View Full Version : Path lights not on a path?

all ferris
09-02-2011, 10:43 PM
I see lots of guys around using path lights out in the middle of a landscape and all it lights up is mulch, decorative rock, or the bottom half of a shrub. Whats the deal with this? I only use path lights to light up a "path". I don't place them out in the middle of nowhere. Am I missing something?

David Gretzmier
09-03-2011, 11:14 AM
occaisonally a path light in a landscape area makes sense- for a small statuary, or a smaller focus rock, a flower garden, some times a small welcome or address sign, or lighting a "path" to walk in the grass on the outside of a landscape bed, even though there is no official hard surface path there. but I do see a lot of paths where paths do not belong. it is just poor design.

09-03-2011, 11:29 AM
Security purposes?

all ferris
09-03-2011, 01:27 PM
occaisonally a path light in a landscape area makes sense- for a small statuary, or a smaller focus rock, a flower garden, some times a small welcome or address sign, or lighting a "path" to walk in the grass on the outside of a landscape bed, even though there is no official hard surface path there. but I do see a lot of paths where paths do not belong. it is just poor design.

I agree 100%.

I see lots of guys around here installing path lights in the middle of the landscape when they are installing the landscape. Then 3-5 years later the plants have grown so much that the light is hidden by the shrubs. :hammerhead:

09-04-2011, 01:51 PM
These fixtures are actually known as path/spread lights and are made for more than path lighting. High end landscapes are designed with seasonal color to be changed out a couple of times a year. The path/spread light fixture is used here to accent this seasonal color and fill in between other lighting accents. This is good lighting design.

If the home owner does not maintain their landscape, it's not the fault of the lighting designer. I have used this lighting design many times and will continue to do so. I do let the home owner know why I am using this technique and that they need to continue to maintain their landscape.

starry night
09-04-2011, 05:28 PM
I am working (slowly) on my first lighting job for a client. She wants spotlights on the house. I showed her what spots looked like on half the house. (symetrical facade). She was fine with it. I also need some light on her low growing plants in the front landscape bed to give some depth to the lighting.
I didn't have any lights to show her but when I mentioned path lights, she said no. I then realized my mistake was not calling them spread lights which was my real purpose. Even after I told her the purpose, she said no. I think she was picturing "path" lights like you would buy in a big-box store. I am going to try to correct my mistake by getting some path / spread lights to demonstrate to her.

So, answering the original question, yes there are other uses for these "path" lights.

09-04-2011, 08:08 PM
Try using a wall wash in the beds for the low growing plants. I've had good success with the Cast Wall Wash in this application. It blends in really well during the day and gives a more natural looking effect at night.

09-04-2011, 09:09 PM
Try using a wall wash in the beds for the low growing plants. I've had good success with the Cast Wall Wash in this application. It blends in really well during the day and gives a more natural looking effect at night.

I personally wouldn't use the Wall Wash for most low growing plant applications - it's too bright and sheds too much light on the ground.

We have a new series of fixtures - The CAST Mini Wash Series - available with canopy and stake mounts, and extendable stems - in both LED and incandescent. It casts a wide (120 degree), diffuse beam, with no discernible hot spots. It is also shrouded across the top to make it dark-sky friendly. It's a great fixture for planting beds and retaining walls (when stake mounted), and for mounting under eaves (canopy mounted) for diffuse down-lighting - canopy and stem can be removed for an even lower profile.

David Gretzmier
09-05-2011, 02:03 AM
a path light that gets buried in a shrub was probably put too close to shrub in the first place. I agree with flowers being lit by paths. I may get hammered by this, but I am not so sure about lighting small shrubs or low growing plants, even though it may add depth when viewing the lights from the yard or street. I tend to gravitate to light a plant that is intersting to look at during the day, or maybe a plant or object that will create a neat effect when lit at night such as shadow, water, or gazing ball. just my opinion.

The Lighting Geek
09-06-2011, 12:48 AM
I use taller path or area lights all the time. The purpose is not to necessarily light mulch as it is to visually connect with 2 focal points or trees that too apart and appear 'disconnected'. A lighting bridge as Nate Mullen calls it. I believe in illuminating the landscape and incidentally getting the pathways. I rarely use a path light to light paths, don't like how prominent the fixture becomes. I want to see the light not the fixture. By using area lights 24" to 48" high in amongst the shrubs, they blend in and the landscape become the target, not the concrete.

starry night
09-06-2011, 03:11 PM
Thank you Tommy. I thought maybe I was wrong to use them in the middle of a bed to light no specific plant. In landscaping, I have often used transitional plants (e.g. low evergreens) to connect other taller plants or to give depth to a bed where I didn't want it so flat to the building. However, I can see how you wouldn't want spread lights dotting the entire landscape.

David Gretzmier
09-07-2011, 12:41 AM
This may be one of the areas that my opinion diverges with what may be taught by others or in lighting textbooks. I really respect tommy and others, yet my opinion on this issue is different. I have replaced many a lighting system that have spread or paths dotting the landscape, and perhaps they did provide a bridge of light. But I liked what I had accomplished after replacement far better. My customers have always echoed that sentiment.

