall needs to be typically IP44 onwards.
An IP65 rated fitting is protected against dust and low jets of water from all directions. This type of fitting is more than sufficient for outdoor use and this is the most common IP rating used on a lot of fittings. The highest level of protection for a fitting is IP68 and this is suitable for underwater lighting such as water features and ponds.
When looking for bulbs, always aim to get LED – they’re long lasting, safe and much more energy efficient. They use 75% less energy than typical bulbs and since they’re made of plastic, they’re much more durable and resistant to harsher weather.
Now that we’ve got all of that not very glamorous, but also extremely essential safety information out of the way, we can get onto the fun stuff. The twinkling, warm glowing lights – ah, my ultimate happy place. Here goes…
Whether we’re talking about planning an outfit, styling a room, or designing your outdoor lighting, layering is always a good idea. You wouldn’t expect to feel relaxed in a room with only one glaring central hanging light, so why should your outdoor space be any different? Not to mention how harsh and unflattering that type of lighting can be. To things a little easier I’m going break down all of the different types of lighting to include in your garden design.
Don’t panic! You don’t need to include all of them, how many you use really depends on the size of your garden, what you want to use the space for, and if there are any particular focal points that you are trying to highlight.
I would usually suggest using at least two types of lighting but ideally you should try to use three if you have the space.
Types of lighting
Different parts of your garden or outdoor space will benefit from different types of outdoor lighting, the vintage looking festoons that you have been coveting, will no doubt help to create that relaxed, party atmosphere for entertaining, but will fall desperately short if you want to be able to sit outside in the evening and enjoy an alfresco dinner with friends while still being able to see what it is that you’re actually eating – this is where your task lighting comes in.
Try thinking about your lighting design in outdoor room terms, as that is ultimately what we are trying to create here, you need to start by thinking about the functionality of your garden.
- What do you use the space for?
- Where will you be sitting to eat, cook or socialise?
- How will you move through the space safely?
- Are there stairs and other obstacles that need to be clearly illuminated?
- Are flood lights or sensor lights required for safety?
Once you have answered these questions you can pin point the areas that require task lighting.
Wall lights are a great place to start. They come in a variety of styles, shapes and designs to suit your home, and can be easily installed on your exterior walls to add some much needed practical lighting. In interiors terms I would class them as “the big light” that you put on so that you can see where you’re going when you’re taking your bins out, or waiting for your dog to go to the toilet.
You can make them work even harder and get extra functionality points by adding wall lights that have built-in motion sensors, creating a security style light. Two birds. One stone. And more room for the subtle, more flattering lighting. You can thank me later.
Pendant lights or ceiling lights are a bit of a luxury, let’s be honest. They may not always be possible in smaller gardens or balcony spaces, but, if you are fortunate enough to have a pergola or structure to sit underneath then they are a great way to add some statement lighting above a table or seating area and really add to that outdoor room feel.
As with all lighting, it is recommended to install them at least 2m away from the ground so that you can easily pass or sit underneath them without bumping your head.
Decking lights and path lighting are essential if you want to get from one part of the garden to another safely. They may not be required in a smaller garden like ours that has no real trip hazards to consider, but in larger gardens where the wall lights won’t quite cover the entire space, they are a great addition – particularly if you have a multiple level garden.
When used in the right way they can also help to create atmosphere, they will give out a much more subtle, low lying light than the wall or pendant lights, and they will help to show off your beautiful decking or tiles, while gently leading you through all of the various zones in the garden.
Security lighting might be a necessity in your garden and in which case should be something that you make your top priority, particularly if your parameters are a little bit vulnerable to potential intruders. Models such as floodlights, spotlights and wall pack lights, use motion sensors to light up with a powerful beam at the first sign of movement, instantly alerting you, and disturbing the unwanted guest in the process.
Some advanced models even come with in-built cameras, that allow you to see exactly what’s going on outdoors without having to step outside like this Pro 3 wireless flood light from Arlo.
