Designing Outdoor Spaces for Evening Enjoyment with Outdoor Lighting


“While we often think of plants as giving a garden definition, it may be more accurate to say that light holds its complete identity.  Without light, there is no color, no line, no shape, no form.  Darkness swallowing a garden whole, enfolding its shadowy depths, where it lies in wait to be reborn in the morning.” P Allen Smith

During long winter months, gardeners itching to get their hands dirty are often going through garden catalogues dreaming of what to plant. With a barren landscape to ponder, take your armchair garden designing in another direction this year.  Look at your space with a fresh, critical eye to study its structure, flow and function. Think of how many hours you actually enjoy your garden space. For many of us, daylight hours are spent away from our outdoor spaces. Ask yourself what would make it easier to use the garden at night?  What would make your garden come to life after sundown? How can you extend the use of your garden by adding lighting? How can you make your outdoor spaces an inviting destination after dark? In hotter climates, being able to enjoy a garden at night when it is cooler is of utmost importance.  Is your goal to dine al fresco more often? Do you want to sit quietly in a mood lit corner after dark to enjoy a glass of wine or a coffee?  Your outdoor spaces can enchant by day and seduce by night when adding the right kind of lighting.

Simple fixes in lighting can improve esthetics, boost ambiance, direct focus to a feature such as a water fountain, a pond, an architectural structure or to a special plant or tree. Years ago when we first moved into our home, one of the first improvements we did was design the outdoor spaces.  Because we would be adding hard scaping, we hired a designer.  A large component of the design included lighting.  Prior to this, I had not given much thought to after-dark lighting.  Now it is my favorite time to be in my garden thanks to the magical night lighting.

In this post I will discuss both hard wired lighting and temporary lighting.  Always consider the impact of the lighting on neighbors and do not direct light at them.

Functional lighting is necessary for safety and to light paths and gathering areas.  The best lighting looks natural .  Be selective: less is more.  If ovelit, you will sacrifice ambiance and mystery.  Think of defining/limiting the space that is used after dark with targeted lighting. Create a sense of enclosure in a private, envelopping space by using lighting creatively in the garden design.

My back patio, lit up at night. Note down lighting on garden walls, path lighting, feature lighting of a wall fountain and uplighting of a maple tree. More detailed, close up views to follow.

If you are planning a water feature in your garden, consider underwater lighting when designing it. If it’s already in place and no lighting consideration was given, you can always add temporary lighting by floating candles on the surface or candlelit orbs.

Spotlights can be used as up-lighting of trees. Uplighting is dramatic, unexpected and focused on a feature. Downlighting of a feature such as a pond or a pergola for example, is also lovely and will seem most natural, like moonlight. Light should be flattering, subtle and not blaring or bold. Open foliage shrubs such as Japanese maples can cast lovely shadows when under lit. Layer. Get your functional and task lighting installed first, then add lighting to create a mood. Think dual purpose. Choose fixtures that are functional but also add flair and a sculptural quality to the yard, even when they’re turned off. Our wall lights are artisan-made perforated copper enclosures that are lovely in the daytime but truly magical at night.

By day, the perforated copper lights are suble accents that are still attractive.(Escort Lighting).

Timers are a must with low voltage lighting. Our outdoor patio lights go on at dusk and off at midnight whether we are entertaining or not. We enjoy looking at our garden lit up even from indoors as it expands our sight lines and highlights features. We never have to think about the lights.

Appealing to other senses in the night garden is also key to enhancing your enjoyment. Consider adding plants that release scent at night. One of my favorites is my fringe tree which releases a jasmine-like perfume after dark for about a month each spring. Star Jasmine vine is another fabulous choice. Plant white flowers (Angel’s Trumpet, Daturas) that can reflect moonlight or other garden lights. Think of sound: gentle rustling of leaves in a breeze adds another dimension of enjoyment in an evening garden. Although plant selection is not the goal of this article, there are many great references available to guide you in planting design. Excellent ones include Peter Loewer’s The Evening Garden, Liz Leendertz’s The Twilight Garden and Scott Ogden’s The Moonlit Garden.

