Garden lighting

Sometimes the best time to sit down and enjoy the garden is at the end of the day. Flowers and foliage take on a magical quality at twilight, but once the sun sets, the garden quickly disappears behind a curtain of darkness. That’s when an illuminated garden becomes most appealing. Here’s how to light an outdoor setting to enhance its natural beauty:

Don’t go overboard. My rule of thumb when lighting a garden is less rather than more. The idea is to create a safe, soothing, subtly lit atmosphere, not to flood the garden with so many lights it looks like high noon.

Let plants glow.

Before you hire an electrician to wire your garden for lights, consider adding plants with white blooms and silvery foliage. These plants add their own natural brilliance to the night garden. To add even more appeal, choose light-colored flowers that have a sweet fragrance, such as angels’ trumpets (Brugmansia spp.), gardenia (Gardenia augusta), moonflower (Ipomoea alba), flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestrus), or Oriental lily ‘Casa Blanca’. Silver and variegated foliage also turns up the wattage in containers and nearby flower borders.

Keep in style. Just as you choose lamps and light fixtures inside your home to complement the décor of the room, look for outdoor candles, lanterns, or wall lamps that go with the style of your garden. For instance, if you have a relaxed cottage-style garden,  antique lanterns or candles in wire-mesh baskets might be the perfect accent. For a tropical poolside garden, use tiki torches anchored in gravel-filled galvanized buckets to complement the garden’s style.

Take advantage of blank walls. If your outdoor seating area is next to the house, your home’s exterior forms one wall in your outdoor setting. Add lights to this area to create a focal point at night. Look for other nearby flat vertical surfaces such as a fence or the side of a tool shed. Accent the wall with one or more lights and enjoy the patterns created when the light plays off the background. If a wall isn’t available, anchor a trellis in a container and adorn it with lights.

Use holiday lights in summer. Unpack some of your exterior holiday lights and use them for your summer garden. If the walkway to your garden is lined with shrubs, cover them with netted lights. This type of light looks best when the wires are nestled into the shrub rather than just laid on top. Also, place strings of lights along the edge of the path to provide direction and guidance for visitors making their way to your garden. When decorating with these types of lights, use restraint. Too many can make it appear as though you forgot to take down the Christmas decorations.

Be safe and energy-efficient. There’s nothing like the glimmer of candlelight to add romance to an outdoor area, but there are times when open flames aren’t safe. In those cases, try LED lights that flicker just like candles. They’re available in a range of sizes and designs, and some turn on and off automatically at dusk and dawn. LED lights burn longer and use less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. Long-lasting battery LED lights also help you illuminate areas where there’s no place to plug in.

Importance of ants in gardens

The fate if your garden depends on ants. That might sound like an overstatement, but these insects—which most people think of as pests—play several important roles in your yard’s ecosystem.

Ants are movers and shakers. Many ant species are predators of other insects. Without the millions of ants in your garden, more caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers would be left unchecked to devour your plants.

Ants themselves are prey for larger predators. Northern flickers are woodpeckers that specialize in feeding on ants. A flicker laps up ants by the dozen with each flick of its long tongue. Unlike other woodpeckers, flickers—which are found across North America—regularly feed on the ground, where ants are easiest to find. Horned lizards in the desert Southwest also feed on ants, sometimes exclusively. Most backyard birds feed their babies insects, including ants. If your garden lacks a healthy ant population, these other critters will be less likely to visit.

Plants also rely on ants. Ant tunnels channel air, water, and organic matter directly to plant roots and loosen the soil, making it easier for roots to grow. Ants also disperse the seeds of many plants, including trilliums, violets, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies, and datura. The seeds of such plants have fleshy, nutritious appendages called eliaosomes, which lure ants. The ants feed the eliaosomes to their larvae and then ditch the seeds in nutrient-rich midden heaps outside the colony, where the seeds germinate.

Ants generally aren’t pests. Only a few ant species become pests. Carpenter ants tunnel through soft wood to create a nest, and can cause damage in homes with decaying wood. Tiny, exotic Argentine ants are common home invaders, where they feed on all sorts of food items and have been known to damage electronic equipment. The red imported fire ant creates huge mounds and has an extremely painful bite.