Moving away from the practical side of things, into somewhere much more cosy…if that’s your bag? You might prefer a bit of drama? Or maybe you want it all? Well, this is where atmospheric lighting comes in. We want to use this to create the mood and show off our best features, while creating softer, indirect lighting, that is much more soothing to look at than the glare of a wall light.
Uplights and downlights are a great way to show off those architectural features and focal points in the garden, and will really help to add that element of drama. Use them to shine up through tall planting, trees or structures in the garden such as pergolas, sculptures or water features.
We used these 3 in 1 multi-purpose lights from Iconic Lights, which can be installed 3 different ways: as wall lights, in-ground lights and/or spike lights, giving you the freedom to install them as you wish, depending on your needs.
Recess lighting is another stylish way to highlighting architectural features that have negative spaces within them. Highlighting the negative space underneath bench seating for example, is an affective way to make a garden feel bigger, as your light of sight is uninterrupted.
You could use strip lighting or a baton light appropriate for use outdoors to achieve this. This Flexible LED Neon Strip Light from Hartington Heath is not only waterproof but dimmable too. Spotlights would also work well.
You can read more about the tips and tricks to use in small gardens and outdoor spaces in a previous blog post I wrote here.
Smart lighting and adjustable lights are becoming so much more affordable and accessible now, enabling you to change the colour, strength and mood of your outdoor lighting with the touch of a button. You can even program them so that your driveway lights come on the minute that you arrive home.
Philips Hue have two types of outdoor lights: standard line-voltage which are wired into your home’s electricity and low-voltage, which simply plug into any outdoor plug socket. This collection of ‘LowVolt‘ lights allow for so much more flexibility in designing your outdoor lighting and are very much on my wish list for the front of our house.
And so, we’ve reached the final category of our outdoor lighting, and it’s one of my absolute favorites. You can’t beat the warm fuzzy glow of a table lamp on a bistro table or some artfully draped string lights on a pergola. There isn’t a pub garden or outdoor restaurant in the land that is not festooned up to the eyeballs for this reason. This is your relaxed lighting, you would tend to use it for entertaining, or to create an atmosphere that is a little bit more intimate.
String lights are a really affordable way to do this and they can be easily separated from the rest of your lighting, so that you can just put them on for those special occasions. I like using them to create zoning too, draping them around a seating area or a fire pit is a brilliant way to draw people through to a more intimate spot in a larger garden.
You can get really good solar powered ones like these ones from Lighting Legends, so you don’t even need to worry about connecting them to a power source.
Lanterns. While we’re on the subject of solar power string lights, there are also some fantastic solar powered lanterns too. They work really well for creating the illusion of the gentle flickering of candle light while remaining children and pet safe. I find solar powered lighting works brilliantly for secondary, accent lighting, as you need it to be subtle anyway.
Battery operated candles are also a safe option but are of course less environmentally friendly.
Cordless table lamps are the height of luxury and sophistication for creating an atmospheric dinner party in your garden. Transport yourself back to that romantic dinner for two in the Amalfi Coast, when you were both huddled around that softly lit bistro table, sharing an appetiser and a bottle of wine.
Amara have a lovely selection of chargeable table lamps that are safe for outdoor use – you can bring them inside when you’re done and they will look equally as stylish in your home too.
Philips Hue have also created a portable mood light. ‘The Go‘ enables you to change the colour and strength of your lighting, using either the Hue system app or simply via the on-product button.
You can mimic the beautiful sunsets of the Cafe del Mar in the evening or bring out the vivid task lighting if you need something a little bit more vibrant to help you concentrate. It’s wireless, portable and rechargeable for up to 3 hours making it compatible for all outdoor spaces, and incredibly good value, as you can carry it with you wherever and whenever you need to set the right mood. Practical and beautiful lighting. I’m sold.
So there you have it. I hope that this guide to outdoor lighting will help you to design a layered lighting system, so that you and your friends and family, can enjoy spending time together in the garden all year round.
I’d love to hear if you try any of these tips in the comments below.