As the popularity of outdoor lighting increases more and more, people are jumping into this very easy garden design category. Or, of course, you can go pro and have the work done.
Garden lighting has gotten very easy in the last few years. There are of course solar lighting, motion activated outdoor lights and those that use household current to do the work. A lot of low-voltage lighting kits require no digging and only rudimentary electrical skills. And if you don’t like the placement of the lights you can easily move them around until you get everything right.
In addition to low-voltage lights and outdoor wire you will need a transformer that reduces power from standard 120 volt household current to a much safer 12v (the transformer is designed to be concealed in an out-of-the-way place). All of this equipment comes packaged into relatively inexpensive kits that you’ll find at hardware, home centers and lighting stores. Or you can buy higher quality components separately.
The size of the transformer determines the number of fixtures and the length of wire you can run. These details are fully explained in product instructions. Transformers are usually sold with a timer, so you don’t have to worry about a switch. The cord can be covered by mulch, attached to decking or laid in a shallow trench gouged out by a shovel. The lights attach with clamps that punch through the power wire with a pinch of your fingers, so you don’t need special tools.
I’ve used a few kits to place lights on wooden stairways, along decks and to highlight stone steps. I’ve also used several solar kits to highlight the driveway, hung some from posts around the lower yard and as accents to mark pathways.
I’d like to add some uplighting in areas around the front of the house at some time so I’m always on the lookout for ideas and have folders with ideas that I’ve seen and saved.
If you feel you need the help of a professional, expect to pay a lighting designer or landscape architect anywhere from $80 to $150 an hour for a design. If the design requires a blueprint, expect to pay more. Professional designers’ main concern is to show you a range of options for your garden, not to sell you hardware or labor. They will almost certainly propose doing more than you had planned and may be more than you had budgeted. It is a simple plan to sign up for only that much you can afford for this season.
Once you have settled on a rough plan ask for comparative estimates quoting the costs of low-voltage and ordinary line-voltage lighting. Because standard voltage requires digging a trench 18 inches deep to bury the cable, it raises labor costs, but you can illuminate a larger area with more-powerful lights.
Good luck, and shine on.
Susan Woody has been a home and garden writer for more than 20 years and is a master gardener.