The garden by night
By garden designer Catherine Heatherington. Light, sound and scent combine to create the atmosphere of the night garden. As dusk falls the city recedes and the intimacy of the space is magnified.
A small town garden only needs two or three lights. The low voltage ones are the best as fittings can be smaller and hidden away. Instead of bright, security lights often seen over patios, go for a soft, dappled effect by shining diffuse light through the leaves of a tree onto the table below. On a balcony or roof terrace, echo the night sky by stringing fairy light through the plants for a romantic starlight effect.
A large pot or sculpture can be spotlit to be visible from the house. Again the light fitting should be as unobtrusive as possible - the effect is the important part. Use a spotlight spiked in the ground surrounded by plants, or fixed to the branch of an overhanging tree, or to a fence post. The shadows of spiky and architectural plants such as phormiums, bamboos or grasses look wonderful projected onto large boulders or the smooth surface of a wall or paving. This light should be on a separate switch from the more functional lighting of the seating area. When winter comes the garden can continue to be brought into the house by the flick of a switch.
As traffic noises fade in the evening small sounds around the garden are amplified - be it the snuffling of hedgehogs or the trickle of water. There are waterproof lights available for the smallest of water features; the lacy fronds of ferns make marvellous shadows. Or experiment with light shining through trickling water. Beware of using uplights in ponds however as the result may be a murky green unless the water is completely clear.
It is essential that a qualified electrician install lighting. If the thought of wiring the garden is too daunting, candles are the anwser. Take your pick from the wide choice of candles, lamps and flares. Obviously care must be taken with positioning, but candles give a soft, flickering light to an eating area or for a party. An added bonus - citronella scented candles or incense sticks help to keep the insects away.
Scent also plays its part in the scene you are creating. Surround the seating areas with scented climbers such as honeysuckle and jasmine or the lesser-known Trachelospermum jasminoides and the pineapple scented Cytisus battandieri. Or fill pots with tobacco plants.
The final indulgence for your evening relaxing the night away, is heat. Cafes on the continent and the West Coast of the US have had gas-fired heaters for years and they are becoming available here. They can be left outside in the rain and come apart for storage over winter, although they are still bulky. Some on the market are slightly less cumbersome and of interesting design. And they will extend your use of the garden to fine days in spring and autumn.
So whether it be candles and blankets or spotlights and calor gas make the most of the garden this summer!