Now christmas fever has passed we are back to our normal run of events …. we can think about long lazy days in the back garden. If hard landscaping is a feature on this summers wish list, then now is the time to be consulting the experts. Doing the labour ourselves is all well and good up to a point, but it can be much harder than you imagine. One of my neighbours had their son in law do a ‘patio’ for her a couple of years ago. Her original plan had been to section off one part of the grassed area and put new garden furniture there for the few occasions a year when she entertains. Having asked for assistance, it snowballed to him actually putting down patio slabs. It’s not a very good job, uneven and slightly wobbly. She so wishes she’d stuck with the classy new furniture scheme !
There have been lots of family based acitivities at heritage properties around my way of late. The arrival of autumn, halloween and bonfire night extravaganzas aplenty. Now of course, we are heading towards the festive season and the public gardens attached to these fabulous houses shine forth with uplighters, downlighters, phased to illuminate particular shrubs and trees to their very best advantage. This is something that can be done in our own residential gardens now that there are lighting specialists available to advise and draw up plans. The need for safety is paramount. Experts in this field have all the knowledge about power, are insured and never put anyone’s life or pets’ lives in any risk – unlike some folk who have a rather cavelier attitude to electrical safety. A trip to hospital after tripping over cables or getting a shock in the rain is not the way forward!
Most folk think that garden lighting is only to guide us from the back door down to the bin store or maybe out to the garage – or that only the very biggest estates warrant any kind of exterior lighting. Today this is largely a myth – with the sophisticated schemes and easier installation, it is a fantastic way to extend the seasons and make more use of our very under appreciated outdoor space. I know many families who spend hundreds of pounds at a time on good looking patio furniture – beautiful cane and polyprop manufactured loungers, deck suites etc. and assume they’re only for the short summer bar-b-que season. Not so. With wiring in by a qualified installer, a range of uplighters and wall mounted lamps, the garden can take on a beauty of its own. Being able to stroll amongst the shrubs and trees in the evening is calming and very restful. Do try it!
Getting the right level of garden lighting is something that we only gain experience in if we either visit someone else’s garden, or we know an expert in the field. One man’s lighitng can definitely be another man’s super trooper nightmare. For those considering an exterior lighting scheme, it is very important to remember that even a little bit of lighting goes a long way at night. Less is more in most cases. Also, using lighting schemes selectively, only some parts illuminated and others left dark will help mask some of the less attractive areas – the compost bin and rubbish bin storge for example. Most garden lighting fittings come in black, but if you want to install in an existing landscaped area, green fittings are available as are bronze, for installing in a tree, so as not to stick out against the natural bark of the tree.
Ah these wonderful last couple of weeks of summer – the longest, hottest and driest on record in this country. It seems so odd that we start the academic year in September and almost immediately the autumnal theme clocks in. I personally love autumn – possibly because my birthday is in this period. Those walks around the garden in the early light of day, capturing the last of the moonlight. I like to put the lights on and have an early stretch of the legs – it’s incredible how much more alive the garden borders look with a carefully positioned beam of light circling a specimen shrub. I have another lights angled to show favourite trees too. In the early light, the rather too rapid change from summer to winter clothing is highlighted and I enjoy those subtle changes again in the evening when the same light throws a different angle. Magic, at the touch of a programming button or two.
I was called upon to assist my neighbour a few weeks ago. I hold a spare key for their house so that if they’re away form home and their house alarms sounds, I can enter and deal with it. Well one weekend, the chap rang in a froth, asking me to hand over the key to a friend who needed to get in to retrieve the neighbour’s spare car keys as he’d lost his whilst out shopping at a major venue. The key didn’t actually work, so eventually chappie came home in a taxi expecting to have to break in to his own house. I spotted to other opportunities – both involved dragging a table over and propping a rickety ladder up to reach an open ensuite window – the other allowed him to prop the ladder more safely against the very substantial outdoor lighting support – what you call a beacon of hope!
My dear neighbours recently moved and it was a very sad occasion – which surprised all of us considering we’ve been neighbours for nearly twenty years and never really been in each other’s pockets. In fact I have only been in their house twice and they in mine only four times. But we liked and respected each other greatly. Whilst at a little ‘going away’ soiree, drinks and nibbles on the patio, I was able to fully take in what they were sad to be leaving behind. Firstly they had a gate through to wonderful countryside – fields and foot paths, ideal for dog walking. They also had a lovely arbour in the garden, over the magnificent lawn. This arbour had various plants climbing up each support leg, together with outdoor lighting. In the centre of the structure was a fabulous lighting cluster which made outdoor entertaining so much more sophisticated.
I’ve been helping out at a very old house in recent weeks – one that opens up to the public on occasions throughout the year. They have a wonderful garden that is famous for dahlias and their herbaceous borders. The house has only been owned outright by three families over the years but in the 1920s an american couple with strong political aspirations took the house on a ten year lease and piled much of their personal wealth into it’s upgrading and decoration. This extended to the gardens. The lovely thing about gardens in big houses is the lighting they can afford to put in for those evening guests! It is so beautiful and the experts always put the lamps in exactly the right place to highlight this tree or that shrub. The light and shadows they create are so atmospheric. It makes lighting up a domestic garden so very civilised don’t you know!
It can sometimes be a bit of a worry choosing the right knd of garden furniture to suit the surroundings and the type of weather we’re going to get. In a small surburban back yard with just a patch of green lawn, the best idea is to have space saving table and either stacking chairs, or ones that slot underneath the table without taking up any room. If a walled space only, then houw about having a bench built against the sunniest wall – takes up far less room than separate units but allows a little sunbathing. In a larger garden with various separate areas, I know of one garden agency who has implemented different styles of patio sets in amongst the shrubs and trees. For safety and feature enhancement, an outdoor lighting scheme has been installed. It’s fantastic, lots of different areas all beautifully displayed.
You cannot imagine how dark some gardens are until you move out to the countryside, to one that backs on to the wooded area of a manor house. No street lights, no other houses in fact. That is dark! For the discerning buyer, this will not be a problem. To get the outside of the house sufficiently illuminated, it is a question of engaging the services of a professional garden and outdoor lighting consultant. Someone who really does know his business. the safety side is critical of course, there is nothing more dangerous in any garden situation than the combination of damp, water, ponds, and electrical wiring. The siting of lights is also very important, in a country setting this needs to be subtle so as not to cause light pollution and also the beauty of the trees, shrubs and other landscaping need careful emphasis at different times during the year.