Decorative Outdoor Lighting Basics

Garden Light Decor

Whether you are hosting some outdoor soirees this summer or simply want to extend the amount of time you spend in your outdoor space, you will need to procure some kind of outdoor decorative lighting. But where do you begin with your search for that funky decorative lighting, especially if you are a beginner?

Many of us, including me, seek inspiration from photos of beautiful gardens, such as those featured on and just love to paw over some Pinterest Porn. But beyond the images such resources offer little in the way of practical advice. So before you add an item to your shopping cart you need to think about what exactly you are seeking to achieve.

To help you make an informed choice, let me introduce you to some types of outdoor lighting, their effects, and the product categories they fall in to.

I’m not going to state the obvious and explain the benefits of lighting up your garden. But I can guarantee that some well thought out lighting will substantially increase the time that you spend outdoors.

Outdoor Lighting Categories

Before exploring the design effects and aesthetic qualities of decorative outdoor lighting, it’s important to recognise that all types of lighting are divided into three general categories:

  • Ambient Lighting – highly functional lights that provide overall illumination. Similar to ceiling lights in your lounge, ambient lighting can be used as the ‘main lights’ to illuminate an outdoor entertaining area…a great way to announce that the party is over!


  • Task Lighting – functional lights that serve a particular purpose. You’ll have to consider some sort of task lighting for food preparation, drinks, etc. Task lighting can be stationary or portable.


  • Accent Lighting – these pieces can add drama by illuminating certain features in your garden. For most, accent lighting is the fun part of outdoor lighting, allowing you to experiment and create different effects with your lighting arrangement.

For practical reasons, ambient lighting should be recessed. So unless you are thinking of installing a chandelier, we are primarily interested in task and accent lighting in the context of garden decor. With these two categories, not only can we manipulate the lighting effects but there is often an aesthetic appeal in the item’s design.

ambient, task and accent lighting

Ambient, Task & Accent Lighting

Creating Effect With Outdoor Lighting

Playing around with lighting effects is one of my favourite aspects of garden design. Experimenting with different techniques, creating other-worldly shapes and shadows is a great way to spend a late evening in your garden! Here are three basic techniques to get you started:

  • Up-Lighting – strategically place lighting at the bottom of a wall. Naturally, this will work best if the wall has architectural interest, so the texture of the wall is captured. Corten Steel makes a great subject for illumination. If you are lucky enough to have trees in your garden, you should definitely try up-lighting them!


  • Moonlighting – place lights high up to illuminate the area underneath. Again, if you have trees moonlighting can be used to dazzling effect, but experiment with whatever your outdoor space allows.


  • Shadowing – wash features such as a statue or large plants with light so that a shadow is cast on your wall or fence. The shadows created can be intriguing, especially if the object sways in a breeze.
Uplighting, Moonlighting & Shadowing Effects

Uplighting, Moonlighting & Shadowing Effects

Selecting Outdoor Lighting Pieces

Once you have a rough idea of your lighting requirements and the effects you are seeking to create, it’s time to seek out the pieces to make it happen. Let the games commence!

I don’t want to reel of a list of all the types of decorative lights available to you. The choices are endless, and trends spring up then disappear. However, when considering options for decorative outdoor lights, products can be divided into three general categories:

  • Garden Lanterns. These work well for task lighting. Available in a myriad of styles, the choices are mindboggling! Moroccan souk, Chinese lanterns, glowing orbs or tea-lights placed in a jar…boundaries are only defined by what designers can imagine. You can’t go wrong with a traditional hurricane lamp, and the intimacy of a candle lit table is hard to beat. Just make sure that your choice is instep with your overall garden design, and weighty enough to resist a strong breeze.


  • String Lights and Festoons. If their bulbs burn brightly enough, string lights / festoons are the best option for creating the moonlighting effect. They also work well with dimmer bulbs for a purely decorative effect. Just think through how they would fit into your garden design – string lights look amazing within a bohemian-styled garden, but will seriously detract from the sharp lines of a contemporary or minimalist garden.


  • Uplights and Spotlights. Use these to create shadowing and up-lighting effects. The aesthetic quality of the products is of less importance here; it’s all about the effect. However, you should definitely seek out quality products that can withstand the elements. LED bulbs are more expensive that halogen, but emit a superior quality of light and will last a lot longer. Battery powered is the way to go if you are reluctant to get an electrician round to install the wiring.

Lanterns, String Lights & Spotlights

So now it’s over to you. Trawl the web, hit the flea market and seek out that perfect piece of decorative outdoor lighting.

Happy hunting!

  1. Dan said:

    Thanks for the informative article. Sound advice as always. We’re just moving to a new place and looking for that funky lantern style. You guys should start selling the stuff you mention, would make my life a whole lot easier!

    • Nick said:

      Hi Dan, thanks for your comment and glad you are finding the website useful:)

      Good luck in your search for the perfect lantern, there really is an amazing selection out there. Always remember that it’s best to pay for a quality piece, so spend as much as you feel comfortable with.


  2. Jackie said:

    Hi Nick, Lots of food for thought. Don’t know if there are various types of solar lighting or how well it works. I’ve only seen the run of the mill types you get in DIY outlets. Await your further blogs and following your excellent advice come up with a good plan for my own garden.

  3. Nick said:

    HI Jackie – there are solar lights out there that will do a good job, from the likes of Philips Electrical. You have to spend a little to get a decent quality solar light. The variety that are found in garden centers aren’t really up to much. The will only emit a glow, rather than any kind of useful light.

  4. Katie said:

    Really great examples. In particular, a very successful work in the first photo. Lighting is very changing venues. I’ve done this kind of work in my own garden. Thank you for this nice ideas.

    • Nick said:

      Hi Katie, glad you found the article useful! Get the right mix of lighting and effects is a very important consideration in any garden:)

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