Landscape lighting can be one of the most intimidating categories to conquer.
“If customers come in wanting to light their bedroom, they already have some level of experience,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, ALA instructor and Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design. “But if they’re looking at lighting a brand new, two-acre property, they often have no idea where to start.”
Novice retailers often find themselves adrift, as well, but fortunately, landscape lighting’s basics are easily mastered. “On one level, [it’s] extremely simple,” Rey-Barreau says. “On the other, it’s time-consuming and requires a certain level of subtlety.”
Just remember: Despite a variety of names and labels, virtually all landscape applications fall into two categories: uplighting or downlighting. The trick is knowing when—and how—to use each:
• Path lights: Downlit path lighting emphasizes sidewalks, driveways and flowerbeds with a simple formula: One post produces a circle of light approximately 8 to 10 feet in diameter. Lights placed 10 to 12 feet apart and 18 inches off the ground provide the best distribution. Though not mounted on posts, step lights and deck lights are also important varieties of path lighting.
• Floodlights: Floods can be up or downlights, depending on placement. Most often low voltage (50-75W), floods illuminate interesting features (architectural elements, trees) and can create a luminous glow. Though difficult to maintain, floodlights placed in treetops and pointed downward can create an attractive effect.
• In-ground and underwater [up]lights: In-ground lights are mounted flush to the soil or concrete in areas where—for aesthetic or practical reasons—nothing should protrude above ground level. Designed to be completely submersed, underwater lights often illuminate shallow ponds and fountains from the inside out.
Landscape Lighting FAQs
Q. I want to add landscape lighting to my mix. What should I stock?
A: Each type of landscape lighting has myriad subcategories that can confuse beginners, so focus on basics: Uplight with MR16 bullets in dark bronze or black finishes (the darker the finish, the more obscure the source) and a range of wattages (20W creates a soft, candlelit glow; 75W, a brighter wash). It’s also best to start with simple path lighting that hides bulbs under a sort of shell. Once you get some experience, you can explore more involved and more decorative types of landscape lighting.
Q. How do I assess a customer’s site-specific needs?
A. Visit the site ready with a list of questions: What special features (pathways, trees, fountains, etc.) does he or she want to illuminate? Is there anything of value (statues, art) he or she would like lit?
Q. How can I make sure my design works?
A. Go back to the site at night when the scheme is lit up; you’ll be better able to assess its wattage needs and make aiming adjustments.