Temporary Lighting:

When entertaining, get creative with adding additional light sources that are temporary. Candlelight is easily managed and directed where needed. It can also used to create some mystery and intrigue and bring in more intimate light sources.  String lights across a patio area.  There are fun novelty lights available now and you can even find strings of lights that are battery operated giving you options to hang them where you want, regardless of electric sources.  Wrap rope lights around tree trunks you want to highlight.

These mini hurricanes on a stick serve to both provide additional candlelight during a party but also to highlight the edge of a garden retaining wall to keep guests safe.

Party lighting is fun and can really set the mood.  Path lighting can be created with luminaries, tiki torches, lanterns or hurricanes-on-sticks like those above.

Lanterns are easy sources of instant lighting and spark an enchanting glow.  They are helpful in ighting paths, welcoming visitors to the garden after dark and can be directed for practical task or safety lighting.  Ambiance can be created with a hanging candelabra above a table. A similar effect can be achieved by hanging mason jar hurricanes or hanging lanterns off garden structures, from shepherd’s hooks or off tree branches.  To make them worry-free, consider flame-free, battery-operated candles. I often group several small hanging lanterns off a pergola near a dining table for extra lighting during entertaining.

No lanterns?  Any open top glass vessel can be transformed into a lantern.  This dramatic hurricane light was created by seating a berry wreath on top of a garden urn and placing a glass hurricane on top to hold a large pillar candle. The candle light is both functional and enchanting. Metal wire baskets can corral flame-free candles and serve as a makeshift lantern that can be hung or rested on a table or garden wall.  Battery-operated fairy lights are versatile and can be hung anywhere or bunched up in a glass vessel to give the same effect as a hurricane or lantern.

A candelabra above a dining table sets a lovely mood.

A string of dragonfly lights lights up a floral centerpiece for a big dose of whimsy.

For an Oktoberfest party, I set votive candles in large glass beer mugs on the bar for a fun take on the party theme. (Sorry I could not crop this pic.)

Gathering around a firepit is always a big party hit.

Lanterns are movable and can direct extra lighting where needed.

This snowflake novelty string of lights is strung between 2 palm trees in a Florida garden, a nod to the vacationers fleeing the winter weather. They are on a timer and come on at dusk.


The next time you are in the market for a patio umbrella consider one with built-in lighting. This one has a solar battery that keeps them charged. The lighting is subtle and magical at night.

By day, the umbrella provides shade.

I hope this post has been helpful to have you look at your outdoor space with fresh eyes and consider night lighting to maximize its enjoyment after dark.

Garden Design by Brad Groff at York, PA firm, Rivervalley Landscapes

Copper landscape lights by Escort Lighting




Flourless Clementine Cake


“Let them eat cake.” Marie Antoinette

This Nigella Lawson cake was popular about 15 years ago and I had forgotten all about it.  Unfortunate since, as far as cakes go, this one is a simple 5-ingredient recipe,  full of healthy ingredients with no added fat and  little sugar. And soooo good!  The batter is made up of ground almonds and whole clementines.  Nigella says to cook the clementines for 2 hours. I made the cake twice this month, once by cooking the oranges as directed and a second time by just bringing them to a boil and cooking them 10 minutes in roiling water.  The result was the same as far as taste, texture, moisture of the cake with a huge time saving. I also made it in a bundt pan the first time and it was impossible to separate.  The springform is a must with this recipe.  This is a totally delicious unfussy snacking cake that is super fast to make.  I served mine with a dollop of yogurt.  Variations on the theme: substitute lemons or Meyer lemons for the clementines.  Everyone loved it!