Unfortunately, we tend to spray first and ask questions later, when in most cases ants are probably providing beneficial services to your garden. Start by identifying the species and determining if it is truly a pest. If poison is your only option, soak bread in a mixture of 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon borax and put it in a small plastic container with holes in the side. This method is effective and essentially nontoxic to people and other animals.

Ants have great social skills. Just like humans, ants owe their success to their social nature. Within a colony there’s a complex, tremendously efficient division of labor. Depending on the species, an ant colony could include foragers, warriors, hunters, nannies, janitors, undertakers, engineers, gardeners, herders, guards, egg-laying queens, and even ants that turn their bodies into food-storage units for other ants.

Ants communicate via chemical pheromones, which they detect with their antennae. Some species lay pheromone trails to food sources; foragers from their colony follow and strengthen these trails. When crushed, certain species release a pheromone that causes other ants in the area to attack or to flee. Each colony has its own pheromone; some species will attack ants with a different smell.

As you learn more about these fascinating, diminutive insects, you’ll come to appreciate the role they play in keeping your garden healthy.

Enjoying your garden

As a gardener, you work hard to create a beautiful landscape. So it only seems natural to carve out a few areas where you can pull up a chair and admire your achievements. You might be surprised to find that you can use your gardening skills to create outdoor living areas that rival the best rooms in your house. You’ll soon find out that attractive furnishings enhance an outdoor setting as much as eye-catching flowers.

Survey the surroundings.  Just as you consider the light, soil, and water conditions of a site before choosing a plant, so you’ll want to size up the location when you start designing an outdoor space. Is the spot burdened with unsightly views, noisy streets, prevailing winds, or too much sun? By noticing and solving these potential problems, you’ll enjoy a more liveable location.

Consider quick-growing hedges, vine-covered pergolas, and trellises or lattice panels to create screening that makes an area more intimate and private. Gazebos, arbors, awnings, and fences further define a space, block unsightly views, and offer shade and wind protection.

Follow the leader. When choosing chairs, tables, trellises, and accessories for fresh-air spaces, let your home’s architecture be the guide. Look for furnishings that complement its style, whether that’s colonial, cottage, or contemporary. For instance, just as roses suggest a casual cottage look, so does outdoor wicker furniture. If you’re using clipped boxwoods to communicate formality, consider battery benches. With their wooden slats supported by cast-iron legs and arms, they work well in formal settings. Blousy ferns work with an ornate cast-iron table to convey Victorian charm.

Even the colours and patterns of cushions and pillows can reflect your home’s décor. Chintz patterns say cottage, solids support a traditional look, and highly patterned fabrics create a Victorian mood.

Find colour cues. A garden’s colour theme is an important part of its design, and the same is true in outdoor furnishings. Take note of the colours in the immediate surroundings. For instance, if you have a brick patio, select furniture in colours that go well with brick-red, such as rich brown, taupe, and green. Enliven concrete surfaces with blue, pink, and purple, all of which complement grey. Remember that cool colours such as blue visually enlarge a space, while warm colours such as red and yellow make an area seem smaller.

Accessorise with interior elements. The more comfortable the setting, the longer you’ll stay. Pile on the pillows, add cushions to chairs and benches, and dress tables with colourful fabrics. When you’re outside, the eye has more things competing for its attention, so bolder patterns and colours get more notice. On the other hand, if you want your garden to take centre stage, fabrics in a neutral palette play a supporting role.

Lamps, rugs, and candelabras are now made in outdoor materials to weather the elements. You’ll find outdoor wall sconces, decorative lanterns, mirrors, and more. Make the setting uniquely yours by adding things that have meaning to you, like souvenirs from trips or gifts from friends. And bring the garden even closer with planted containers and cut flower arrangements.

Make quality a priority. Value-conscious gardeners know that investing in healthy trees, shrubs, and perennials pays off. The same is true with outdoor furnishings. Some are designed to last longer than others.

If you want outdoor fabrics that won’t fade, look for those that are solution-dyed rather than yarn-dyed. Solution-dyed fabric has color through to its core, while yarn-dyed fabric has a layer of color over a white core. Furniture longevity also varies. Wicker furniture designed for outdoor use has been both fully submerged in and sprayed with acrylic-based outdoor resins like those in premium outdoor paints.