How to Choose Garden Lighting

The right lighting can make all the difference in your garden design. Learn about various outdoor options with this guide. 

Low Voltage Lights Positioned Along Walkway

Low Voltage Lights Positioned Along Walkway

Low voltage post lights can be powered by solar panels. Position these lights along a pathway for added security at night.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Low voltage post lights can be powered by solar panels. Position these lights along a pathway for added security at night.

Outdoor lighting can serve a variety of purposes, from providing safety and security to creating a relaxing atmosphere. It can transform the look of your garden at night, so decide which plants or focal points you want to illuminate, and then choose lights to fit your design.


If you plan to use the garden at night, you’ll need to light paths and steps for safety. Concentrate on potential hazards, such as ponds, or where ground levels change or fall off sharply from a pathway. Use post lights or low-level mini spotlights angled to cast light over the edges of paving or decking, or install recessed paving lights; choose a style that complements the design of your house and garden. Recessed deck lights are relatively easy to install and will highlight the edge of the deck as well as changes in level. Safety lights don’t have to be on continuously: sensors are available that will switch lights on as you approach and off again after a set time. You can also control garden lights using a remote.


Lighting up entrances to the house can be decorative and welcoming but  can also help to deter burglars; if possible, keep a clear line of sight to the road. Wall lights can be set to switch on at dusk and off in the morning—use low energy bulbs or LEDs to reduce cost. Other security lights such as mini floodlights can be fitted with infra-red movement sensors, illuminating your home as people approach it or walk past. Adjust sensitivity so that lights aren’t triggered by passing cats and rabbits. Also keep nearby plants pruned to prevent them from activating the lights on a windy night. Be sensitive in the placement and power of lights to avoid upsetting your neighbors.

Decoration and Mood

With strategic lighting it’s possible to transform the look of a garden at night. Individual mini spotlights, uplights, and downlights can be used to illuminate sculptures, decorative wall panels, garden buildings, and structures, such as pergolas. Used sparingly, colored floodlights will add drama to plain walls, and recessed lights can make a feature of steps and retaining walls. Fountain lights cause water features to sparkle, while underwater pool lighting can be very atmospheric.

Uplighting sculptural plants, such as phormiums, can create interesting shadows. With diaphanous subjects like grasses, shining low-level lighting through the stems and flowers works well. Tiny string lights woven through overhead climbers and wall shrubs creates a romantic atmosphere.

Lighting Options

There is a range of lighting types, so pick those that fit your design. Any lights powered by a main circuit must be installed by an electrician. On dry evenings, hang battery-powered lanterns from trees or other structures for a soft, rustic look. Or for a more contemporary feel, choose environmentally friendly solar lights, which run on the sun’s energy; some have extended batteries. Flickering candles are inexpensive and create a wonderful atmosphere. Use candle and oil lanterns, night- lights in colored glass holders, candelabras, or flashlights. LED lights are a striking feature and can be clipped onto a safe, low- voltage garden circuit powered by a transformer—keep this in a dry place. 

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