Garden Improvement with Low Voltage Lighting

Lighting does more than provide extended viewing hours for your garden. It can transform the whole area, giving you scenes that couldn't be displayed by day. It can extend the space in which you live, even if you're stuck inside while it rains or snows.

Low voltage lighting is the most economical and safest way to get this job done. A transformer converts your household 120 volts to a safe and inexpensive 12. The cables are easier to place and move, enhancing your flexibility. And if the bulbs aren't as bright, that guards you from the amateur's mistake of over lighting without affecting your flexibility. Adding another bulb is easier than shielding one that's too bright.

As you look about your garden, decide which aspects you want to emphasize. A flower bed, a sculpture, or a bush might be almost hidden by its surrounding during the day. By night, a focused light can put it on display.

The two most basic effects at your disposal are downlighting and uplighting.

Downlighting is the most common. Since the sun lights us from above, we naturally think in those terms even at night. Downlighting looks the most natural for that reason as well. Attaching lights to the side of the house or suspending them from a tree are two ways to accomplish this task. Suspending them within the branches, near the top of the tree can mimic moonlight and cast lovely shadows on the ground. (On the other hand, maintenance of such a system could turn out to be a hassle.)

Downlighting is also the natural choice for pathways, and it's the safe choice as well. You don't want to blind the walker with glare. You want people to be able to see where the hazards are and to make informed choices about where to step.

Uplighting is more dramatic because it goes against our expectations. A well light or canister at the base of a tree can show you that plant from a perspective that isn't available by day. Uplighting can also emphasize the architecture of your home. Whether against a tree or a wall, uplighting gives you a sense of spaciousness by extending the vertical view.

With a little experimentation you'll master these basic techniques and be ready to try for more complicated effects. You can position lamps behind a tree to cast its shadow on a fence or wall. Positioned differently, the tree becomes a silhouette, it's profile standing out against the sky.

Use a variety of fixtures and angles. Don't try to light everything the same way or to the same level of brightness. Then nothing will stand out. Make judicious choices about what to light in the background (which should be the brightest), the middle ground (which should be the dimmest), and the foreground. The effect should be to tie the whole garden or yard together into a single useful and pleasing composition.

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