Ponds and water features in the garden are the horticultural equivalent of the TV in the living room. Many gardens use them as their visual focal point. Water provides sound, colour and movement (just like the telly) and, because ponds attract a wealth of wildlife, you get a never-ending flow of mini David Attenborough-style documentaries (again, just like the telly). No wonder ponds and water features are so popular with gardeners and garden designers.
To get the maximum value from your pond or water feature, you need to be able to enjoy it in the evening as well as during the day. Fountains, cascades and rills, with their constant motion, are certainly one of the most visually interesting candidates for illuminating at night, while lighting still ponds allows you to soak up their serenity in the stillness of summer dusk.
But before you reach for your garden lighting catalogue, there are one or two dos and don’ts to bear in mind when lighting your pond. First, if you will forgive a statement of the blindingly obvious, is to make sure the lights are fully waterproof. Look for the Ingress Protection number IP68. The first number (6) means the fitting is dust tight, and the second number (8) means it is protected against complete and continuous immersion in water.
Our second recommendation is to use a 12 volt lighting system. This is inherently safe, even if the cable or light fitting is compromised, whereas putting 240 volt mains electricity into water is only for those who enjoy living extremely dangerously.
The next question is how best to light your water feature? If you have a still pond, resist the temptation to try to light the water itself, and any fish it may contain. Unless the water is exceptionally clean – as in high quality carp ponds with sophisticated filtration systems – the light will highlight all the impurities floating in the water to create an effect like headlights in fog. It will also tend to light the bottom of the pond where all sorts of debris collects – not the most attractive feature to highlight. A better alternative is to place upward-facing pond lights to shine at any marginal planting, or perhaps to uplight a mature water lily. Bridges and jetties are also attractive objects to uplight using a submerged pond light, and doing so helps to make them safer at night.
Fountains and waterfalls, of course, are perfect candidates for uplighting. Placing one or more upward facing pond lights in the water below will spotlight the moving water against the darkness and accentuate their sense of motion. Try experimenting with lamps with different beam widths so the light beam is focused purely on the running water, rather than the surroundings. Another tip is to place your lights fairly near the surface. Putting them deep will reduce the power of the light reaching the surface. It also makes them more difficult to access for cleaning – the lenses tend to accumulate a layer of algae and benefit from a regular wipe.
There are various types of pond light on the market. Broadly speaking they divide into spotlights that are fixed to a weight for stability, and spotlights that are screwed to the side or bottom of the pond using a bracket. Bear in mind that the latter might cause leakage issues. Pond lights are available in stainless steel, solid copper or powder coated aluminum. Solid copper is not recommended for ponds where fish are kept.