Garden lighting tips from Andrew Fisher Tomlin
You can still enjoy your garden through the dark winter months with the help of a cleverly designed lighting scheme. We speak to garden designer and RHS Gold Medal winner Andrew Fisher Tomlin, who shares his expert advice on how to lighten things up.
Just because the nights are getting longer and colder, it doesn’t mean that you should stop enjoying your garden. The beauty of external lighting means that you can still take pleasure from your magical outdoor oasis whilst being cosy and warm inside, looking out from the comfort of your garden room extension or orangery. But garden lighting is deceptively tricky to get right. An effective lighting scheme requires careful consideration and planning, you can’t simply fling a few strings of fairy lights over some foliage!
As Peter Donegal (producer of The SodShow gardening podcast) once called him, Andrew Fisher Tomlin is ‘a super’ in the garden lighting department. His company Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer has been recognised as one of the top UK garden designers, known across the globe for creating beautiful gardens and landscapes. Their creations have won gold at numerous RHS garden shows, and Andrew has curated festivals and shows in countries like Amsterdam, Istanbul and Australia. Until recently, Andrew was Chairman Of Selection at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and has been a visiting lecturer at the V&A Museum in London and The Smithsonian in Washington DC, among other places.
‘Inside our homes, we typically use lighting to brighten and draw attention to certain areas, for example we will position a light to shine onto a piece of artwork hanging in a hallway. Lighting in your garden should be used in the same way, and the key to good garden lighting is subtlety. Use it to draw attention to important features like trees or water features, rather than go over the top to try and make the lighting the main factor in your garden,’ explains Andrew.
Lighting should be used to make your garden visible at night in the same way that it is during the day – but avoid lighting everything. You need the darkness to create contrast and balance, allowing your lighting to effectively catch the eye in specific places.
Trees can turn into magnificent, eye-catching focal points with the use of a well-placed ground light based at the trunk and angled at the branches above. If you have a courtyard, use two or three lights to really emphasise the open space.
Using lights around decking and steps can beautifully highlight the different levels of your garden and any surrounding architecture. ‘You can get really good step lights which you can put into the riser of a step,’ explains Andrew. ‘They can be fitted into any sort of material, from stone to decking, and can give a nice gentle glow. Or you can simply tuck an ordinary rope light beneath the edge of a step or decked platform which will make it look like it’s floating. Remember that less is more – don’t make it look like a runway.’
Colour can play a big part. Talk to your electrician about what coloured glass they will use, as warmer tones will look more inviting than a cool, white light. If you want to make a bold statement and bring some colour into your scheme then use a blue light, which some plants work well with. Blue shades can also be highly effective for using in pool houses.
‘Don’t limit yourself,’ says Andrew, ‘almost everything you can do inside your home, you can do outside too. This is what makes the spaces flow into each other and have that all-important sense of continuation’.
Homeowners are increasingly aware of choosing environmentally friendly options. Garden lighting has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years; choose LED lights with a low wattage, which are low energy and very efficient to run. ‘Don’t be afraid of using a smaller number of good-quality, low wattage LED lights. They have a long lifespan these days – I can’t remember the last time we had to go in and change lightbulbs in a garden, but it used to be something we would do quite regularly years ago.’
Contrary to popular belief, solar lights are not eco-friendly. ‘Solar lights do not emit enough light. Although the concept behind them is well meaning, we find that clients with good intentions will buy them and end up throwing them away after very little use, so the plastic used to make them is wasted. It’s counterproductive.’
What about those fairy lights? While they are a popular option, again they won’t quite bring the right effect. ‘Fairy lights are fun but won’t really show off your garden properly at night – the best way to use fairy lights in your garden is by getting small string lights to line the outlines of pergolas or garden frames.’
If you are in the process of redesigning your garden, it’s certainly worth thinking about how your garden will move and change over time. If you are using your lighting to emphasis the structure and shape of trees and foliage, keep in mind that natural plant material will change over time so you want to have a bit of flexibility with your lights. Make sure your electrician puts your lighting in with about an extra metre of cable, so you can adjust them as needed. Look into remote controlled, dimmer options and you can change your scheme depending on how you want your garden to look.
Most of Andrew’s clients will be initially focused on paving, garden furniture and plants when commissioning a new garden, so while lighting is the final icing on the cake in any landscape scheme, it can often be an afterthought. ‘If lighting isn’t really a priority when someone is giving their garden a complete makeover, it will usually end up being added later. Talk to your landscaper and they will make sure that lighting can be easily added in at a later date when you are ready. They can drill holes into stone slabs or decking to make it easy for either yourself or your electrician.’
Here at Westbury, we work with British lighting experts John Cullen Lighting, who supply all our garden rooms and orangeries with unique, energy efficient light fittings which are designed in-house. John Cullen Lighting has a fantastic range of low-energy garden and exterior lights available.