Art of Moonlighting Your Landscape Design

With each passing day, we linger outdoors a little more to enjoy the comfortable temperatures and great weather.  Many gardens, thoughtfully designed to include a variety of interesting features, are usually draped in darkness at night. The view from inside the home has vanished but moonlighting can help accentuate the outdoors, creating artwork of your well designed landscaping.

Entry Arbor Bronze (1)

The addition of thoughtfully designed lighting can change the way you think about your nighttime landscape and can even take that landscape to the next level where it becomes a work of art. Your favorite areas become very usable well after the sun sets.  Not only is the benefit  when you’re outdoors, but also from indoors where the views from various rooms of your home become art framed by windows.  If you and your landscape professional chose plant material that offers year-round interest, then lighting becomes a real feast for the eyes.

Why Moonlighting?

Moonlighting, achieved by mounting downlights high in nearby trees, allows you to create art out of your landscape so it can be enjoyed no matter the vantage point.  The effect is pleasing to the eye and very effective in eliminating dark spots along a path or stairs.  This technique is also used well in areas where low growing plants do not lend themselves to uplighting.  In order to achieve a realistic feeling of moonlight, filters are often used to give a blue tint to the light.  Also keep in mind; the moon is always higher than the trees so real moonlight casts shadows.  Whenever possible, fixtures should be mounted above the lowest branches of the tree creating a dappled effect on the ground surface. By creating these shadows, the moonlighting creates artwork on your patio and other hardscapes.

To help create the beautiful effects of moonlighting, we enjoy working with our local landscape architect partners. One example is the work that we did with Bruce Davies of Davies Associates Landscape Architects.  He has designed this garden, the Blacksmith’s Cottage, to take advantage of the nearby mature trees, allowing us to incorporate strategic moonlighting and carrying his vision of the beauty of this space into the night.  The arbor was created by, blacksmith, Charlie Spademan of IronFireArt. His work allowed us to create striking shadows in the dappled moonlight.  While wonderful, the space no longer exists, as it was our collaboration to benefit the Mansion in May Designer Showhouse and Gardens at Fawn Hill Farm, Harding Township in May 2010.

What are the benefits of Moonlighting?

Moonlighting a tree and patioThere are many benefits of adding moonlighting to your landscape design. The look and feel of moonlighting is a more natural effect, as we are accustomed to illumination from above. Seeing shadows dance at our feet as the leaves sway in the breeze, creates a display of relaxing motion otherwise unachievable. We find that gardens planted beneath tall trees really come to life when containing white flowers. Consider white blooming azaleas, rhododendrons, and other flowering shrubs for special effect. A white garden illuminated from above will surely leave you…moonstruck!

To truly turn your tall, mature trees into a work of art, downlighting should be combined with uplighting. Accent fixtures placed strategically beneath the tree, directed upwards accomplishes a few things. First, we highlight the canopy, showing off the structure and architecture of the big ole guy. Second, we accentuate the texture of the bark creating year round interest. And, third, we help to visually ‘ground’ the tree so the fixtures don’t appear to be UFO’s floating in space.

We have had the help of many a maple, oak and spruce to help create our works of art. For example:

  • Patio, SecretThis white flower garden (right) where moonlighting accents rhododendrons and low statuary creating interest in the garden all day and night long;
  • A secret patio tucked into the backyard corner (top), creating a fun surprise, not only during the day but after dark, too;
  • An inviting bistro table on this paver patio, enveloped in dappled moonlight (note the shadows of the oak’s leaves).

Moonlighting can be used to accent lower plantings, statuary & planted urns and outdoor living spaces, creating your own work of art beneath those tall trees.
How does Moonlighting Work?
Moonlighting is an integral part of a properly designed low voltage LED landscape lighting system. Today LED technology has supplanted halogen lighting as state of the art. You hear about and see LED lighting often in the aisles of every home improvement store. The choices can be overwhelming, so here’s why LED is important to moonlighting.

  • Far lower wattage resulting in substantial energy savings.
  • Service life can be 4 times that of halogen or more, resulting in fewer expired bulbs and lower maintenance cost. Which is obviously important when the fixture is 20 to 30 feet off the ground.
  • Smaller fixtures allows them to be tucked into inconspicuous spaces throughout the tree limbs.
  • LED is available in various tones of white light (called color temperature), easily allowing us to match the lighting to your preference.

Moonlight should not be the only type of lighting on your property, but is an essential part of bringing out the best of your landscape design after dark. If you love the effect of moonlighting but not the idea of climbing the ladder, contact us to schedule a consultation.

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