Explore the benefits of flood lighting a garden

 In Gardening tips, Seasonal Gardening, Trees and Shrubs

Flood lighting a garden is perhaps not top of your ‘to do’ list. However with shorter days and longer nights it can really enhance a garden. Read on and I think that you might see the real benefit in flood lighting your garden!

The clocks have been put back and we’re back on GMT for a few months. It’s probably dark now before you get home from work and so the garden can be a rather forbidding place in the evenings.

But what if your garden was lit at night? Would you use it more, or just gaze at it from your fireside through the windows?

Well thought out garden lighting can absolutely transform a garden! The ambience is immediately improved!


What to light up

flood lighting a garden, paperbark maple, acer, griseum

Paperbark maple [Acer griseum] up-lit.

I recommend that the obvious place to start is to up-light key specimen plants and trees.

I find that these need to be of significant size and shape to get the best effect.

Trees or shrubs that have attractive bark can be transformed by carefully placed lights at night.

I had a paperbark maple in a previous garden and, whilst primarily up-lit for Christmas, I was always reluctant to pack the light away until winter was really gone.

When all else is dark your focus is drawn to the magnificent cinnamon coloured peeling bark that this tree has.

I raised this tree from seed in 1980 and it was then ceremoniously planted by plantsman and friend Roy Lancaster.



I find that flood lighting a garden works particularly well if you have ghostly white stemmed birch trees. I’d recommend selections of Betula utilis with white and often peeling stems. They look fantastic when up-lit in winter. Look out for these selections; ‘Doorembos’, jacquemontii, ‘Grayswood Ghost’ and ‘Snow Queen’.

If you’re especially interested in silver birch trees then you’re sure to enjoy reading about my visit to a National collection here.



Other plants with interesting growth habits

maple tree, garden in winter

Gnarled Japanese maple tree which is perfect for lighting

But there are other trees without coloured trunks that work well.

I’ve seen pine trees look magical. Every twisted and gnarled branch is accentuated.

If you are lucky enough to have well established Japanese maple trees on your plot that’s another option to explore. Older specimens of these have very tortuously twisted looking branches and trunks. Pruning these by practising a little niwaki pruning can accentuate this.


If you’re interested in cloud pruning and other forms of niwaki then I’d recommend watching Jake Hobson demonstrate some pruning here.


Coloured lights on trees

Coloured lights on trees at Portland, Oregon zoo.

But large shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous, will be transformed by carefully placing of lights to floodlight all or part of them. With these coloured lights might work particularly well.

I’ve noticed that older well established bushes, especially when the lower branches are thinned out or lower leaves are removed, work best of all. This is sometimes referred to as ‘crown or lifting canopies’.

Hollies, viburnums, Cotoneaster and many other evergreens are prime targets for this night time illumination.


Other places to use lights

Image credit Andrew Lawson. Flood lit Japanese lantern

Flood lit Japanese lantern. Image credit Andrew Lawson.

Of course, discrete lighting of paths and driveways provide a welcoming and safer route into your garden or to and from your front door. Lit steps are not only safer but look good too.

But why stop there? If you have a water feature this too can be transformed by having water proof lights fitted at the water’s edge or better still under the water!


Be safe and be thoughtful

Of course solar powered lighting and led light systems have made it much easier floodlighting a garden yourself but if you are considering using mains electricity it is imperative that this is installed by a competent electrician with safety in mind.

Flood lit garden rocks
[pic credit Andrew Lawson]

Good positioning of lights so that they don’t annoy neighbours needs thought. And those extra lights in the garden will have an impact in deterring unwanted intruders too!

I’ll guarantee that carefully placed and well thought out, floodlighting a garden will have you using your garden more right away. But those evening barbecues in summer will be when you will enjoy your garden lights most of all!


A few gardens that use winter lighting effectively

As these are seasonal events it is wise to check timings before travelling to them.

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

The National Arboretum at Westonbirt.

Forde Abbey house and Gardens.

Recommended Posts
A blackthorn hedge in flower