In 1913 the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote: “ I think that I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree”. Trees are indeed magnificent works of nature. They ’re the most impressive natural features on most of the properties in our area. Lighting trees with 21st-century technology extends our delight in them past sundown and through the night. Selected and arranged by an experienced designer, the nocturnal spectacle can be a stunning enhancement of nature’s gift.
There’s more to it than just trying to replace what the setting sun takes away. A bright floodlight can certainly show the world there’s a tree on that spot. However, a more thoughtful installation subtly accents a tree’s textures, shapes, and colors. It can throw intriguing shadows onto nearby surfaces. Lighting trees calls for consideration of tree size, vantage points, and the overall landscape lighting design. A good design is a balanced design.
One light can suffice for small decorative trees. Well lights, flush with the ground near the base of the trunk, are often enough. In contrast, medium-size trees usually call for two fixtures in two positions. Ground installations work for all but the largest trees. That said, medium and larger trees offer opportunities to create stunning effects with artful positioning in the branches. Downlights throw shadows onto the ground, nearby structures, or water features. The shadow art becomes kinetic in a breeze.
A columnar cherry and a spreading beech are very different canvases to paint with light. The human eye is more effective scanning horizontally than vertically. Hence, landscape lighting design should consider whether to emphasize or to soften the standout dimension of a tree.
Finally, when lighting trees a designer should consider where a tree will be viewed from. Of course, this depends a lot on the tree’s setting. A wide-open setting in a yard has vantage points all around, calling for 360-degree effect. In contrast, trees lining paths or driveways can be lit as path lights, emphasizing the way. Vantage points are limited for trees set near structures, but the structures offer opportunities for mounting fixtures to silhouette these trees.
LIGHTING TREES AS ART
As always, the bedrock maxim of landscape lighting is ”less is more”. The total effect should be to show how expansive your home and yard really are. When Joyce Kilmer wrote “Trees” in 1913, the richest person in the world couldn’t enjoy his trees at night the way you can see yours today. I wish I could bring Kilmer into the present. I’d invite him to my yard at sunset, show him my birches, and as night fell say to him “Sir, let me make you say WOW!”
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