6 Things You Need to Know About Outdoor Lighting, According to a Garden Designer
How to illuminate your home from the outside in, according to an expert.
As you’re thinking about how to improve your landscape design, don’t ignore one major element: lighting. “It’s arguably the best bang for your buck on any garden renovation,” says Bridget Skinner, a garden designer based in Newport Beach, California. “While it’s not inexpensive, you can just reap so many benefits from it.”
Skinner has 30 years of experience transforming her clients’ outdoor spaces, and we asked her about all things lighting. Here’s her advice to homeowners looking to elevate their front yard, backyard, or patio.
1. Understand Your Lighting Priorities
For starters, it’s important to figure out why you need landscape lighting. Skinner says there are two primary reasons people bring on a landscaping contractor to add lights:
You may need to highlight stairs or address numbers, among other things. These are considered safety-related needs for outdoor lighting, but they can also serve as beautiful fixtures in your garden.
Of course, lighting can also impact the overall look of your yard. “Particularly in California, where indoor/outdoor living is something we can do almost entirely year-round, having lighting on the outside that highlights the trees and plants and creates beautiful shadows just really makes the space pop,” Skinner says.
2. Consider How Everything Looks from Inside Your Home
While it might seem counterintuitive, Skinner suggests focusing on how outdoor lights can affect the look of your home from an indoor perspective.
“If you have landscape lighting outside, you’re enjoying what’s out there—even if you’re inside,” she says. “So we always try to keep in mind the views from the windows and what you’re seeing at night, so that you can appreciate it even when you’re indoors.”
3. Always Choose LED Lights
Solar lights are a buzzy topic these days, but Skinner is a staunch LED supporter. If you use a transformer that changes LED lights from line voltage to low voltage, you also won’t need too much electricity to power them up.
“The light fixtures that I have at my house are more than 15 years old and now that we’ve switched everything to LED lights, it’s rare you have a light go out,” Skinner says. “They just last for years and years and years and years.”
4. Highlight Mature Trees in Your Yard
Skinner has two top ideas for people who have existing large-scale trees or want to bring in new ones. One standout option is to place hanging lights in the trees. “I just think it’s such a pretty addition, and not everybody has that, so it kind of sets you apart, which is fun,” she says.
As an alternative, you can also install uplights that illuminate the tree’s trunk and branching structure. Just keep in mind that you will likely need to adjust your uplight installation as the tree grows to achieve the optimal lighting effect.
5. Find Unique Ways to Illuminate Pottery
Another pro tip? Thinking outside the box by adding lighting to the inside of a pot. “One of the things that we really like to do is run low-voltage lighting cables up into the pots, so that you can illuminate what’s in those pots and create some beautiful shadows as well,” she says.
6. Remember You Can Never Have Too Many Lights
One thing you shouldn’t stress out about is the number of lights you add to your space. “There’s no real dogmatic rule, but I will say I have never once in 30 years had someone say there’s too many lights,” Skinner says. “Not one time. In fact, people generally say, ‘Wow, that makes a huge difference. Can we add more?’”
For even more outdoor lighting inspiration, check out our guide to installing on-trend rattan lights and roundup of the best holiday lighting ideas.