How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro

by Elizabeth   |   June 2018

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro

Nobody wants to get in a pool and come face to face with a dead iguana. It kills the party vibe when you have to turn on a floodlight to see what's on the the barbecue or tell if your steak is medium-rare. Even something as simple as making sure your house number is properly lit can have a big impact on quality of life. I mean, what if UberEATS can’t find you?

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
Lighting ideas appear in the first design concepts.

Landscape lighting is the first thing I tackle in a new design because it is so integral to making a beautiful landscape actually livable.

These are my tips.

Light Up In Layers

Here’s my secret: I dress a landscape in lighting the way I dress for a long plane flight: in layers. That way my clients can seamlessly move from pool party to cocktail party with a flick of a switch.

First Layer: Functional lighting

This the type of lighting you need in order to avoid the aforementioned iguanas, fix a problem with the air conditioner without being stung by a scorpion, and walk down the stairs without falling on your face. It's mostly permanent (wiring run through conduit and hidden) low voltage lighting throughout the landscape, including path lighting, uplighting, and wall washes.

Good landscape lighting can make every house look like a million bucks. Bad lighting, well—who remembers that Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s date goes from hot to not depending on the lighting? If your house is a “two face” like that, make sure your parties are always at night!

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
A wall wash light from FX Luminaire projects plant shadows on the walls framing a view of downtown Tucson and mirroring the silhouettes of the modern leather lounge chairs.

Second Layer: Task Lighting

Task lighting lets you see your steak while cooking it, illuminates your house numbers, and lights the way for taking out the trash. It's the lighting that you turn on when you're doing something—cooking in the outdoor kitchen—and off when you're done.

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
Task lighting doesn’t have to be ugly. We love this LED Lamp for outdoor kitchens.
How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro

Third Layer: Ambient Lighting

You can layer ambient lighting within the overall lighting scheme, so that you can adjust throughout the evening and according to circumstance. While you’re eating dinner, you'll want to see your companions’ faces, so you’ll turn on the string lights. But after the plates are cleared, you might want a more relaxed vibe from lanterns and a fireplace.

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro

Create Vignettes

One light fixture does not fit all.

While furniture, rugs, walls, and pathways define space during the day, at night, lighting is what pulls seating areas together and separates the dining room from the poolside patio. Use lighting to create cozy seating areas for relaxing.

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro
How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro

In-pool lighting can be a challenge. Often the main light is harsh, but there are those floating iguanas to think about. Soften the impact with commercial-grade Christmas lights and something fun like our favorite LED glow balls. That way you get the ambience without the klieg light effect. More backyard less baseball field.

How to Light Your Landscape Like a Pro

Get the Look: Lighting Tips

  • Go commercial: Use commerecial-grade outdoor Christmas lights that are made to be left out in the elements. You might pay a little bit more up front, but you'll only have to install once. Most come with a 10 year warranty.
  • Layer: First take care of functional and task lighting then create a mood.
  • Think fun and functional: Look for dual purpose fixtures that add flair—sculptural even when not turned on.

This garden is the winner of the 2017 "Best Hardscape" design award from Gardenista. Read about it here.

It was also the Overall Winner of the 2018 HGTV Ultimate Outdoor Awards. Read about that here.