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Outdoor Lighting – Expert Advice on Good Design and Avoiding Common Mistakes

Outdoor lighting is easy to install and do it yourself, but most of the time it is not the installation that people do wrong, it is the design. Placing lights outside is akin to painting a scenic picture of your home and its surroundings in the best possible light. A picture perfect home and landscape will have both high and low focal points of interest, much like a painting done by an artist. A strong and artistic composition in design and painting will lead the viewer’s eye through a scene. First the viewer will look at the most prominent high focal point in the outdoor lighting scene then the viewer will look around to less important areas depending on the intensity of the focal points and unique or dramatic features that make them standout in the landscape. To achieve a beautiful design for your landscape and home exterior it is necessary to have both high and low intensity illumination.

Outdoor lighting designers generally make the main doorway to the home the high focal point of the front view. The reason being is that the doorway is the welcoming place of your home. It is also the main gateway from the inside of your home to the outside world. Professional designers consider it the main activity area and thus the “center of interest.” Decorative light fixtures increase the aesthetic appeal and financial value of a home. They also heighten the security. The ornate and stylistic features of exterior lights are also appreciated during the day. Whether night or day, they give a home a beautiful refined look. Decorative exterior lights add another level of sophistication to a home and landscape. The key is to balance the lights that are brighter with those that are subtle.

Ornamental outdoor lights are generally designed to be used as the high focal points, and usually at least one is placed on a home. In your landscape, high focal points are made with accent, spot or post lights. Low voltage light fixtures are used to softly light up your landscape; the low focal areas of interest. Varying the illumination techniques and type of fixtures will arouse the interest of your viewers by creating different shadowing and illumination effects.

Usually a bad outdoor lighting design is a result of illuminating the scenic view of your home too much or too little. Too much illumination on the exterior of your home and landscape can make it look like a high security parking lot in which there is an excess of glare at the viewer and is more of a nuisance; not just to guests but also to neighbors. On a side note, a good rule of thumb is to never point light fixtures at your neighbor’s windows.

Insufficient illumination on a home or landscape usually creates an eery feeling. Often time, it is done by leaving the home or the landscape in the dark and seemingly disconnected. An excess of darkness in the landscape or on your home is also a security flaw. Ensuring that all steps, walkways and drives are properly illuminated also minimizes accidents. Meager illumination negatively affects the aesthetic appeal of your landscape and home and the safety of your loved ones.

Installing light fixtures outdoors can be easy. However, knowledge on common techniques and errors goes a long way to getting a professional designer appearance that will not look like you did it yourself.

Add Some Decorative and Visually Appealing Elements to Your Vegetable Garden!

Choose some decorative items to add to your vegetable garden.

Vegetable gardens don’t have to be plain or ugly. Make your garden space more attractive by adding a few of these items.

1. Fencing. Split rail or wrought iron fencing can be added as borders around the garden or as features in it. They also double as a great support for beans, grapes, and many other edibles to grow on.

2. Bird bath. You may or may not want to add these to your garden. They are nice to look at, but if you are concerned about attracting more birds to your garden (especially if you have berry plants) then you may not want to add one of these. Bird baths can make great planters for certain vegetables and herbs if you want to add something a little bit different to your garden, and use it for something other than its intended purpose.

3. Arbor. Adding an arbor to your garden is one sure way to add some aesthetic appeal. Try landscaping around your arbor with planters, landscape stones, mulch, crushed stone, etc. to really make it stand out. Arbors can be great for grapes and other plants to grow on. Also, a few sunflowers planted around an arbor looks really cool.

4. Pathways. I like to have pathways made out of mulch, crushed stone, or landscape stones in my garden. You can create some very cool patterns and designs in your garden using pathways.

5. Raised beds. Raised beds are great to plant vegetables in (many vegetables thrive in a raised bed), and they look great. Adding multiple levels to your garden (especially if it’s a flat piece of land) will break up the visual monotony and draw your eyes to different specific areas of the garden. Raised beds can be as ornate or simple as you desire and can be built from wood or landscape blocks.

6. Bird feeders. These always look great hanging around your garden and may help to keep the birds away from your berry plants. One tip I have when using bird feeders is to keep them stationed away from any plants that birds like to bother.

7. Fountain. Fountains can be very attractive to look at but typically require a good deal of maintenance and upkeep. However, when they are clean and running well they really add another element to your property.

8. Other planting techniques. There are many types of planting techniques that can add visual appeal to your garden. Raised beds (mentioned above), mound gardening, pole bean tepees (found here: http://www.ehow.com/how_5884338_build-pole-bean-tepee.html ) and upside down tomato planters (found here: http://www.ehow.com/how_5884368_easily-upside-down-tomato-planter.html ) are just some of the interesting gardening strategies you can employ.