I nearly always focus on a lighting plan that provided: safe walking on steps or paths, provided security by uplighting areas beside windows and entry points, task lighting for reading, hobbies, cooking or outdoor conversation, and then lights for accent, art, and shadow. I just don't have a category for putting lights in a landscape area just to connect to other lights. The only time that happens for me ( rarely) is when there are focus objects in the landscape area worth lighting that happen to connect the dots. and I just prefer a light to accentuate something- the home, a tree, a statue, a step, water, etc.

I hope there is room for more than one school of thought on this.

09-08-2011, 08:57 PM
On a large portion of my design/installations I try to incorporate illuminating a planting bed that's close to the house by using a bk micro-nite star mounted in behind the facia boards (custom painted to match of course), and then a combination of linear spread or overall spread lenses depending on the shape of the bed.

This works great in new construction only!!! Most likley a little tough to do after the fact.

As for path lights, near stairs maybe, but most often they use of 5% of the overall fixtures on a job max, they are useless to me most of the time.

09-09-2011, 02:28 PM
I stopped using the term "path lights" years ago. I now call them "area lights" because many are capable of so much more than just lighting path and walkways. Three years ago, I was confronted with a high end client who has a very young front garden. I couldn't rely on my usual downlighting from mature trees to light the beds. There were no mature/tall trees to hang lights in that could provide a reasonable distribution at the ground plane.

My solution was to use a number of spec grade "area lights" with a relatively flat "china hat" cap. This cap allows for a reasonably wide distribution with out glare. In addition this luminaire may be specified in heights with 6" increments from 6" to 48" inches. I ordered 18 units and installed them in the immature beds with extra wire buried below each unit. I added the extra wire in anticipation of having to relocate fixtures as the garden grew.

I up-lighted the plantings I could and scattered the area lights through out the bed... mostly successfully.

The result was a pleasing composition that avoided the problem of disembodied canopies floating above a dark horizontal plane.

George Gruel photographed the result for me and you may find the result on my web site at <http://www.wlld.us/projects/area-light/index.php>. You will find there a discussion of both my successes and failures with this technique. There is a "switch" that will allow you to turn on/off the Area Lights.

I returned to the garden last Spring and did considerable work relocating the area lighting. I loved the extra wire but will leave even more the next time. I found I needed to relocate about 1/2 of the units and mostly moved them into "voids" in the plantings. I installed 6 focusable in-grade luminaires in the lawn to illuminate the much grown canopies without disturbing the planting beneath the existing specimen trees and tall shrubs.


J Larson
09-09-2011, 03:49 PM
Many thoughts here and really I don’t feel any are right or wrong answers, just personal taste. If we are to be considered artists or designers, then guess what we are going to have different tastes and different ways of doing things. All of which will set us apart. Never mind different landscapes require different lighting techniques!

I do think there are two different types of stem lights. Path lights and area lights. A path light would have a stem off to the side allowing the fixture to hang over or be closer to the path, to truly put light where you want it. An area light would be center mounted and allow for the light to evenly be distributed all around the fixture. All are usually grouped together in most marketing venues, of which we are guilty of as well! Both lights are very similar, but do serve completely different purposes, for the most part… :)

09-09-2011, 04:08 PM

Your distinction seems reasonable to me... Certainly there are pathlights out there that are designed to light only paths. Check the Kichler's amazingly diverse catalogue of pathlights and of course there is the ever reliable "Lilly" pathlight.

I would caution all to remember that the Landscape Lighting Designer decides what to do with each luminaire he/she chooses to use. A manufacturer's name of their product is only a label, not a limitation. The Designer selects what ever their training and experience tells them will work in each particular situation.


09-09-2011, 04:29 PM
I never liked having to name a fixture "area" or "path" light since pretty much all so-called "path" lights can be well used in areas other than paths. We call ours "Area/Path" lights, which is (admittedly) vague.

The IES Lighting Handbook has only two designations that apply, "pathway" and "landscape". For interior lighting, they have dozens of designations. The IES doesn't seem to care too much about landscape lighting, so they're not to helpful with our naming problems.

09-09-2011, 04:39 PM

As usual, I completely agree with you. The essence of good landscape lighting design is to make it look... well... natural. I want to see what I did in the garden... not how I made it happen.

When creating a luminous design it is essential the designer consider how the client's eye will move when viewing the lighted garden. This is a difficult skill to learn because we - the designer - knows how we think the client should see the design... We KNOW where to look. The difficult part is to allow our eye roam as the client's untrained eye will roam. This is called "eye training" in the arts. The goal is for the designer/artist to allow their eye to move through the object/garden without conscious direction and, at the same, to remain totally conscious of how it is moving. The comprehension of the quality of that movement will inform the designer/artist what are the "qualities" of their design.

Finding where you need a 'lighting bridge" is an essential skill we all need to develop and is one of the several visual skills a lighting artist must develop to truly understand what they are creating.


09-17-2011, 07:31 PM
My only concern is when the clients eye gets to his check-book and signs in the right damn spot.