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Give your garden festive sparkle by lighting it up in winter

As Glow events begin at gardens nationwide, find inspiration on lighting up your own garden. By Hannah Stephenson.

Glow events at RHS gardens, Kew and other outside spaces which provide spectacular light festivals in winter make for a great evening out – but how about bringing a little bit of that sparkle home?

There are lots of ways to make your own garden glow, using outdoor fairy lights, lanterns and uplighting in warm, welcoming tones, to cheer the cold nights and get you into the festive spirit.

Here are some experts tips…

All about the atmosphere

“Rather than think decoration, think atmosphere first, and the mood and the feeling you want when you are in the garden,” suggests designer Andrew Duff (, co-chair of the council of the Society of Garden Designers and director of the Inchbald School of Design.

“If you are after a relaxed, festive, soft look, how are you going to achieve that? It might not necessarily be covering a tree with fairy lights. You might want to do it in a more subtle way.”

Create tree appeal

Kevin Martin, head of tree collections at Kew, says: “One of the best ways to add festive lights to your garden is to wrap pea light LEDs around the trunk and branch structure of any trees in your garden. This is always incredibly popular at Christmas at Kew, and will bring interest into your garden through the long dark nights of winter. It will also accentuate the lovely structure of the tree.

“Another way is to use uplighters on the ground, pointing directly up through the canopy and highlighting the trunk. Again, be sure to use LEDs, as halogen bulbs give off heat which can cause damage to bark in the colder months,” Martin adds. “Good trees to light up in the winter months are birches, with their striking white bark. Another great tree to highlight with lights is Tibetan cherry, with its striking red bark. Acers, especially snakebark maples, can also work well.”

Duff suggests: “Rolling up a ball of fairy lights and sticking a number of those in a tree so they look like huge snowflakes can be really effective.

“You can also get large snowflake-shaped lights, which are often solar-panelled, charging through the day and then coming on at night, which can be a good alternatives.”

Light up with lanterns

“Lanterns are an excellent idea,” Duff continues. “Consider where the light is going to fall. If you are going to be outside for a glass of mulled wine, maybe it’s just about illuminating the table area, which you could also decorate.

“Keep it soft and subtle. Rather than over-illuminate, you just want the area subtle and soft. You might be using candles in lanterns. What you get with candlelight is rich softness and the flicker which you can’t reproduce any other way,” he adds. “You could even use a scented candle with a Christmas fragrance.”

Think warm colours

“Select a warm white light with a slight hue of yellow in it for a warm and traditional look,” suggests Matthew Pottage, curator of RHS Garden Wisley ( “Pure white lights have a colder and more stark appearance, which can say ‘winter’ as opposed to ‘Christmas’.”

A pure approach of all warm white lights gives a very timeless and elegant effect, he adds, but if you want a kitsch, vintage look, mix all colours.

Duff adds: “I’m a great fan of sticking to one colour, whether it’s whites or off whites, but nothing says Christmas like red outside. Maybe you make all the lights in your trees red, which can produce a beautiful red glow. But when you start mixing a lot of colours it falls apart a bit.”

Fill your frames

“Anything structural can be highlighted beautifully with lighting, such as an arbour, seat or feature tree, but just go back to atmosphere rather than decoration. Less is more is key in creating a magical space,” says Duff.

Consider lighting types

Duff says: “Solar lighting has got much better, but if you’re prepared to turn things on and off, the battery-operated LEDs are superb and last a very long time, certainly as long as you’d need them in the evening. Then there are no electrical requirements.”

Net lights – fairy lights on a net cable system – are the quickest and easiest way of lighting clipped shrubs, hedges and topiary, says Pottage. “Use LED lights, which have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and are powerful with low energy uptake, which helps the environment and your energy bill,” he notes. “Slow twinkling lights brings a sense of magic – rapid flashing of lights tends to be less tranquil in a garden landscape. Have lights on a timer to save energy bills and reduce risk of disturbing wildlife.”

Make the most of planting

“If you’ve still got the dried foliage of grasses and the seedheads of perennials in winter, they capture the light and always reflect candlelight if you have it nearby,” Duff advises.

“Alternatively, look for sculptural lights that are on sticks, standing about a metre high, and place them in the planting, but let them be white or clear because then the browns or yellows will come through rather that be coloured by coloured lights.”

As well as lighting up trees, baubles can be hung on the stems of deciduous trees.

“Nothing says Christmas like a bauble, and we need to have fun, but maybe just stick to one or two colours on a tree,” he suggests. “We are not trying to create a Christmas tree – that’s happening inside – so the simpler it is, the better.”

For details of RHS Glow events visit For Kew events visit


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