Last weekend our grandkids took us to an evening event at the St.Louis zoo called Boo at the Zoo. I’m not sure what I was expecting -- maybe watching the usually lethargic lions actually up and moving around -- but what I got was an incredibly gorgeous light show celebrating the beauty of fall and the fun of Halloween. I have to admit that I was as wide-eyed as the grandkids as we wandered the paths that led us from display to display.
While the kids were intent on soaking up as much Halloween spookiness as possible, I was enthralled by the huge range of emotions that the displays conjured up. Some were inviting, some menacing (in a kid-friendly fashion) and some were just downright comical. What they all had in common, I eventually realized, was their use of exactly the right lighting to set the mood. And, like all obsessive gardeners, I kept wondering how all this color and drama could be applied to the home garden.
Until recently, residential landscape lighting was primarily held to various shades of white light. Colorful outdoor lights showed up during the Christmas season and then disappeared until the next year. With the introduction of colored LED and halogen lights, as well as a variety of easily used colored lens covers, white lights are no longer the only option for homeowners.
Using color in the landscape lighting design can add excitement and drama to the garden, but there are a few points to consider before revamping your entire lighting look.
- Consider your landscape to be a blank canvas and think about what “picture” you wish to create with your lighting. Remember that each part contributes to the whole.
- Use color sparingly to draw attention to garden focal points. Too much color in a defined space can make it hard for the eye and the brain to focus. Rather than being drawn to the display, excessive colored lighting in small spaces can be overwhelming and cause you to turn away.
- Yellow lighting tends to dull most foliage, making the scene appear drab and unappealing. On the other hand, plants with yellow and yellow-green foliage brighten under yellow light.
- Greenish-blue lighting enhances the color of grass and green or blue-green foliage and adds a sense of depth to a landscape. The right lighting can make a space feel more expansive than it actually is.
- Highlighting distant plants with soft red or orange lighting can create a warm glow reminiscent of firelight. Too much red light up close however, can be harsh and garish.
- Try uplighting in trees to create colorful, distinctive silhouettes. Changing the angle of the light or its distance from the trunk will change the size and shape of the silhouette. Experiment before deciding on final placement of the lights.
- Switch out white pool or fountain lights with colored ones to make the water glow in the darkness.
- Emphasize architectural pieces with the use of colored lights, helping them stand out even in the darkness.
- Strands of colored lights hung over patios and in gazebos can add a festive touch to evening entertaining. Fiber optic pieces, although not as popular as they once were, can still add an unexpected sparkling touch. They are particularly useful in places where electricity is unavailable or solar options won’t work.
Used correctly, colorful landscape lighting can be a powerful tool for creating a magical night time space. Used incorrectly however, landscape lighting can turn a beautiful space into one that is certain to haunt you forever!