Hartley Magazine

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Alt-Light: Bright and Easy Ideas for Outdoor Lighting

Decorating a conservatory, garden or patio doesn’t begin and end with fussy plants and lawn chairs. And in this month’s article let me revisit my favorite trick – decorating with light: for me, luminarias and Christmas twinkle lights (see December’s article) are just the tip of bulb. With this article, I hope to win even more of you over to the bright side.

Most outdoor light fixtures these days are LED and are, best of all, solar powered. You know those inexpensive solar path lights from big box stores? Well, here’s a quick hack that upcycles goblet-shaped glass shades from ceiling fan lights (tons of them at nearly every Habitat for Humanity outlet), and repurposes those basic path lights to make something fun and fabulous.

Begin by removing the light’s plastic stake, upend the lampshade and plop the light fixture into it, solar side facing. Wrap a length of wire around the wide end of the shade, just below the edge so that it’s secure, then attach a length of wire to make a handle for hanging purposes. No expensive batteries to renew (and add to the landfill) or wiring to trail like tripwires across the floor. Dot them around inside the conservatory or the garden, wherever they can soak up sunlight. The lights can also be put in preserving jars to make table lanterns, but it takes a bit of disguising to make them look more than a jam jar with a light in it.

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Solar-powered lights housed in bright paper lanterns are better than balloons to amp up a prettily decorated table for an outdoor event. Photo Paper+Design, Germany.
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Glass lanterns with a definite Danish mid-century modern look have leather handles and openings making swapping out candles easy to keep the glow glowing.

The kindest light is indirect, and it’s the most relaxing, too, and since relaxing is what outdoor living is all about, save the klieg lights for the tennis court. And keep the light elements mobile, because the modern conservatory is not your granny’s front parlor. Moving things around to suit the mood and the moment is part of the fun, so lights that follow the flow are essential. A portable floor lamp with character when off or on is an asset; look for pattern or distinctive material. The lamp shown here, called EGO 3 by its Italian designers, is made from a fine steel tube that’s been laser cut into a filigreed pattern — like a kaleidoscope, it scatters petals of light around the space. But since it’s also an uplighter, there’s just enough illumination to set a comfortable mood. Fantastico!

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EGO 3 floor light makes a stunning contemporary statement. There’s also a table lamp version that is cut from Carrara marble. Available through design professionals. Photo Martini Light, Italy.

One of my favorite times to be in the garden is dusk as the full moon rises. Shapes shift silently from leaf to leaf, the indolid scent of lilies and jasmine is released to attract night moths that feed on the nectar and move pollen from flower to flower in a symbiotic love affair. It’s a supercharged romantic garden moment and for that reason, white and pale-colored planting schemes were must-haves in old-fashioned, English-style gardens.

Perhaps the best known of these is the much-loved White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle, where I was lucky enough to be an overnight guest some years ago, and could wander at will in the dusky garden. Even though the moon was far from full, the scent and spectral glimmer of white roses over the arbor and the whispery fluttering of moths among the tobacco plants, angel’s trumpets and mock orange created a transcendent moment. These are some of top night-scented flowers, suited to almost every garden zone, and equally at home in a glasshouse.

When the heavens are dark but you crave moon glow, these moon-shaped garden lights will more than satisfy. Made from a material called Nebulite®, a mix of resin and fibers, the globes look as veined and textured as the craggy face of the Man in the Moon. Tucked among night-scented flowers or outsize foliage plants, these gently glowing spheres of light are breathtaking sculptures to decorate a conservatory garden.

These are just a few ways to illuminate the evening garden; there’s plenty more, so get your glow on and light up your imagination.

Moon-landing! These mini-moons from Italian design firm In-es, can be used with dimmable LED bulbs and come in three diameter sizes: 50, 70, and 120cm. Photo In-Es.