Nightscaping a rising trend

As the sun sets on your garden, is the only glimmer of light generated by the moon and stars? “Nightscaping” or outdoor landscape lighting might be in order.

BY VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST NOVEMBER 10, 2007
As the sun sets on your garden, is the only glimmer of light generated by the moon and stars? Then you may be in the dark about a rising trend, according to experts.

Across North America, homeowners with a patch to call their own are adding nocturnal lighting effects to their gardens and backyards, said Glenn Curtis, owner of Plantenance in Dollard des Ormeaux, Que.

“It’s an offshoot of the larger trend toward creating more esthetic outdoor environments — in particular, the backyard.”

Curtis has seen a lot of trends come and go in the 27 years his company has provided landscape design services for local homes and businesses.

There’s even a buzzword for the after-dark lighting trend: “nightscaping.” It’s actually the registered name of a California company that makes what is more properly called outdoor landscape lighting.

The aim is to illuminate your home and landscape with an eye to showing it to advantage at night. The easiest technique for amateur garden lighting designers to master, said Curtis, is the floodlight.

“Most people think of floodlights in terms of safety,” he said, “and may not be aware that you can, say, light a pathway for security but also create a mood.”

A floodlight can also be used much like a stage spotlight. Shine it on a striking feature in your garden, be it a fountain, waterfall, favourite statue or shrub. Just don’t overdo it, Curtis said, as lighting up every feature in the garden will give it the air of an amusement arcade. Also, most people become uncomfortable if the glare is too bright.

To create atmosphere, you need both light and shadow.

Two other basic nightscaping techniques involve downlighting and backlighting. Both can be used to create subtle focus and ambience in the garden.

Downlighting illuminates a broad area, and when done through a tree’s branches can simulate the soft glow of moonlight.

Shining a light from behind an object, backlighting, creates a silhouette, and makes an object stand out. It’s the same sense of drama as when you see a tree highlighted along the horizon at sunset. Even trees without leaves become sculptural, with new effects emerging with the budding leaves.

Good quality lighting systems can be used year-round, even under snow.

A sophisticated garden lighting system will include a special transformer and timer. Lighting wires are small, low voltage, and need not be installed by an electrician. They can be buried directly through a narrow slit in the lawn or along the flower bed with a minimum of disruption to existing plants, Curtis said.

Professional lighting designers aim to make the lighting fixtures blend into the landscape. Amateur garden lighting designers may not have that skill, which could be why they’re demanding more stylish, standout garden light fixtures.

“There are more options than ever before in garden lighting,” said Salima Kassam, Home Depot product merchant for lighting at the Toronto head office. “Especially when it comes to design.”

Apparently a few basic black path lights, perhaps accessorized by a simple floodlight, will no longer do. Today, customers seek what Kassam calls “full outdoor solutions.”

This means that the lanterns and lights you buy to highlight your landscaping will be co-ordinated with what already adorns your house, down to the fixtures, mailbox and perhaps even the door handles. Not only the design, be it Zen or French provincial, but the finishes and glass may match exactly as well. Home Depot offers kits with co-ordinated pole and floodlights, plus the necessary transformer and a timer.

Despite a call for more updated looks, black remains the most popular finish for lighting fixtures that are made of metal, with pewter a close second. New this year, Kassam said, are antique copper and a dark chrome called gunmetal.

In addition to plain and frosted glass, some designs feature special effects. Hot new looks include seeded glass, which has speckles resembling raindrops, and water glass, with an effect like running water.

New technologies are also opening up new possibilities for home garden lighting. Solar lights, for instance, are powered by built-in ray-collecting panels, which means no drain on your electric system. With no wiring required, you can move them around the garden until you find the ideal spot, although they must be placed where they will receive enough sun.

“We now also provide the option of landscape lights with a separate solar panel that can be placed remotely in the sunniest spot, and will power up to six lights,” Kassam added.

The easiest do-it-yourself project for an aspiring landscape lighting designer would be to experiment with a floodlight kit, she said. Or try something unexpected such as taking the rope lights — those long PVC tubes with tiny LED bulbs inside — off the patio and stringing them alongside the garden path. For the swimming or garden pool, there are floating LED lights that flood the water with brilliant effects, no installation required.

“They change colours and provide mood lighting, perfect for a backyard party or barbecue,” Kassam said.

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