The purpose of outdoor landscape lighting is usually twofold – it makes an existing space both more usable and more attractive at night. Let’s face it, without any lighting at all you can’t really do anything outside at night and you certainly can’t tell whether or not the space is attractive.
But there’s garden lighting and there’s effective garden lighting, and the difference is how well you can address these two, sometimes competing, needs. Anyone can rig up some flood lights so that not only can they see what they’re doing in their own back yard, but every passing airliner can also see what they’re doing down there. But, pretty it ain’t.
Conversely, a few subtle glow jars and the odd tea light may create a soothing ambiance, but if you want to see what it is you’ve picked up off the barbeque (or indeed check that it actually was the barbeque you picked it up from!) then you’re going to have to up the candle-power somewhat.
Unless you’re performing complicated surgery or sewing an especially intricate item of embroidery (in which case you really ought to reconsider the urge to do so outdoors), then the amount of light you need in a garden is a great deal less than you would want indoors. Effective outdoor lighting is always fairly subdued – just enough so you can just about see what you’re doing, but no more than that.
The next element in successful landscape lighting is consistency. This doesn’t mean you should stick to only one type of light fitting or bulb brightness – by all means introduce some variety in color and intensity, but don’t for example try to configure a layout that mixes say 150W spot lights with 2W LED rock lights. Anytime people lose a grip on consistency in their lighting design, the result looks like an uncoordinated mess – probably not what you’re aiming for.
The third of the main tips for effective outdoor lighting is to keep down the number of themes and focal points, preferably to one of each. Would the painting of the Mona Lisa have benefited from adding some extra people and maybe drawing more attention to other parts of the picture? No, and neither will your garden be enhanced by a profusion of ideas and features unless it is sufficiently large that it naturally has a number of separate areas anyway.
If in doubt, remember that keeping it simple invariably wins out over complexity where outside lighting is concerned. If, for example, you wanted to turn some otherwise boring and unusable outdoor location into a space for alfresco entertaining, then you really don’t need to do much more than dot some solar patio lights around the place with maybe a few bright LED garden light fittings on the periphery, or in garden pots and tubs.
So to sum up, garden lighting tends to be most effective when it is comparatively soft and subdued, consistent in style and luminosity, and simple in terms of focus and general theme.