Lighting Up the Garden

Garden lighting, Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers,' garden design, winter gardens

My new 'Glowing Embers' Japanese maple uplit in snow.

This is my new screensaver, at least until spring arrives. I took this photo (a 15-second exposure, on a tripod) the other night when we had an unexpected, very tiny snowstorm. I liked the photo so much that I posted it to Facebook and wrote, “Snow + up-lit Japanese Maple = magic. Takes some of the sting out of losing my beautiful crabapple.” Later the image was re-pinned on Pinterest to a “Just a little magical” board. Magic, indeed.

Garden lighting is often thought of as an extravagance, an “extra” that you’ll get around to – someday. But I’ve concluded that it’s one of the most worthwhile investments you can make, to dress up even a new landscape, in terms of bang for the buck. My own front yard is a good example. I had to spend a lot of money this year taking down and replacing two trees,including getting the tree stumps ground out, and replanting one bed area around the new ‘Riversii’ beech. I may have to spend more this coming year because I suddenly have a sunny exposure where I had shade before, and I don’t know which of my current plantings will survive.

It broke my heart to see how small my new trees were when they went in, and how dark the front yard seemed at night. The old trees, you see, had been uplit beautifully.

Fagus, beech tree, night lighting,

The branches of my old American beech tree uplit at night.

Without the lighting, the front of the house looked bleak and sad at night, with the only lights on my steps and two carriage light fixtures on either side of the front door. So I bit the bullet and had lighting installed on the ‘Riversii’ and the new Japanese maple by my go-to lighting contractors, Outdoor Illumination Inc. Neither tree is large, but the difference the lighting makes to the house and landscape is amazing.

Lighting can be used not only for trees but to draw your eye to other built elements in the garden, such as these wooden Nepalese screens one of my clients installed as a kind of sculpture.

Garden sculpture, garden lighting, copper beech

Three wooden panels surround a young copper beech in a garden in Chevy Chase, Maryland, uplit by soft spots.

Magnolia 'Leonard Messel,' garden sculpture, garden lighting

Behind this screen is an up-lit Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'

In a more modern landscape setting, you’ll see lights used around pool perimeters, as here in this Potomac, Maryland garden designed by landscape architect H. Paul Davis.

Pool lighting, garden lighting

Spotlights for the pool jets as well as the hornbeams and river birches adjacent to the water area create a beautiful effect as dusk descends.

But even away from paths and major trees, lighting in the garden can contribute to an atmosphere of calm and magic.

garden lighting, fall gardens, garden design

As evening approaches, a garden bed with color fall foliage is illuminated, bringing the outside in for a little longer.

So consider some “night lights” if you’re working on improvements to your garden. You won’t regret it.

Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, Landscape design solutions, photography

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18 Comments on “Lighting Up the Garden”

  1. sequoiagardens Says:

    Melissa, you are a very very bad influence!
    I have been considering this for a while – but trying not to because of the expense!


  2. Great post. Beautiful photography as usual.

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks for the kind words. The photos span a long period of time; and it’s interesting to realize how difficult it is to photograph when it’s completely dark. Better results in late twilight – the lights are visible but so are details in the surrounding landscape.

  3. Liz Reed Says:

    Lighting creates a functional environment where there wasn’t one before. Plus you can accent plants at night that may seem insignificant in the daytime, creating an entirely different space.
    If you think of it in terms of gaining square footage, it’s really cheap!
    These are such beautiful examples!

  4. Susan Hirsch Says:

    as usual, Melissa, you have dazzled me – thank you!

  5. Laurrie Says:

    Specimens lit up against dark woods or a black night look magical as yours do. But it gets odd in my neighborhood where the houses are close together, there are streetlights, and multiple front yards with uplit trees stretch down the road. The single specimen effect is lost, and instead it looks fussy.

    I do love seeing how beautiful your single Glowing Embers is in the right setting!

    • Melissa Says:

      That’s an excellent point worth considering. All the photos above are of lighting on properties that are on a corner, a hill, or that back up to wooded areas – so very little light “pollution” from other sources. Thanks for pointing out this issue, Laurrie – and for taking the time to comment.

  6. John Says:

    Good suggestion. I like the way it focuses attention to the trees. I can see where it clearly makes a difference in your yard …

  7. Mary Lynn Cook Says:

    Susan Hirsch’s sister (Mary Lynn Cook, from Michigan) here: In our winter climate, we need light more than ever at this time of year. Your photographs really set a mood of peace and beauty. I like them very much. We are one of those families who have put it off for “some day”. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Melissa Says:

      So nice to hear from you! And that’s a very perceptive comment about the added value of lighting the garden where winters can be harsh and daylight hours limited. Lighting one or two specimen trees can really be a great psychological investment in your environment.


  8. Lighting in the garden creates a functional environment and the images are not look in a natural way but the way of your capturing shows a natural look and make the gardening scenes beautiful. Lighting helps in garden design and makes it attractive and beautiful.

  9. Jean Says:

    Melissa, Lighting in my garden is one of those things that’s been on a vague list of “things to think about some day.” Thanks for this post, which has moved the issue closer to realization in my garden.

  10. val Says:

    all the piictures are so wonderful.


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