Spring and summer inspire thoughts of beautiful gardens with meandering walkways through lush, moonlit, flowering landscape. Lighting that scene can become a passion, if not an obsession. Over-lighting landscape (or at least over-fixturing) is a real temptation. Often, homeowners with a vague idea and a Home Depot charge card fill their yards with all sorts of cheap, ineffective low voltage lights. I have worked with many who threw away their first attempt at yard lighting and came asking for help.
Low voltage can be very effective in a yard when used correctly. But lining up glaring beacons on either side of a sidewalk suggests an airport runway rather than a natural environment just waiting for a visitor. The trick is to make the fixture disappear as much as possible rather than using it as a feature. There is nothing particularly attractive about most landscape lights. They were designed and produced to perform a function, to be a workhorse. Let the light direct attention to the architecturally interesting features in the yard, both organic and man-made.
Path and step lighting are major concerns when outside. Do not overdo it. A visitor can safely traverse a path lit with pools of light. It is not necessary to light up every brick. Eliminating deep shadows on a step is a good idea, but you are not lighting a desk for paperwork. A soft light calling attention to the change in grade is enough. Moonlighting provides very effective path and step lighting. Low voltage heads with blue filters located in trees, shining through branches and towards the path can be a beautiful solution to achieving safe passage. The soft shadows from the leaves and branches help add authenticity to the effect.
Placing post lights down a long drive can be a challenge. How many are enough? How many are too much? As with paths, driveways do not need bright, even illumination. The post lights can provide points of light, like lighthouses, that guests drive towards. As they reach one, another light comes into view, leading to the destination. Seek to have enough lights, without so many that it looks like an overzealous lighting salesman got a hold of you.
When approached as a separate lighting project, like any other room project inside the house, the possibilities can be overwhelming, particularly when the homeowner realizes that this “room” is the biggest one yet. Get help. Whether you hire a good landscape architect who will plan the lighting, or you go to the consultant you use for interior lighting, ask for the guidance you need. And be sure you work with someone who has done this before.