Lighting The Landscape

The landscape lighting I have at home was confined to some path lights along my front walk-nothing else.  The path lights had all but disappeared into the boxwood, given how much it has grown since those lights were installed.  In the summer, it is easy to see and navigate the steps coming up to the front door.  Once the days get shorter and the weather cold, I am not out here.  But every time we have company in the late fall or winter, I worry that someone will trip and fall.  Last winter, two older dinner guests fell into the boxwood.  They thought it was hilarious-I was mortified.  It was time to call a lighting person.  Lighting the landscape serves multiple purposes.  It helps provide for safe passage, it provides security, and it can add another dimension to the late fall and winter garden. 


My front porch is enclosed; their are 4 porch lights on the inside.  This is not much help to someone walking up the steps to the front door.  The glare from the inside light made the porch steps and front door even darker.  My first request-a pair of small spot lights mounted on the underhang which would illuminate the door.  That warm light from these two small fixtures does a good job of saying “we are expecting you”.  Second on my list-the path lights buried in the boxwood.

Path lights direct the light down and to the side.  Light shining into the eyes of someone walking up would make the trip even more difficult.  The metal hats direct the light where it needs to be.  Once the new risers were installed, the front walk was illuminated such that anyone could walk up comfortably and confidently. 

The lighting designer suggested lighting the walls of the front of the house.  That fire brick from the 1930’s is lovely.  Washing the walls with light at night features that architectural detail, and the relationship of the house to the landscape.  These wider fixtures illuminate a wider area than a spot light, or path light. 

Placing the fixture in the right spot can be tricky.  The fixtures in my landscape are strictly utilitarian.  They are only as big as they need to be, and they are black.  I did not want to see them during the day.  Not only do they need to be hidden from the daytime view, they need to be the right distance and angle from the wall so as to wash the wall with light.  A wall drenched with light might be a good idea for a commercial building or a theatre production, but can easily overwhelm a residential landscape. 

I have a container planted with a yew topiary at each end of the house; they  I did want to softly light them.  A pair of fixtures can be seen at the bottom of this picture.  As the fixture needed to be disguised in the boxwood, I needed two lights in order to get the light to cover the pot evenly. 

The light on the right brushes the boxwood a little too harshly.  The bottom of the pot has no light.  For obvious reasons, a landscape contractor has to do the work of the installation during the day.  This makes it very important to contract with someone who is willing to look at the job at night, and make any necessary changes. 

The original path lights on risers solved the issue of lighting the walk.  Though I do not have very many people coming to my front door, how this looks at night is attractive and warm.  The best antidote I know of for the winter blues is some light. 

I also have 4 pots which face the street.  They are perfectly visible in the summer, but I fill them with twigs, greens, and other materials of the season for the winter.  Though I put lights in my pots, an evenly applied landscape light on the face will permit those pots to be seen all winter.  Given that it is dark here by 5pm in the winter, that lighting will be much appreciated.  Though I am not out there in the winter, I drive by my house every day on my way to the driveway.

For some years I have been pruning the yew hedge on the street side of the pots so the entire pot and planting could be seen, top to bottom.  This pair of spotlights are unobtrusive during the day, but will be very effective at night.

On the first go around, it seemed to me that the lights were too close to the pots, and the wattage too high.  This look might be great around the holidays, when too much light is enough to make you smile, but for an average gloomy winter day, it is too bright.  We have since moved the lights further away, and dialed down the wattage.

The light is too strong here too.  There should not be any light pattern on the wall; the light itself should be dim, and even.  The light on the topiary is so strong that the color is washed out.

From this picture I have been able to make changes.  The front porch lights will stay as they are-strong in a downward direction.  The path lights do the job they need to do, in the same downward direction.  The lighting on the walls and pots-much too strong.  A lighting scheme needs as much simplicity as a good landscape scheme.  Subtle and useful lighting takes time and patience to achieve, but I think I am going to be happy with the results.







  1. Very well said. I appreciate the helpful ideas you’ve shared.

  2. Amber Donell says

    This has to be one of the best article related to landscape lighting I have read. All the ideas shared were incredible and use worthy. Thanks for the post.

  3. marla pope says

    OMG! I have a cove of brick just like you and there is nowhere to put lights on the outside. I love the idea of the floods underneath to accent the front entrance. Thank you for providing a wonderful solution!

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