MARQUETTE - Few things are prettier in a night garden than soft pools of light illuminating interesting trees, accent rocks and plants, or pathways.
Whether on a small terrace or in a sweeping landscape, lighting creates a welcoming and often dramatic atmosphere.
But in some cases, buried-wire electric lighting can be costly and impracticable. The answer might be solar lighting.
This photograph by Jamiedurie.com shows an outdoor space designed by HGTV’s Jamie Durie, host of 'The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie,' using solar lighting. (AP photo)
"The major advantage to solar is that you don't have to dig up your yard to run wiring," said Tom Callahan, the electrical expert in the lighting and rough electric department at Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse in Marquette Township.
Callahan said solar lights, both technologically and stylistically, have made great advances in recent years.
"When we first opened (in November of 2008), we just had a very basic selection of them - more like pathway lights," Callahan said. "Now we have ones you can put on decks and deck posts, we have some you can hang. The styling and variety has really taken off and we have a huge selection now."
Jamie Durie, author and host of HGTV's The Outdoor Room, suggests three ways to use solar lighting:
"First, light your perimeter. It gives some perspective and is a creative way to show the boundaries of your property," Durie said. "Next, mark out your walks and pathways. Lastly, feature trees and other features with up-lighting, or even by attaching solar lights to walls and fences."
Durie's not a fan of "clinical" white LEDs, preferring those with amber light. Make sure when buying solar lights that they're all the same tone. And for areas where you want greater intensity, look for lights with more than two and preferably four LEDs in them.
In his projects, Durie often combines low-voltage electrical lights with solar.
At mysolarshop.com, find Mission or Tiffany-style glass fence-post caps that fit standard size posts. There are wall-mount and lamppost styles here, as well, and solar stepping stones that make a wonderful walkway. You'll find great utility solar lighting as well: motion-sensing security lights, shed lights, address lights and even grill lights.
Stake lights are the quickest to install; Target and Home Depot carry mini lights in copper, stainless or black finishes that can be placed in the ground or in any plant container. Look for coach and Craftsman-style lamps sold in multiples.
The key, of course, is to position your lights for maximum sun exposure. Some lights have a separate photocell that can be placed a distance from the actual bulb component or string, so even a shady-area tree can be lit up.
Solar string lights look pretty illuminating trees around a patio or pool, or entwining a step railing. Plow & Hearth has a line of light bulb-shaped ones, cool for a hipster's outdoor space. There are also butterflies, dragonflies, stars and little crystal globes strung to catch the sun; the effect is magical when night falls.
Solarilluminations.com has some great pool- or pond-floating solar lights, and colorful walkway or driveway markers.
Solar lights give a garden a finished look. And once you've purchased the light, the power is as eternal as sunshine.