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GARDENING: Light-scaping the nightlife

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Highlight your garden’s main features and provide practical illumination to enjoy the spaces long after sunset

As the heat of the day settles towards evening, many of us are drawn outdoors to spend time in our gardens. The night garden has a different ambience to that of the day.

When one’s sense of sight is reduced, other senses, like smell and hearing, become more acute. An evening garden is a soft garden. Plants with silver foliage or white flowing plants are bold in the fading light and even pick up on light from the moon. Some plants, like the moonflower (Brugmansia spp.) and flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), give off fragrance at night to delight the olfactory sense.

Light-scaping plays both an aesthetic and practical role in the garden. In terms of design, the right luminaires can highlight a particular area, plant or ornament in the garden, but on a practical side we need light for security and to see where we are going.

Power supply


Garden lighting needs to be carefully considered as too many lights can appear garish. With the rising costs of electricity and constraints on disposable income, consider the cost of paying for power versus the initial outlay for solar.

Solar light fixtures may cost more initially, but you should be able to do the installation yourself without having to pay an electrician. Also consider the cost of replacement lamps and, if you do op to use electricity, consider the cost to run the lights over an extended period.

Solar lights on spikes and solar lanterns provide a portable light source and can be moved to where you need illumination. Lights are far brighter with the advancements in LED and battery technology. Lamps with a built-in solar panel usually need at least six hours of sun a day.

Light-scaping adds a new dimension to the garden at night and is aesthetic and practical.
Picture: Christoph Hoffmann

Larger units have a panel which can be placed in a suitable position on the roof, with cables leading to the lamps it powers. If you choose electrical fittings, consider installation costs. Electrical work is governed by the provisions of the Electrical Installation Regulations (2009) and must be in accordance with the SANS 10142-1 Wiring Code, meaning anyone undertaking electrical installation must have knowledge.

Mark Palmer, operations director at Electrical Approved Inspection Authority Southern Africa, says electricity is a safe commodity when used and installed properly and “it is not recommended that any person who is not familiar with electrical principles attempts to do electrical work themselves”.

“The intention of the regulations is to ensure installation work is carried out under clear instructions, guidance and proper supervision, and that it complies with the wiring code. Certificates of compliance are required for all electrical installation work, and failure to comply may affect insurance policies.”

Mood and festive lighting

If you are entertaining guests during the holidays, consider subtle ways to create a festive look or mood within the space. 

◆ Bamboo Tiki torches or lanterns can be placed around the patio for gentle light and as an insect deterrent.

◆ Decorative lanterns and colourful pails for tea light candles and citronella candles pails can be placed along raised flower beds and on the patio table. When using candles or an open flame, always keep a bucket of water close at hand. Never leave candles unattended, and don’t forget to extinguish them when you head to bed.

◆ Fairy lights are popular at this time of year and create a magical effect when strung through trees.

◆ For a patio, deck or gazebo, consider LED rope lights. Go hi-tech and consider LED smart strips. The myriad colours can be controlled via a remote control or an app on your smartphone through wi-fi. The LED strips are easy to bend around curves and corners for a vibrant festive look.

Security lighting

Submersible spotlights bring a fish pond to life at night. Picture: Christoph Hoffmann

Provide light at your driveway gate. Spotlights and motion detectors should be fitted at a good height and directed over a large area.

Entrances and pathways: Provide illumination along pathways and stairs. A fitting placed above the front door directs guests into your home and places an emphasis on this important feature. Solar bollards are useful along walkways and garden pathways or near stairs.

Entertainment areas: Consider where you need light and which fittings are suitable. Uplighters along the wall of a patio provide good illumination. If you have stairs leading from your home to a deck or swimming pool area, consider solar step lights. They are easy to install and, depending on the product, only need around five hours in the sun to provide a full night of illumination. A directional spotlight can be useful close to the braai.

An oriental stone lantern provides functional lighting at an entrance to a pathway. Picture: Lukas Otto

Features: Up or down lighting can be used to focus attention on a specific item. The beam direction can be adjustable to point where required. For example, to enhance the texture of stone, tree bark, drift wood or rock. The luminaire may be visible or hidden. Placed low behind the object, a light will create a silhouette effect. This is useful to enhance architectural plants, containers or statues. Submersible spotlights can bring your pond to life at night.

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