A Look Back In Time: Landscaping Trends From the 1920s-50s

Although some of us look at landscaping as more of a business than an art form, the truth is, landscaping has a rich and intricate history that has a lot to say about the social and cultural development of our society. In fact, some speak so highly of landscaping as a form of ancient art that they trace its roots to one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon created in 600 BC.

While we’re busy installing landscapes that bring the best of modern technologies to our customers, like outdoor televisions and sound systems, it’s easy to forget just how much the idea of ‘landscaping’ has changed over time. Just a few decades back, landscaping was considered an absolute luxury. Only the ‘well-to-do’ could afford to decorate their outdoor space with beautiful garden beds and patios and deck out their backyard with the latest outdoor toys.

Nowadays, some form of landscaping – even if it means a few trees, a small yard, a porch or patio – is expected. That being said, while basic landscaping is the norm, most homeowners actually take it a step further. They feel it is important to enhance the curb appeal to their home and, more importantly, they enjoy having an outdoor space that is completely tailored to their own tastes. Hence, the desire to treat the landscape as an extension of the home, complete with all the comforts and added luxuries of the inside interior. But it wasn’t always this way.

For fun, here’s a look back at the landscaping trends of earlier decades – minus today’s Japanese-inspired spa gardens, outdoor kitchens, and fire pit tables.

The Roarin’ 20′s:

1920′s landscaping was all about the greenery. There was a real desire to celebrate and welcome nature in all its glory, which led homeowners to install bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths, as well as fish ponds and rock gardens… anything that would draw more nature to the home. At this time, bird watching was a shared hobby, so plants and trees with berries (such as holly, hawthorne, nandina, rugosa roses, crabapples) were popular choices.

In the 1920′s home, the front yard was considered the “public place” and was, therefore, the space that received the most attention with regards to landscaping. Most houses featured a wide front porch, often furnished with rockers and swings so that folks could comfortably enjoy the natural outdoor scenery. Most front yards didn’t have fences, and walkways and driveways were typically lined with perennials, such as Canterbury bells, irises, foxgloves, phlox, pyrethrum, coreopsis, hollyhocks, roses, columbine, delphinium, poppies, and carnations and annuals, such as California poppies, cosmos, petunias, snapdragons, verbena, bachelor’s buttons, centaurea (sweet sultan), strawflowers, marigolds, drummond phlox, asters, etc. Shrubs were boxwood, holly, yews, abelia.

The backyard, often referred to as the “service area” was mostly reserved for drying clothes on clothes lines and storing garbage cans, although some owners designated a small area in the backyard as a “private place,” which was usually screened off or fenced in or surrounded by a border of trees or shrubs to shield residents from their neighbors’ watchful eyes and from the sun.

Popular recreational activities often found their way into the landscape design. Campfires, bowling greens, putting greens, and croquet grounds were popular landscape features.

The Dirty 30′s:

The decade of the Great Depression saw little advancements on the landscaping front. Most homeowners were struggling to make ends meet, which meant little to no money was left over to spend on luxuries, such as landscaping. That being said, there were still a few popular gardening trends. Large rose gardens were popular during the 1930s, as were plants such as hydrangeas, lilacs and hostas.

The Booming 50′s:

Consumerism is probably the most appropriate word to describe the theme of the 1950s. And just as it affected most aspects of life in the 50s, it influenced the type and style of landscaping that was popular in suburbia. Looking back now, we typically associate the 50s garden and landscape style with all things ‘tacky’ – garden gnomes, plastic pink flamingos, an overuse of evergreens as foundation plantings and an excessive amount of green lawn. In other words, a far cry from the modern, eco-friendly looks popular today!

While 1950s landscapes may conjure up images of plastic decorations and boxed hedges, the 1950s are actually defined as a decade of “modernism.” Albeit, a type of modernism far different from the so-called “modern” styles of today. With an incredible amount of soldiers returning home from the war in the 1950s, getting married and starting families, the home building industry boomed.

However, much of the homes built were on the smaller side, leaving limited space for landscaping. The result of space constrictions was “modern” landscaping – a style that was far removed from the overly-embellished look of the pre-war era.

Although modernism was the style du-jour, with the rise of consumerism and the love for all things with a price tag came the fascination with big and showy items. Garden flowers were over-sized, vibrant and colorful, for instance, large tea roses like Garden Party roses, Tiffany roses, and Chrysler Imperial roses were popular choices. And, in line with the whole ‘keeping up with the Jones’ concept, the lawn was the symbol of suburbia dream living. The greener and bigger the lawn, the better! With the boom in consumerism and the desire to keep lawns perfectly maintained, the marketplace was flooded with lawn care products, including pesticides and chemicals for pest control. At this time, the first lawn spreader was also invented.

And there you have it! Times really have changed… next we’ll look at landscaping trends from the 60s to present date. Stay tuned!