Solar Lighting: The Smart Way to Brighten up your Garden

More and more we are seeing the garden as an extra room to the home and enjoying all the benefits it brings…more space to entertain, to relax and to enjoy spending time with friends and family. And it’s never been easier to enjoy furnishing it with a great range of outdoor lifestyle products such as barbecues, garden furniture, patio heaters and chimeneas, but one area that can be a little trickier is lighting.

Most of us don’t have power cables and sockets that are easily accessible in our gardens. And it wasn’t all that long ago when lighting meant high-consumption tungsten filaments that would often blow and required a 240 Volt supply. So how can we make sure our gardens continue to be a place to enjoy even when the sun goes down?

Technology to the rescue

A combination of three technologies has transformed garden lighting. Low-energy LED lighting, improvements in batteries and efficient solar panels – all of which have dropped in price dramatically – mean that outdoor solar lighting is now as simple as slotting into place, meaning it’s easy to experiment and try different designs without the commitment of wiring and permanent fixtures.

Types of garden lighting

Solar garden lights come in a range of designs, each with its own way of illuminating. The battery charges up by day through the solar cell, and when the unit senses that the light levels are low, the light automatically switches on. The most common type is a simple unit with a spike to go in the ground, with a built-in solar panel and LED – and these alone come in all shapes, sizes, colours and brightnesses. However, fairy lights, tree lights, path lights and security lights are also available.

How to set up the lights

It’s important that you have something of an idea of what you’re lighting – and why – before you embark on buying and installing them. Do you want the lights to be incidental, adding a bit of ambience and background interest; or is the lighting required to illuminate pathways and make the garden fully usable by night?

For example, pathway lights point downwards, ideal for lighting your way without dazzling you, but they don’t cast the light up into the plants and structures. Fairy lights, on the other hand, look pretty and magical, but they’re unlikely to help with visibility after sunset.

Light those plants

Perhaps the prettiest way to light your garden is to focus your LED lights on your plants, particularly those with lighter or white petals or light-coloured leaves. Hide the light units behind rocks or other small objects and you’ll only see the reflected light, resulting in an enchanting display every evening. Because you’re dealing with reflected light, you’re best getting lights that are quite powerful, and for larger plants you’ll probably need more than one unit. But have a play around and you’ll find perfection.

Daylight considerations

An often-overlooked consideration when people are designing their garden lighting is that it needs to look great during the day, too. Solar lights are available that are moulded into rock-like shapes and other objects, so they are barely noticeable during the day. They can also be hidden from the main points of view by placing objects in front of them. It’s a tricky compromise to make sure they’re both lighting up the visible side of the object and remaining relatively hidden, but if you’re thinking about it when you’re setting them out, you’ll probably have a better end result.

Do remember one thing if you’re concealing your lighting units: the solar panels need to have as much of a view of the sky as possible to ensure the maximum charge as the sun traverses the sky – and being Britain, they will often need to charge up on a grey day. Many units have wired solar panels that are independent of the lighting, so you can position the panel slightly away from the unit in a place where it is pointing south and gathering the maximum amount of light.

Safety lighting

We’ve touched on lighting pathways using specialist units, but it’s worth expanding on this because sometimes lighting is essential to the safety of your garden. Say you have a large front garden, for example, and you have to cross it to get to the door. Pathway lighting is usually sufficient, but you might want to provide a bit more illumination to light up more of the garden.

For these situations, security lighting is useful. It can be set to switch on when it detects motion, so you can be assured of a floodlit walk to the front door with maximum safety. It’s handy to have the lighting coming from the side, as mounting it near your front door can mean you just get dazzled and plunge everything in your path into shadow, which is neither safe nor secure. But thanks to the wonders of solar-powered LED security lighting, they can be mounted anywhere without the need for wiring, so again, experiment for the best effect.

Have fun!

As with all gardening tips, there’s a blend of tried-and-tested wisdom and applying your own tastes and designs on the space. There’s no right or wrong with solar powered garden lights, and breaking the rules can often give breath-taking results. So approach your outside lighting with a plan – but be prepared to play around with it. Thanks to these self-contained units, it’s simple to try different layouts until you get it just right.