Your landscape changes as soon as the sun goes down. Shadows lengthen, focal points change, and spaces seem smaller and more intimate. With the right outdoor lighting, fueled by a little inspiration, you can use these changes to create a setting for your outdoor entertaining that is both functional and dramatic. In order to create the mood and achieve the purpose you desire, it is important to think about what you want each light fixture to accomplish as different types of lights yield different results. The following list offers a guide to common lighting types and the role they play in landscape design. 

Task Lighting

Task lighting is fairly focused, bright lighting that makes it easier to complete tasks after dark. For example, lighting for your grill makes it much easier to see what you’re cooking. Task lighting is also useful over outdoor kitchen counter or bar tops. If you need to see details of what you’re working on, task lighting is the answer.

Area Lighting

Area lighting provides a pleasant, mid-level lighting in a space. An example would be the lights around the edge of a patio. Generally speaking, the goal of area lighting is to make the space feel welcoming and safe, without being brighter than necessary.


How will your guests move around your landscape? Wayfinding is critical for allowing your guests to move from one part of the landscape to another. Examples of wayfinding brighteners include path lights, step lights, and post lights at gates or fences. The use of quality light fixtures allows you to use fewer fixtures, and in a more pleasing arrangement, than if you use low cost, low quality fixtures.

Accent Lighting

When the sun goes down you suddenly discover opportunities to highlight parts of your landscape that may not have been so apparent in the daytime. Low-voltage spotlights can draw the eye to a piece of sculpture or a notable plant if shone on the part facing the viewer. Lit from behind, that same sculpture or plant can create a dramatic silhouette. If you’ve incorporated water into your outdoor entertaining space, underwater lights can range from a soft glow to a powerful highlight on a waterfall. In fact, with a well designed landscape lighting plan, certain parts of a landscape can be made to look even better at night than they do during the day, dramatically changing your curb appeal and overall enjoyment of your landscape.

Whimsy and Magic

Your landscape can come alive at night with the introduction of fun, playful lighting techniques. String lights (also called fairy lights) suspended between trees or other supports can define a space and provide soft, practical area lighting. Candles are always a wonderful addition, and even LED-powered candles can be a safe and simple way to line a path. In fact, LED has many benefits  including allowing for the use of more fixtures as they draw less wattage and because their bulbs last much longer, they  don’t require frequent replacements.

Lighting is an area where quality matters. Better components will work more reliably and give you years of service. If you’re unsure where to start, talk with your landscape professional about ways to use lighting to create the ultimate outdoor entertaining space, long after the sun disappears.

Photo Courtesy of SiteCreative Landscape Architecture; Greg Premru Photography, Boston, MA. 

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