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Roasted Winter Vegetables with Blood Orange and Pistachios


Salads are a staple in my world but come winter, I crave the complex favors of roasted seasonal vegetables instead of cold salads.  This salad was inspired by New Orleans chef John Sinclair featured in the WSJ recently.  I modified his ingredients to what I had on hand and substituted juicy blood oranges for his grapefruit.  Gorgeous squash, sweet potatoes, fennel, red onion and brussel sprouts are oven roasted with warming spices like chili powder, cumin and fennel seeds.  Then bright citrus notes are layered in with blood oranges.  A topping of crunchy toasted squash seeds and pistachios finish off the salad.  There is so much to fall in love with in this meal salad!  The recipe lends itself beautifully to all kinds of substitution in the ingredients, spices and citrus toppings so that you can make it over and over in various combinations and never tire of it.   There is no need for vinaigrette as the olive oil of the roasting will have coated the vegetables and the acidity and brightness of the blood oranges and their juice will be enough contrast to make the salad truly sing.   Here’s how I made mine
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Ginger Citrus Trifle with Honey Yogurt Cream


“Missouri Ann ate her bit of orange slowly.  “Tastes like summer,” she said.” Sandra Dallas

In the heart of winter, this colorful trifle will awaken your palate with its bright citrus flavors and the bite of ginger.  As far as trifles go, this one is pretty healthy. The creamy layers are made with Greek yogurt and mascarpone cheese, flavored with orange zest and sweetened with a mere soupçon of honey.  The ladyfingers are dipped in the juice of the fruit.  Ginger adds a nice spicy contrast to the citrus while boasting great anti inflammatory properties.  It is a stunningly beautiful dessert that is good for you too.  I served it at a brunch where it received rave reviews.  Dig in!

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Hearty Cabbage Roll Soup


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is time for home.” Edith Sitwell

This hearty soup has all the great flavors of cabbage rolls without all the work.  Essentially deconstructed cabbage rolls, it is made stovetop, a one-pot meal.  Loaded with heart healthy cabbage in a rich tomato broth, it is more stew than soup.  You can make it with ground beef or ground turkey.  I seasoned mine with bay leaves, dill and parsley but go with the flavors you are partial to from your favorite cabbage roll recipe.  Ready in about a half hour, it is a warming cold weather dish everyone will want to dig into.  Hearty and filling, no one will suspect it is low calorie. So good.  Grab a bowl! Continue reading

Valentine’s Day Wreath: Key to my Heart


“There is only one happiness in life:  to love and be loved.” Georges Sand

This little Valentine’s welcome at the front entrance comes straight from the heart.  A heart wreath flanked by planters decorated with dangling red hearts is a charming and sweet welcome for February. Continue reading

Deer Valley Inn Turkey Chili


““Winter tightened its grip on Alaska. The vastness of the landscape dwindled down to the confines of their cabin. The sun rose at quarter past ten in the morning and set only fifteen minutes after the end of the school day. Less than six hours of light a day. Snow fell endlessly, blanketed everything. It piled up in drifts and spun its lace across windowpanes, leaving them nothing to see except themselves. In the few daylight hours, the sky stretched gray overhead; some days there was merely the memory of light rather than any real glow. Wind scoured the landscape, cried out as if in pain. The fireweed froze, turned into intricate ice sculptures that stuck up from the snow.” Kristen Hannah, The Great Alone

The Great Alone was the book. The setting was Alaska.  January was the month.  Our hostess Allyson had made us a delicious pot of warming chili soup.  Before we could start discussing Kristen Hannah’s latest book, moans of pleasure erupted around the table.  “This is so good!” “What’s in it?” “How did you make this?”  Allyson told us it was the Deer Valley Inn’s Turkey Chili recipe from the famous hotel in Utah and was kind enough to share the recipe with us.  Her version had chicken instead of turkey. I made mine with cooked turkey from a breast I roasted the day before.  I also used turkey stock made with the carcass of the same breast.  This chili is more like a chunky soup and is totally different than any chili I’ve ever made.  It has no tomatoes, similar to a white chili.  It has more meat and broth than beans in it.  The broth is thickened with puréed corn which gives it richness and a hint of sweetness.  Totally awesome and so welcomed on a bone-chilling day with a howling wind rattling the windows.  Dig in to both the chili and Hannah’s sensational tale set in Alaska.

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