DURING these dark days of January when we are all starving for sunshine, the garden may be the last place to look for light.
However, illuminating the garden at night can provide interest, drama and provide a respite from the winter darkness.
To many people, lighting the garden is simply a luxury that affords no return, especially when we spend time at the gym, swimming pool or nestled on the couch with family.
With the advent of a wide range of consumer lighting products on the market, lighting the landscape has become relatively easy for the do-it-yourselfer. Gone are the old days of power-sucking incandescent bulbs that dim the house lights when you turn on the garden lights.
Today's new lighting products offer ease of installation, reasonable prices and the opportunity to install them yourself or hire a professional lighting contractor to do it for you.
The latest trend in garden lighting involves the use of high-powered LED outdoor lighting fixtures that are durable as well as energy and cost efficient.
There are three ways to power the lights in your garden: low voltage power, line voltage power (connected to the house's electrical panel) or solar lighting.
Low voltage lighting is the cheapest to install and maintain and involves plugging in a transformer to an outdoor electrical outlet and then running light cable out to the various locations you wish to illuminate.
The transformer converts your house's power supply (120 volt) to a lower voltage (12 volt) that runs the lights.
Low voltage lights come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes.
The cable that supplies power is usually buried in the soil and runs along pathways, up to trees and around buildings or walkways. The lights are attached to the cable and pointed where you want them to shine.
The negative aspect of low voltage lighting is the burying of the cables and transformer in the garden, which ultimately gets dug up or cut at some point unless the cable is buried deep enough and you remember where you buried it. Low voltage lights have also suffered from a lack of diversity and power but the introduction of LED light bulbs have fixed that problem to some extent.
Line voltage power that is connected to your house's electric panel is the most reliable but the most expensive to install and operate. It requires the installation of armored electrical cable or electrical conduit that is buried into the garden at a depth where it will be safe from digging or cutting.
A journeyman electrician is required by law to install all line voltage garden lighting.
The range of lights that come with line voltage lights is greater and more powerful than low voltage lighting and the fixtures are usually metal versus the plastic associated with low voltage lighting.
Solar powered garden lights are relatively new on the scene and they still have a long way to go before they can really become a viable alternative to the other two systems.
There are several problems with the current solar powered lights on the market. They are usually built cheaply offshore and therefore do not last more than a year or so, which makes them garbage in my mind.
The solar panels on those lights are also quite small and poorly built and to make matters worse the panels have low efficiency and take a long time to charge and we rarely get enough sunlight during winter to charge them.
Since few people are buying solar powered lights in quantity, there is no incentive for manufacturers to improve their poor quality product lines.
Regardless of the system you choose, lighting up the garden at night can add safety and security to your property and create beautiful and dramatic results.
Landscape lighting that is well placed creates dramatic silhouettes on walls, buildings and fences.
If you place lights up in trees, the play of shadow and light shining down from above can create mystery in the garden - almost like moon shadow.
If you shine lights upwards onto trees, shrubs, buildings or other garden features, you can create drama and highlight plants or architectural features to enhance the garden at night.
Direct focus lights called spotlights can be used to add visual interest to ponds, trees or specimen plants by lighting only the object focused in the spot.
If an area such as a pathway or patio needs lighting, then wide beam lights called flood lights can be used to brighten patios or decks for entertaining and to provide security and safety for stairs or other high traffic areas.
But if all else fails, you can always leave the Christmas lights on a little longer to help light up the darkness until spring arrives.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist and chief horticulture instructor at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. For advice contact him at stmajor@shaw. ca.
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