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Exploring Solar Technology

With solar technology you can give your garden several moods in an environmentally friendly way.

One of the most effective but most underused garden ornaments is lighting. The great advantage of using lighting means that for a small investment you get two gardens.

As dusk falls and lights are lit, the familiar daylight garden is transformed into a second garden – a magical place full of subtle lights and dancing shadows, possessed of a wholly different look and ambience.

In the cold months it is possible to sit in the warmth of the house and look out at the display, for example, lights shining up through the bare branches of trees and shrubs, or a net of fairy lights wrapped around an evergreen bush creating a very ethereal effect, especially when a wind is blowing.

Then, as soon as the evenings warm up, the second great advantage of lighting becomes apparent. Lighting enables the garden to be used for a greatly extended time, allowing for some fun evenings: perhaps a group of friends and a bit of a party, or a romantic dinner for two by candlelight in a secluded corner of the garden.

Garden lighting falls into three main types. First there are natural forms of light that rely on the naked flame. This group includes lamps powered by bottled gas, candles (best placed in windproof containers or you will be forever relighting them), wood, and oil.

The sight, sound and smell of a wood fire is very evocative and metal braziers for burning wood are becoming very popular. Braziers can easily be moved around the garden (when cold!), and the heat pumped out also allows the hardy to be outside on cooler, even winter, evenings.

Oil flares are also becoming very fashionable. Either placed on the ground or raised on poles they can be dotted around the garden, along paths, and set in flower beds to create a stunning effect. But just a word of commonsense, no form of naked flame lighting should be placed below flammable materials such as low branches of trees or a wooden deck.

The second type is electric lighting – and this need not mean the harsh glare of a halogen security light triggered by the neighbour’s cat! There is a multitude of different ways in which electrical lighting can be used to create a subtle, beautiful effect. Creating the necessary electrical outlets can, however, be costly.

Electrically powered lighting must only be installed by a qualified electrician using garden-appropriate materials such as specially made waterproof lights, armoured cable and waterproof junction boxes.

One of the most recent developments in garden lighting is the use of LED lighting. These use Light Emitting Diodes, which have the twin advantages of using less electricity and lasting much longer than traditional bulbs. But while requiring less maintenance, the white light cast is rather cold, although this can be remedied by using coloured filters.

LED lighting is perfect for ground lighting – for setting in paved areas or steps to illuminate routes around the garden, for lighting up water features such as ponds and fountains, and pointing up into trees.

Another electrical solution is fibre optics. This is a very practical and safe, but virtually unused form of lighting. A single light source located indoors feeds the fibre-optic cables that carry the light (not electricity) to lamps units in the garden. Moreover, it is very straightforward to put filters in front of the light source to create different coloured light, and you only ever need to change a single bulb.

However, if you don’t want to mess with electrics at all, there is a third option and this is solar powered lighting. Solar powered lights are an increasingly popular form of garden lighting that makes use of a renewable resource.

Solar powered lamps are very simple to install and are maintenance free. Requiring no wiring, just a straightforward assembly, they are powered by a rechargeable battery that is topped up by solar cells incorporated as part of the lamp unit’s construction.

To save battery power, most solar lamps are activated by a light sensor which turns them on at dusk (and off at dawn), and when fully charged will last for six or more hours.

Solar lamps are an appropriate and practical way of illuminating, for example, the edges of paths and steps, patios and terraces and driveways.

As they are wireless, they can be very simply moved around the garden to create different effects as required, perhaps in a flower bed to light up a particularly lovely shrub.

Another, rather fun and different type of solar lamp is the floating globe. Popped into a pool or pond, these make for an unusual and striking effect after dark, especially if there is also a fountain that makes the globe bob about.

Another effective form of garden lighting is one that combines natural flames with powered lighting, be this LED, the more traditional bulb lamps, or solar power. Use different types of light, different wattages, and different sorts of lamp to create a range of different effects in various parts of the garden. For example, horizontal lighting can also be positioned in flower beds and rock features to illuminate specific features, and to cast intriguing
shadows.

Uplighting is particularly striking when used to illuminate specific features such as shapely trees, attractive statues, or climber-clad pergolas, and wall-mounted downlighting is great for spotlighting features from a distance or illuminating seating/dining areas. And, of course, strings of fairy lights look wonderful however used.

Light Sources
Garden lights are available from garden centres, most lighting stores, and several online garden sundries suppliers. There are also specialist outdoor lighting companies that will design and install a system specific to your wants and needs.

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