The week before last I was lucky enough to attend Custom House’s Grand Designs convention, wherein over a thousand different exhibitors displayed a range of new products, techniques and disciplines, applicable not only to interior design and decoration but also (on a smaller scale) to horticulture and outdoor decoration.
In this regard, the overall focus largely fell to the advertisement of commercial ventures such as outdoor furniture (which will be covered in our next segment) or ecological building alternatives, but there was one exhibit that struck me as particularly unique – that of a night-based garden.
The impetus of the design lay in the philosophy that due to the hectic lifestyle required to support a grand outdoor space, many of us don’t get the choice to enjoy our garden during the daytime – ironic no? So, ‘The 24 Hour Garden’, as it was so aptly named, was built with not only its lit aesthetic in mind, but also the applications it might promise after hours, particularly those of hosting and catering.
It seemed a topic not oft discussed in conventional garden design, so I wanted to set aside some blog space to suggest how one might go about building your own garden whose usefulness is complete, regardless of whether the clock reads lunchtime or late-o-clock.
Despite the night garden being traditionally a dimmed place, lighting is an essential component to make the space both useable in the summer months, and visually accessible in the winter. Like the palette you choose for your planting, lighting is, at best, a subtle art, meaning that although it is a characteristic of the day time there is no need for yours to be reminiscent of blazing sunshine. Indeed, as any photographer will tell you, the nightscape provides lighting opportunities not available when sunlight is abundant – hence the attraction of black and white celluloid where the light becomes a means of punctuation rather than the prose itself.
The beauty of modern lighting is the variety of different forms it comes in: stairway lighting, underwater illumination, overhead down-lighters or vertical up-lighters, not to mention those concealed within the plants themselves. This latter is a popular option as it helps negate the tone of artificiality that the plastics and metals of a lighting system evoke.
The underwater light is also a marvellous addition to the night garden which, while not particularly functional, gives an access to view any wildlife inhabiting your ponds you might not otherwise be privy to.
However, the likely motivation for building or adapting a night garden is so that you have the means and the place to entertain and to relax after hours and to this end I would also recommend, either recessed walkover floor lighting, or focal point spot lighting rather than harsh floodlighting as is so often seen in gardens.
Floor lighting is a softer option and will not be a threatening trip hazard in the twilight, particularly with the use of frosted lenses, while spotlighting will lend a glamorous red-carpet feel to not only the garden but to any tree canopies above it too.
So, assuming the garden is to be a place of hospitality, and now we’ve established how you and your guests will find their way around it, we must next discuss what it is they’ll be finding their way around.
A seating area should be one of your first considerations, mainly because unlike the lighting, its value will not be detracted by the absence of darkness – you can enjoy a quiet sit down as much on your days off, as after your days on. Comfortable seating, whether free-standing or built-in is a must and we’ll discuss this in a later article.
You might also want to making this a dining area, with the addition of a barbeque or chiminea, or even a small scale bar or outdoor kitchen, if you’re budget will accommodate. In any case there’s no feeling comparable to cooking, preparing and dining in the outdoors and as such, this should definitely be considered.
Finally, we have the presentation of the garden itself and how we can make best use of the elements of night, whilst still ensuring that the site is picturesque in the daytime and for this reason I must reiterate the use of water. Lights will capture the sparkle of moving water as it falls, but there are few natural elements better paired then the blackness of still water at night, and the moon and stars reflection within it. It gives fluidity to an arcane archetype of our culture, indigenous to the mythology of our ancestors.
Candles or lanterns also take us back to our ancient roots, and make an excellent addition to the night garden for the magical and transient quality of their light.
Wind chimes are also highly effective in the night garden, partly due to their taking advantage of what might be an uncomfortably chill breeze, but mostly due to their obscurity when placed correctly. By semi-concealing the chimes you’ll lend an air of mystery to the space as guests will not be able to place their songs’ origin. If, however, you prefer more contemporary tunes, why not install some unobtrusive speakers in your garden and enjoy all your favourite music while you entertain.
In our next article concerning the Grand Designs exposition, we’ll be discussing the various materials and devices that were on show, both at Grand Designs and its previous counterpart Ecobuild, that can be implemented to make your homes and green spaces more eco-friendly.
By Josh Ellison