July 12th, 2012

Light in the Darkness

The garden at night is a beautiful thing. White flowers glimmer, owls hoot, scent that is fugitive in the daylight lingers in the air. There are certain plants I grow especially for dusk and dark, such as lilies and moonflowers; Vita Sackville West’s famous white garden at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent in southern England was created as a “moonlight garden”, which is a centuries-old conceit originating in Persia, where enclosures within gardens were planted specifically to be viewed at night. No artificial lighting allowed, just the spectral glow of errant moonbeams puddling on lawns and dappling shrubberies. Ah….

But, since I like to sit out of a cool evening and the silvery moon ain’t always shining on, I’ve tried various sorts of lighting — from Mexican-made sconces with votive candles to big ol’ citronella candles in bright colored buckets (light and almost no bugs, but pungent). But my favorites have turned out to be solar-powered twinkle lights and spots that I received from Gardener’s Supply Company. Many of the solar efforts I’ve experienced have been wimpy, but these fittings really power out the beams. Best of all: Light where you want it, no electricity needed. Priceless.

The twinkle lights I use are detachable from the spikes with which they’re fitted, so that they can be strung like Christmas tree lights around a deck or between uprights. This is the best way to use them: I began by pegging them along the garden path, but they looked too much like a landing zone for alien craft. Very small alien craft…

Twinkle lights are not just for Christmas trees. They provide a kind, soft light for patios — bright enough to see your wine glass.

Twinkle lights are not just for Christmas trees. They provide a kind, soft light for patios — bright enough to see your wine glass.

The silvery grey boughs that uphold the magnolia tree’s canopy over one end of my garden are quite a sculptural, and I have deployed two spots to highlight their form.

This smudgey photo gives an idea of the uplighting effect of the solar-powered spots.

This smudgy photo gives an idea of the uplighting effect of the solar-powered spots.

The ambient light they give off is just enough to illuminate the nearby flowerbeds, so I can see what is where without having to don sunglasses or worry about light pollution, as one might if using incandescent spotlights. There’s nothing worse than trying to enjoy the dark garden when a neighbor’s Kluge lights are burning your retinas. So, if you are going to deploy any kind of lights, step outside the garden and see them as others might. And be sure to check out We Like This in this month’s issue: we’ve found some very cool garden illuminators.

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