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A designer’s guide to lighting outdoor social areas

This week, Pro Landscaper picks the brain of Sian Parsons, senior designer at John Cullen Lighting to discover the intricacies of lighting outdoor social areas, and how it is best executed.


Sian Parsons

What are some of the options available to light an outdoor social area?

“The best outdoor social area lighting is one that gives you atmosphere and fun,” Sian says. “Stringing up external fairy lights can look beautiful, either in waves overhead, hanging in trees or simply wrapped around tree trunks.

“It’s also worth considering low level washes under fixed benches or tables to add a glow, or step indicator lights for safety – perfect for a low and moody feeling,” Sian explains.

When asked about how to utilise planting around these social areas, Sian continues: “Spiked uplights to mid-sized trees around the decking or paved area can create height and drama and give depth to the external space, rather like lamps in a living room.”


How can lighting best be used to work around adverse environmental conditions?

As all external lighting is stipulated to have an Ingress Protection (IP) rating applicable to the circumstances, safety is not a concern should regulations be followed. Sian says: “Lighting near or submerged in water must have the highest protection rating, as will anything in a marine environment.

“It’s always worth gently wiping down any light fittings once a year or so, to prevent any dirt build up from interfering.

As outdoor heaters are common in garden social spaces, Sian dispels the notion that they will greatly impact lighting designs. “Outdoor heaters shouldn’t adversely affect any light fittings, although LEDs don’t like to be near to heat as it degrades the chip, provided they’re kept a short distance away, there won’t be any issues.”


How can outdoor lighting be made as discreet as possible?

With many clients after a sleek design, without any unsightly wires, Sian takes us through how to keep a lighting scheme discreet.

60w Garden – John Cullen Lighting

“The most discreet outdoor lighting options employ all of the qualities of discreet indoor fittings. Choose products that disappear into planting with green or black finishes, as well as those where the actual light source is hidden from view,” she explains.

When asked what fittings would be best suited to these situations, Sian says: “This is where spiked options really come into their own. They can be hidden amongst the greenery with cowled heads so that the light projects just onto the feature plant making for a very discreet feel.”

“Or, consider floor recessed uplights to a wall for a back drop of light. Any light source concealed from view in joinery or washing paths can invoke a real indoor-outdoor living room feeling,” she concludes.


What lighting would you recommend around planted areas to allow for adjustments based upon the season?

“As planting ebbs and flows seasonally, spiked fittings offer the most versatility,” Sian begins. “Although there is a power feed to the spike, it can be pulled up and repositioned to give best effect to the current planting.”

As the UK has fairly strong seasonal variations in terms of daylight, Sian recommends some tips on light intensity and warmth. “It’s best to keep light sources between 2400 – 2700 kelvin – colour temperature of the white. This keeps the lighting warm in tone, which adds to the atmosphere when in the garden, as cooler tones are harsher and less welcoming.


Which landscaping elements should be carefully considered when designing a lighting scheme?

“It’s definitely worth considering the hard landscapes of the garden to help with the lighting,” Sian tells us. “Brick facades look beautiful when floor recessed uplights pick up on the texture, screens can help create pockets to a social area which when backlit create depth, and any overhanging tresses or pergolas can create focal points to pick up on.”

“Do consider that backlighting sets objects into silhouette which can help create drama, whilst front lighting is best for textures and softness.”

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