By Steven V. Philips –
As I may have mentioned over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time creating a landscape at my house that some of my neighbors falsely claim is an attempt to make yards in the area look like pastures. Though I am often referred to as a pain in the mulch, they don’t understand that I retired from a job in a business suit to play in the dirt. I’ve become pretty good at it. But, as impressive as my landscape is during the day, I couldn’t make it look fabulous at night. And night lighting is a good thing. It provides security but it also extends your view of the garden from inside and it makes outdoor areas places where you might want to entertain after sunset. A moonlight cocktail party on a patio with views of a night garden is a really pleasant venue.
Due to the brilliant (pun) research for my October F&M 2014 lighting article, I decided to try some LED fixtures in a back garden project. I’m here to report that have worked perfectly. Even though I run the lights from dusk until dawn, they give constant and better light with no bulb outages. The LED claim is for 50,000 hours of life. Call me in seven years.
In a another brilliant move, not to be eclipsed even by the sun, I then moved on to the front and re-did the entire lighting system with 12-volt LED fixtures that definitely better highlight the plantings and hardscape. Our neighbors are probably in awe and shock aesthetically but not literally, as 12-volt doesn’t shock. Actually, I’m not sure they’re appropriately appreciative, since at night the Philips Estate now looks much better than theirs. However, no neighborhood awards have been given out. Yet.
Big contrast. The fixtures that I replaced were plastic. They used teenie-tiny incandescent bulbs (6-watt rated). Yes, they did marginally edge-light-frame the planting beds as they cast their dim glow, but when attempting to highlight the taller plants, even with 30 watt rated Halogen spots, the light didn’t reach high enough. Plus the bulbs got dimmer and dimmer and then burned out, but never all at once, so some were brighter than others. Call me spot.
Now LED’s don’t get bulb-loose and/or flicker. Though with a much lower power demand, they have far more brilliance and also require a smaller transformer. All are metal fixtures (no plastic) with a “vanishing bronze” finish that minimizes the fixtures during the day. But enough about my brilliance, let me go on about how simple this is to do.
First/contemplate: Do you want the fixture to spread light across an area, be it a hard surface, growing ground cover area, or mulch, plus have the fixture visually minimized? Or do you want see the fixture like a garden lamp? Or have it shine light upwards with just the subject plant, or wall, illuminated?
Second/action. Plug the 12-volt transformer into a ground-fault 110-v exterior outlet. Read the directions for placement! Really, not too close to the ground. Then attach your 12 gauge/landscape grade cable but wait!
Third/more action: Go ye forth and place your fixtures where you (think/hope) they’ll work. Then run your cable from fixture to fixture. Leave some slack between for later readjustments. This may sound dumb, but take it from an experienced dummy, you want to buy your cable after you see what length you need, once you’ve placed your fixtures. Finally, attach your fixtures. Wait for dark and stand back. Look good?
Fourth/Ta-dah: They look great. Done! Or they need moving hither and yon. Or need total changes because of the way they cast light. Save the boxes/packing/receipt so you can bring them back to exchange. Or you need a few more. But the result is fantastic!
Fight convention and habit and read the box. It gives the fixture’s equivalent wattage and how warm/cool is the light output. Read before you buy. More than two of the same fixture? Space evenly, otherwise they look goofy and half-baked. Don’t be chintzy on how many you need.
Point spots/floods away from the viewer. Nothing worse than a glaring bulb to distract the overall picture. Also, you don’t want to shine a light into a neighbor’s bedroom window keeping them awake all night and generating unending community hostility.
I’ve had good luck with Portfolio brand from Lowe’s. Their connectors are most easily connected/unconnected until you find perfection. Guaranteed, you will move them around after you see them illuminated until you’re happy. And sometimes you’ll have to change position, or reverse the direction how you attach them to make the connection. Patience.
Leave the cable on the surface if you can. From bitter experience I know that in two years when you’re digging to plant something, you’ll cut the wire if it’s buried. Unorthodox as it is, I take the time to dip my cable in pink latex (not oil) paint, then wipe it down. Yeah, a mess but the pink color sticks in the cable’s groove making the wire much easier to see later. Yes, pink. Not found too often in nature so it stands out.