Lighting The Side Yard

I really don’t have a back yard.  My property occupies a corner.  A front, on two sides-that is a corner lot.  I am sure that lack of a private back yard influenced the original design and configuration of my driveway.  Made of brick, (I have replaced the deteriorating original brick with concrete brick) it is incredibly wide at the street. (picture those 1930’s Packards turning in)  The drive narrows like an hourglass to a little over 8 feet wide, half way up.  That narrow gap was an effort to provide a little privacy to the side yard.  After 16 years of twice daily practice, I am able to get my Suburban out 99% of the time, without scraping the wheels on the retaining walls. 

A pair of cast iron bloodhounds on concrete pedestals are awash in decent sized and fairly mature beds of hellebores-a favorite perennial. I look forward to seeing this every day-coming and going.  This makes it a natural candidate for some landscape lighting of the celebratory type.  I will soon be coming home after dark, and I don’t want to give up the view of my dogs.   

This first pass- the light is too close, and too hot.  The intense light creates shadows that make the dog look threatening. That is not my intention.  The idea is that I get a welcome home.  The winter season would be bearable, but for the gray and the dark.     

A pair of Galaxy magnolias are planted in the narrowest part of the drive.  They have been there long enough to make a green arbor of magnolia branches overhead.  That narrow spot is the darkest spot on my property.  A big stand of dark green Picea Mucrunulatum and taxus densiformis make this moment in my landscape feel like a black hole in the winter.   

I don’t mind some stronger light here.  It helps me to get through the driveway isthmus without incident.  OInce the magnolias have dropped their leaves, the light be be much more subtle.  This landscape lighting helps me navigate. 

A friend found these Arts and Crafts style vintage light fixtures for me-they are perfect on either side of the garage.  They are always on.  Summer and winter.  Day and night.  I never tire of seeing them.  Early on a spring morning, or late on a summer day, they let me know they are there.  

Once the skies go dark, they help light my way.  Good landscape lighting is as much about function as beauty.  Though no light could ever possibly be as beautiful, in all of its variations, as natural light, the invention of electricity did indeed change the landscape. 

A flight of stone stairs begin at the driveway, and end in the upper level fountain garden.  My giant old Norway maple is a benign host to 3 spotlights that light up the drive where I park, and those stairs.  This light from above illuminates my path to the garage door, and to the upper garden, should I decide to go that route.  This lighting is not so much about a favorite landscape feature as it is about safe passage. 

Buck shut the fountain down yesterday.  It is clogged with leaves, and the weather is too chilly to linger here.  This is my most unfavorite day of the gardening year.  Water in a garden is enchanting.  serene.  sparkly and lively.  I hate having to give it up.  Next weekend he will drain the water from the fountain.  I have always disliked the coming of the end for this garden. 

Lighting from high in the Princeton Gold maples makes it easy for me to keep track of the Corgis after work.  The lighting also transforms this garden into another garden particular to the season.  My bedroom has a window that looks out on the fountain.  All winter long I keep the shade half up, and the window slightly open.  The lighting will allow me to enjoy this part of my garden, no matter the weather.

I do have a flight of stairs to the rose garden.  The stone is rough, and uneven.  For months after my knee replacement, Buck helped me walk up these stairs.  My new knee now-perfect.  But I would not walk up there stairs in the dark. 

Buck and I usually have dinner late-7:30-sometimes 8:30.  I take the Corgis out for a final constitutional, after dinner.  Milling around in the complete and utter dark with them-not my idea of a swell time.  I love these downlights in my maples.  Lighting a landscape might help provide more of what you need from a great garden than what is apparent on a summer day.  My idea?  Light, whether it be from the sky, or the end result of an electrical connection, is an important element of landscape design.  The landscape at night-a different sort landscape experience.    



Night Life

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It never ceases to amaze me, how a space can be so transformed by light.  Sun and shade are critical elements of successful gardening; they are equally important elements of good design.  Rob did such a beautiful job lighting the greenhouse fernery for last night’s soiree.  There is a time during the fall when the workroom is all but impassable.  He makes garlands of lights-mixing colors, bulb size, shape and color. His most recent interest is in pairing Led lights with incandescent ones.  The floor space is covered with parallel strands of lights stretched out straight.  He then realigns all the wires to eliminate any light gaps, and cinches the entire assembly together every foot or so with zip ties.  These 45 foot long ropes of white and chartreuse lights  not only highlight the formally trimmed shape of the creeping fig growing on the walls but they evenly bathed the entire greenhouse roof structure in a warm soft glow.      

Nov 13 030He spot lit certain elements in the room- the refreshment tables in the middle of the space for the sake of utility, and ornament on the walls, for drama.  What he lights is balanced by what he keeps dim. He strongly lit the auricula theatres on the wall, so his forest stick and light orb sculptures would not throw them into harsh shadow.

Nov 13 009Simple votive candles can put light right where you need it.  In this case, lighting the garden at the floor plane also lit the underside of our old French fountain planted with ferns.  Natural candle light instantly romances anything it touches. 

Nov 13 066Some of Rob’s light garlands get another decorative element.  Light cords are are an incredibly unnatural shade of green; I cannot understand why an olive/brown color is not an option.  We do buy lights with brown cords for wrapping sticks or tree trunks. This garland has a weatherproof ball garland that gives the light a  diaphanous quality.  This is my idea of good garden jewelry. 

Nov 13 051Large light fixtures on the wall of the shop subtly light the Boston ivy vines on the opposing wall; the intense light in the pots, and on the tuteurs bring the ornament into focus. 

Nov 13 059The chartruese lights repeat the color of the moss, and add dimension to the light. The light emphasizes the sparkle and sass of the holiday elements.

Nov 13 056This is Rob’s winter berried vine light garland.  The olive plastic holiday balls wired on every so often add texture and color that looks great even during the day.

Nov 13 061The linden is draped in his light rendition of spanish moss.  The unseasonably warm weather we have had for the past few weeks has been favorable for outdoor installations.  In years when the really cold weather comes early, this kind of work can be daunting. With the temperature at 57 today, it is a perfect day to dress a garden in light.

Nov 13 070These commercial grade light strings have frosted bulbs; they produce a very soft light that is easy on the eye.  

Nov 13 064Though the ball garland in this strand is silver, the color of the terra cotta pot in which they are installed makes a richly colored night presentation vastly different than the day look. 

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White Leds look like ice on fire-very chilly. These powerful lights readily read from great distances; they are clearly much more about drama than romance.  Though my patience for shopping the lighting showrooms with Rob is limited, I love the results. My favorite commercially produced garland lights have all the bulbs very close together; I like less cord, and more light. 

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These warm amber and yellow lights veiled in a metallic mesh are all about mystery.  Though I firmly believe good design is in no small part about editing, I relax that rule this time of year.  There is no such thing as too much of this kind of night life.