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From soft glows to directed spotlights, there are many ways to illuminate the landscape to enhance your garden’s design at night. Fixtures typically work in groups to wash light onto a textured building facade or to light up a pathway or set of stairs. Accent lighting can be used alone to create dramatic silhouette or focal point lighting on special pieces within the landscape.

Together, various lighting effects create illuminated spaces within the garden to help move the eye around the design. In this way, lighting enhances a great garden design while making it safer to move through at night.

wall washing and accent lighting
Daryl Toby – AguaFina Gardens International, original photo on Houzz

In this photo, wall washing and accent lighting illuminate the rocks and raised beds of Cor-Ten steel along a garden pathway.

Read more about wall washing, accent lighting and other lighting effects.


Downlighting, also called moonlighting when placed up in trees, is a downward-cast light from above that illuminates surfaces below. With downlights, the lighting is placed to direct downward toward the ground. The effect creates a shadow on the ground while illuminating the whole space in a subtle way. Downlighting is best for illuminating complex spaces — areas with lots of trees or multiple garden terraces — because it can cast a wide light over multiple elements.

McKay Landscape Lighting, original photo on Houzz

In the photo shown, the garden is illuminated as if under strong moonlight from above, with the foliage casting patterns on the pathway.

Accent lighting

Accent lighting is the use of a small fixture to light up a specific element, such as a house number, tree or steps. Accent lighting can also be called highlighting. Accent lighting is best for lighting up something dominant that you want to highlight. It can be a sculpture, tree, boulder or anything else that you want to point out in your garden.

Accent lighting
Kikuchi + Kankel Design Group, original photo on Houzz

Pictured here is a sculptural pine tree whose trunk and branches are illuminated by a “bullet,” a small fixture that points accentuated light. The light is placed on the ground and pointed upward into the small ornamental tree’s canopy to illuminate the branches vividly.

Wall washing

Wall washing, also called grazing, is the use of multiple lights that have been designed with a fixture that diffuses the light with a wide cast to give a subtle glow evenly across a vertical surface. Wall washing is best for walls with interesting patterns or textures and is especially effective on walls with sculptural relief.

Wall washing
Gregory Phillips Architects, original photo on Houzz

Pictured here is a series of small recessed lights that are placed to cast diffused light upward onto a textured wall. The casting upward of diffused light brings out the sculptural relief of the wall.

Silhouette lighting

Silhouette lighting is a dramatic lighting effect where a bright accent light is aimed toward a tree or sculptural object, casting a shadow on the wall or surface behind the object. This is a dramatic effect and useful for illuminating architectural elements, sculptural trees or any foliage with an interesting shape or texture.

Silhouette lighting
Yaniv Schwartz – Photographer, original photo on Houzz

The image here shows shrubs and trees casting their shadows on the wall behind them. The lights are on the ground within the planting bed and pointed upward into the foliage to create the shadow cast.

Combining different lighting effects

You don’t need to light everything in your landscape. Instead, it’s best to highlight only the most essential and important elements. Consider how the entire lighting setup affects the whole garden.

Combining different lighting effects
Deakin Garden Design, original photo on Houzz

Here, lights illuminate the flower beds and provide light for the paving at the same time.

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