Landscape lighting effectively gives you twice the garden, because you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors not just in the daytime, but also at night. A spotlight, shining upward on a towering palm; subtle low-voltage lights marking a path through a rose garden; flaming torches framing the entrance to your patio--lights make the night come alive, even in your own backyard.
Low-voltage lighting systems--the best known are those marketed under the Malibu Lighting name--have been a mainstay of landscape lighting plans for years. An electrical cord is strung around the yard; lights with 4- to 20-watt bulbs snap into this cord and provide subtle yet illuminating light. Malibu-style lighting works great along pathways or in perimeter plant beds.
Advances in solar technology now make solar landscape lighting a viable and green alternative to traditional low-voltage lighting systems. Home improvement stores as well as the big discount chains all carry an assortment of low-powered solar lights, each topped with a solar panel and containing rechargeable batteries. Just stick them in the ground and you're done. And best of all, you can buy these individual lights for as little as $4 a pop, as of 2009.
No, they're not just for Christmas. Buy a few strands of minilights, or clear-plastic "ropes" with tiny lights inside, and wind them around trees, string them along fences or tack them around the front door frame. They look especially nice in a Spanish-themed courtyard, wound around a towering ficus tree or strung along a wrought-iron fence and arbor.
Particularly for a tropical garden, nothing beats torches. They evoke hot tropical nights and rumba dances, a roast pig cooking over an open pit and gently swaying hula dancers. Sprinkle them along your perimeter beds in lieu of low-voltage lighting, and use them to frame entryways to your patio or backyard. You can invest in pricey gas-powered torches with sturdy metal poles, or cheap bamboo torches that burn lamp oil and cost around $3 apiece, as of 2009. You might even want to consider a jumbo torch by the front door, in lieu of an entrance light.
Flood lights work in tandem with many other kinds of lighting concepts. Use them to accent focus plants, such as towering palms or majestic maples, in the corners of your yard. Try different colors, two lights per plant and your kids will think they're at Disneyland.