Lighting the great outdoors

Key principles to know and use in your yard
Peter O. Whiteley

A well-lit front yard not only welcomes guests and leads them safely to the front door but also accentuates features ― a graceful tree, a textured wall, or a bed of impatiens ― that would otherwise be lost in the dark. Your garden can become a stage set; the muted lighting gives it form, drama, and depth with unexpected silhouettes, highlighted shapes, and shadows that can be seen only at night.

We illustrate the five basic lighting techniques for a garden that a professional installer would use (look for installers in the Yellow Pages under Landscape and Outdoor Lighting). Each technique requires a slightly different placement and style of fixture. Low-voltage lighting systems, such as 12-volt, are the easiest to install and consist of a transformer, special cable, and fixtures with the appropriate “lamp” (what professionals call lightbulbs). If you are a do-it-yourselfer, these systems allow you to experiment with placement, easily move fixtures, and even add more of them.

If there’s one main principle of good outdoor lighting, it’s “avoid the glare.” You should never see the source of light (an exposed lamp), only the light it throws.

Design: Aldon Caron, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives (650/462-1999)