- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

Few things are prettier in a night garden than soft pools of light illuminating interesting trees, accent rocks and plants, or pathways.

Whether on a small terrace or in a sweeping landscape, lighting creates a welcoming and often dramatic atmosphere.

In some cases, however, buried-wire electric lighting can be costly and impractical. The answer might be solar lighting.

The technology of solar lighting has been refined in recent years to include new batteries that take and hold a charge better - typically 1,000 nights per unit. LED bulbs, too, have become more efficient: They can stay outside in any weather, and are available in various watts and colors.

Jamie Durie, author and host of HGTV’s “The Outdoor Room,” suggests three ways to use solar lighting:

“First, light your perimeter. It gives some perspective, and is a creative way to show the boundaries of your property,” Mr. Durie said. “Next, mark out your walks and pathways. Lastly, feature trees and other features with up-lighting, or even by attaching solar lights to walls and fences.”

Mr. Durie said he is not a fan of “clinical” white LEDs, preferring those with amber light. Make sure when buying solar lights that they’re all the same tone. And for areas where you want greater intensity, look for lights with more than two and preferably four LEDs in them.

In his projects, Mr. Durie often combines low-voltage electrical lights with solar.

At mysolarshop.com, find Mission or Tiffany-style glass fence-post caps that fit standard-size posts. There are wall-mount and lamppost styles here as well, and solar stepping stones that would make a wonderful walkway. You’ll find great utility solar lighting as well: motion-sensing security lights, shed lights, address lights and even grill lights.

Stake lights are the quickest to install; Target and Home Depot carry minilights in copper, stainless or black finishes that can be placed in the ground or in any plant container. Look for coach and Craftsman-style lamps sold in multiples at both retailers. Using Target’s solar lamppost in a planter box is an attractive option.

The key, of course, is to position your lights for maximum sun exposure. Some lights have a separate photocell that can be placed a distance from the actual bulb component or string, so even a shady-area tree can be lit up.

Solar string lights look pretty illuminating trees around a patio or pool, or entwining a step railing. Plow & Hearth has a line of light-bulb-shaped ones, cool for a hipster’s outdoor space. Target has butterflies, dragonflies, stars and little crystal globes strung to catch the sun; the effect is magical when night falls.

Solarilluminations.com has some great pool- or pond-floating solar lights, and colorful walkway or driveway markers.

Solar lights give a garden a finished look. And once you’ve purchased the light, the power is as eternal as sunshine.

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