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Lighting Enhances Landscape Use and Beauty at Night
by Joe VanDerZanden - April 2014

When designed and installed correctly, landscape lighting is perhaps the most dramatic enhancement the homeowner can add to the landscape. Unlike many other exterior improvements that may solve a single problem or achieve a singular goal, illuminating the landscape has multiple benefits. Adding landscape lighting not only makes your home more appealing at night, it adds security and safety while illuminating all sorts of outdoor activities long after dark.

With the addition of lighting, a beautiful garden can be enjoyed long after the sun goes down.

“Wow” Factor

“For the money, landscape lighting is about the most dramatic aesthetic improvement you can make to the exterior of your home,” said Matt Diemer, Outdoor Lighting Specialist at Landscapes by Design located in Slater. “It is just such a great finishing touch. When done right, outdoor lighting showcases all the best architectural details of the house and the landscaping which complements it.”

Nighttime curb appeal is a result of sound design principles and quality products, he said. When first meeting with clients, Diemer generally has two design priorities that he always discusses.

“First, I want to use lights to create a distinct entrance to the home,” he said. “It should be clear where a visitor should go – and it should look really welcoming and dramatic.”

The second design objective he tries to achieve is the creation of a focal point. “Many of my clients already have a focal point in the garden or on the house that goes unnoticed at night,” he said. Whenever possible, Diemer likes to see these features become star attractions at night. Such features might include fountains, specimen plants, statuary or even a beautiful front door.

As with many professionals, Diemer works almost exclusively with LED bulbs. The quality of light is better and bulbs last longer than incandescent or halogen. LED fixtures will cost more up front, but will eventually pay for themselves in longevity and energy savings.

Dramatic path lighting and uplights create a welcoming entryway and show off architectural details.

Just a team player in the landscape during the day, a specimen tree along a stream becomes a major focal point at night when featured with up lighting. The stream also has underwater lighting.

A Safe and Secure Home

Whether new or old, the extent of outdoor lighting in many landscapes is a floodlight attached to the front of the house, some glaring porch sconces next to the front door and maybe a bright light post next to the driveway. This type of high-intensity lighting tends to leave areas of the property in total darkness and does little to add beauty or intrigue to the landscape.

Although a motion-activated halogen light over the garage provides certain functionality, using numerous, smaller fixtures that produce a lower intensity light will illuminate a larger portion of the property and provide greater visibility at night. 

Different from security is lighting that addresses safety needs in the outdoor landscape. One of the things that Diemer is always sure to address on any lighting design project is the need for safe passage through the property.

“I like to walk the landscape with the homeowner and inventory those areas that could be potential hazards at night,” Diemer said. Tricky garden paths, steps, stairs and deck areas all should be appropriately lit to prevent trips and falls. Diemer also considers other factors when it comes to safety lighting. He wants to know if the homeowners have mobility issues, young children or pets. “Safety should really come first,” Diemer urged. “The upshot is that there are so many terrific-looking fixtures available in so many styles, that safety lighting can also be quite attractive.”

Not only does it appear dramatic, low-intensity lighting placed all around a home creates a secure environment with no dark spots.

Practical Applications

Interior lighting designers make important design decisions based on the function of a space. It is clear that a busy family kitchen has different lighting requirements than a media room. The same principle applies to outdoor lighting.

For instance, decks and patios equipped with down-lighting fixtures will create a natural, subdued and romantic atmosphere. When designing and installing lights for outdoor entertaining spaces, Diemer thinks “less is more.”

He wants to provide adequate light so guests are comfortable, but not distracted by high-intensity spotlights. “You should have just enough light to discern the salsa from the guacamole – but not much more.”

Other entertaining areas require different lighting. Outdoor cooking areas may require task lighting, similar to what is used inside the home.

Good lighting design, including strategic downlighting, can contribute to the mood and atmosphere in outdoor entertaining areas.

Go With a Pro

Landscape lighting can improve the appearance of the home and provide other benefits, all of which create a safe, comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. Because design choices, styles and product types are many, consulting with an experienced outdoor lighting specialist can be a tremendous advantage. As with any large-scale outdoor project, talk with a professional before considering taking a landscape lighting project on yourself.

A professional installer will have access to much higher-quality products and a greater selection. Manufactured to meet the rugged climate of the Midwest, these fixtures provide enjoyment longer than products found elsewhere.

Installation may require some disruption to your landscape. A professional installer will have the experience and equipment needed to bury wire and install fixtures causing the least amount of damage to your property. Installation also may require the services of a licensed electrician to relocate outlets or power supply.

An experienced outdoor lighting expert will be able to address your lighting needs by matching the appropriate design solution and products to your project.

There are many of types of lighting fixtures and bulbs. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your lighting designer will be able to recommend the best fit for your project.


From Iowa Gardener Volume II Issue I. Photos courtesy of Kichler Lighting.


Joe VanDerZanden is a part-time freelance writer and full-time landscape laborer from Ames. He usually writes with his boots on.


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