Light up the night with a string of solar solutions

Kya deLongchamps is switched on by the latest in cool, budget lighting for enjoying and securing your garden during the dog days of summer.

MAINS lighting is now only a glimmer of the wider story for outdoor lighting this season.

LED (light emitting diode) lighting, solar and battery technology has now blazed into life, with quality units matching the equivalently sized mains lights. 

With 300,000 hours of service, LED bulbs will never need replacing unless physically damaged. 

Also, cool and safely freed from mains wiring, there’s no danger of shocks or burns to children, animals or tipsy guests strutting in the moonlight.

Solar power just makes sense for accents, decorative effects and accessing the garden by night, and you can enjoy it year round, even through those overcast days. 

The latest outdoor entertaining includes not only lights but also solar-powered tables, chairs and ornamental pieces that glow magically on the lawn or patio.

Light up the night with a string of solar solutions

Spot the difference

Solar fairy strings remain cheap and cheerful but for spotlights, fixed or staked, it’s worth making a more serious investment. Prices for detailed products in cast aluminium will be higher (€20-40 per unit), but keep in mind those zero running costs.

Look for:

* The quality of the solar collector panel and the battery is what marks out one unit from another. Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries are the latest addition in battery power. Two 1000mAh Ni-Mh are a powerful addition to a single four- to eight-LED spot.

* 5m cables — longer cables linking the light to its solar collector allow you greater positioning choices. Consider for example camouflaging spots deep in a shaggy border while actually charging them from an open area for 12-14 hours on a summer’s day for eight to 10 hours of light after dark.

* Four- to eight-LEDs — more bulbs will multiply the light, reaching the level of mains lighting when fully charged. Areas up to 15m away can be lit from a single spot.

* For cheaper one bulb stakes, multiply the number of stakes, grouping closely on paths. Double the number to reach mains level washes of light.

* Ensure the housing and any connections are weather proofed and suited to your chosen area.

* Tinted covers can warm up that rather sterile white LED light.

Light up the night with a string of solar solutions

Security lights

Solar powered security lights with PIR (passive infra-red) sensors can charge even on an overcast day, and, as they are lit only intermittently, are a valuable addition for garages, driveways, sheds and back doors.

* For a blaze of light — 16 LEDs to a single unit would not be unusual and in new generation lights this can be as great as 56 LEDs (Evo56 Next Generation). Prices for a single light vary from €30-€100.

* Look for a six-hour working time in one charge.

* A standalone PIR can set off several lights at once. Ask your supplier for ideas.

* Adjustable motion — these turn the light off after movement detected by the infra-red sensor stops. You can make this period as short as 10 seconds (if, say, you have a prowling cat) or 80 seconds to put off intruders.

* Extension cables — if your security light is going to be stuck on the north side of the house, ensure the charging panel soaks up that sun on the south side. An extension to a standard 5m cable is useful.

Light up the night with a string of solar solutions

Good fairies

For an ambient glow, string lighting provides effortless atmosphere, and you can be as Las Vegas as you like with colour changers, flashers and themes.

* Wind string lights around columns and trees, thread through fencing and climbers, and give your awnings and pagodas a trim of light with a few well placed clips. White light set on high features recalls starlight.

* For tables, put together a rustic chandelier from a few bare branches. Use some water-based emulsion to add colour (white is heavenly). Gathering into a downward facing bunch, fasten with a zip-tie, and enrich with fairy lights, dribbling from the limbs.

* Fairy lights scrunched into jam jars make lovely glow jars for just a few euros. Tie garden string around the neck of the jar to suspend them in singles or multiples or line them down the centre of the supper table.

* More expensive units will feature an on/off switch allowing you to store your light until you need it for a special event or to change the lighting array to suit your mood.

* Dress up an inexpensive string of solar bulbs by poking them through the bases of fairy cake papers to create diaphanous climbing blossoms.

* Don’t use star sized, flashing accent light where full spotlights and lanterns are needed to help pedestrians past a hazard in the garden.

Light up the night with a string of solar solutions

Solar furnishings

Currently limited to dressing up the underside of parasols with a few LEDs, there are signs of new light in solar furniture. Jean-Marie Massaud’s esclipse-style table light for Foscarni is one of a number of exciting high-end designer innovations in the area of solar furniture in the garden. 

Supplied by Willie Duggan lighting in Ireland, it would look fabulous in a spare, courtyard garden where it can be enjoyed as a focal point from indoors on cooler nights. €680.

If you want that full Miami lava lamp glow for hearty seating translucent pieces in plastics rechargeable battery-powered tables, chairs and stools will deliver a more consistent shine and start in the area of €300 (try The Glow Company, UK).

The bird-shaped Paloma garden seat with light is already a design classic wowing Aarnio’s many fans, by Eero Aarnio for Serralunga, €304 


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