Ideas for Lighting Your Garden at Night

Illuminate your outdoor space to get more hours of use out of it.

tree lit up with lights at nighttime

Ryan McVay / Getty Images

For many people over the last couple of years, the idea of the garden as an extension to the home has become ever more important. Outdoor living is still on the rise, and there is great interest in creating outdoor living spaces, al fresco dining areas, and outdoor kitchens. Lighting in a garden can bring such spaces to life and dramatically increase the time that you are able to spend in them.

Sustainable Lighting in a Garden

I am of the opinion that lighting in a garden must be used very carefully. Unfortunately, modern trends mean that light pollution is a major concern. Lighting is often overused, to the degree that it negatively affects neighbors and wildlife. 

It is important, when considering lighting for an outdoor living space, that we consider the impact it has on the area, as well as the energy it consumes. 

Garden lighting can affect neighbors and others in your community by shining into bedrooms and reducing quality of sleep. Garden lighting causes a glow which limits views of the night sky—a severe annoyance for astronomers and stargazers.

It is also very important to consider the effect lighting can have on wildlife. Lighting which remains on at night, or motion-activated lights, disrupts the activities of nocturnal creatures. 

Using non-renewable sources of power for garden lighting will obviously have a worse impact, too.

So, to make sure that garden lighting does the least amount of harm to other people and to wildlife:

  • Use lighting which illuminates only the spaces it needs to.
  • Ideally, make sure lighting faces downward or is screened from above. 
  • Make sure lights go off at night and are off when you are not using the space. 
  • Use only renewable energy or eco-friendly, low-tech lighting solutions.

How to Light Garden Spaces

There are three main options when it comes to lighting garden spaces in a sustainable way. 

Your first option is to light the space with mains/municipal power. This on-grid solution is only an eco-friendly choice if your electricity comes from a renewable supplier. Wiring up outdoor lights and connecting them to your on-grid home electricity supply is an option, but is often a far more difficult and costly one, both to implement and to run.

If you are off-grid, or generate your own power through PV panels or other sources on your property, then you might consider linking outdoor lights with the lighting inside your home. You will need to make sure that you meet the local regulations and run cables suitable for outdoor use.

Wired-in lighting, however, is not the only option. Running solar-powered LED lanterns or strings of fairy lights and putting these up around a pergola, porch, or other outdoor living space on your property is a good idea. These are not expensive and they charge up during the day to give gentle but sufficient light when natural light levels fall.

outdoor winter campfire and fairy lights

Katherine Martinko

You can use fairy lights to accentuate key trees or shrubs and to garland a structure. You can bunch strings of lights in DIY lanterns to illuminate a seating or dining area. Less is more, though, as you don't want to light up your garden like a beacon—you merely want to create the right atmosphere for evenings in the garden.

Bearing fire safety in mind, the final option is simply to light outdoor spaces while you are using them with natural candles, or candles in lanterns, or with the flickering flames of a fire or outdoor fireplace where these are allowed. 

When burning candles, try to avoid paraffin candles, which are made from fossil fuels. You should also be careful about using soy for candles, unless you can be very sure of where it came from; soy production contributes to deforestation. If you are not a strict vegan, organic beeswax candles can be a good way to go.

Remember that lighting should be used sparingly, for practicality and aesthetics, and remember also that there are other ways to improve matters in your garden after dark. One thing to consider, for example, is that mirrors or shiny surfaces in a garden can reflect the light and mean that you need fewer lights for a similar effect. 

Careful design can actually take into account the moon and the light it provides, and feature white, bright plants which glow in the moonlight. Of course, there will not always be a moon on view. But thinking about natural light sources at night, as well as during the day, can make your garden a more pleasant and practical space in which to spend your evenings.