Pathlighting

Whenever I talk about landscape lighting, inevitably the talk will turn to pathlights. Some love them, some hate them but most don’t know the real deal with them. Some of the well-known manufacturers of landscape lighting have hundreds of different types of pathlights. I tell my clients that there is a philosophy that I bring to my lighting and that approach is most apparent in pathlighting. The problem with the multiple choices of pathlights is that they are like dog toys. The pathlight will, in most cases, get the job done of applying light to the area but the decorative aspect of them is irrelevant. Like a dog toy, the toy, is enjoyed by the dog but all of the fancy colors are not for the dog because they are color blind. The colors are for the dog owner. They buy them because they look fun or pretty. To the dog, it just doesn’t matter. The same goes for pathlighting.

Even the name pathlighting is confusing. Due to the fact that these fixtures are associated with the “runway” lighting effect that so many uneducated lighting designers, electricians and landscapers create by installing these in a “column of ducks” along a walkway. Pathlighting can obviously, be the choice for lighting a path, they have another use as well. Installing these in the garden near low plants allow the colors of these plants to come alive. Contrasting plant colors with the dark, earthy look of a nice mulch bed, brings this area of a garden to life at night that otherwise would be forgotten. Between focal points such as ornamental trees, pathlighting eliminates the dark pool that inhabits the areas between these specimens. Without that cohesive lighting, usually less than the focal points, you create imbalance in the brain due to the fact that as the eye moves across the area, it opens and closes creating discomfort in the brain.

When talking to a lighting designer, know that the really good lighting designer is never going to talk about the look of the pathlight. In fact, it is best if the pathlight could completely disappear into the landscape. That way the light produced does the work. It enhances the garden appearance at night and does not compete with it. Ideally, even during daylight hours, the pathlight will never distract from the beauty of the garden.

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