Documents: Special Interest: Water Gardening:

Lightscaping Your Garden Pond
by Carol Matthews
by Carol Matthews


Carol Matthews Writer/Editor/Photographer Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

Member of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada

Member of the Garden Writers Association of America

Author of "Frommer's Halifax", March 2003

June 19, 2005

Now that garden ponds have become an integral part of so many gardens, it is natural that their use be expanded from daylight hours to after dark. You can extend the beauty and fascination of your pond well into the night with lighting designed specifically for this purpose.

There’s more to pond lighting than just an underwater spotlight, however – consider hidden lights surrounding the pond, a soft underwater glow, or illumination from high above. Sophisticated landscape lighting is a major trend in gardening and extends to water gardening as well.


Lighting your pond has many advantages. Safety is always a major concern around water, and illuminating your pond or water feature at night provides added reassurance for homeowners. Along with making the pond more visible to avoid human accidents, it also deters some of the furry night visitors from catching your prized koi or rearranging your pond waterscape. Or perhaps not – at least it will give you a good view of what’s going on under the cover of night.

Lightscaping also prolongs the enjoyment of your pond. Most people must follow the daily work schedule and arrive home with only a few hours to take pleasure from their yard before darkness. Now, with the addition of light you can see, as well as hear, the delightful melody of cascading waterfalls, or the tinkling of fountain sprays, late into the evening.

A garden pond after dark is even more beautiful with appropriate lighting. Soft lamps, a glittering water surface and fountains bathed in color can create a spectacular ambience your family and friends will admire.

Never underestimate the fascination of softly lit water reflecting the lushness of the surrounding garden, the romance of evening water lilies gently illuminated by candlelight, or exquisitely lit fountains cascading in the darkness. Whether your plan is to beguile or influence, carefully designed lightscaping of your water feature will aid your endeavor.


Fortunately there are many different lighting systems available for use today. The traditional underwater spotlight comes in a variety of colors and is easy to install. Patio lights, which can be hidden among the greenery around the pond, are available in many styles and can be coordinated with the theme of your waterscape. There are also exciting, new, lighting elements to extend the enjoyment of your pond into the evening. These include floating lights, landscape lights which create a variety of effects on your water, and candles.


The first choice to make is whether to light your water feature from within the water, or outside. A major concern with underwater lighting is that your water must be sparkling clear. Highlighting murky, green, pea soup water is not a compliment to your garden or your senses. A better choice for a less than clear pond is to create a mirrored effect on the water’s surface. This can be accomplished by up-lighting the plants surrounding the pond, resulting in a dramatic, inverse reflection on the surface of the water.

One or more floating bubble lights can also be used to illuminate your pond’s surface and create an intriguing light display. These will cause dramatic highlights and shadows to play on your water plants.

You can use down lighting from trees, fences or other structures to create a romantic atmosphere, simulating moonlight. Beautiful shadow patterns of leaves and flowers are created on the water surface and surrounding area. Careful placement of the lights is necessary so that they are not reflected off the water into your eyes. This can be avoided by first positioning the lights in several different places to find the best location.

Cross lighting is another alternative and it is especially attractive for lighting waterfalls and fountains. Cross lighting is accomplished by using two separate lights shining on an object from two different directions.

Decorative garden rock lights are designed to be placed among the natural rocks of your pondscape. While they cannot be used in the water, you can position them to softly highlight fountains, plant foliage or create water reflections.

To add a tropical atmosphere to your water features, place a submerged fogger in your pond. Locate it so that the fog will rise around a waterfall or fountain, using soft lighting to create mystery.

If you have a wall, fence, or any vertical surface near your pond, set up a light to reflect the water onto the wall. Place a spotlight on the side of the pond opposite the wall, and shine the light into the water. Even a relatively still pond throws reflections on the wall for a shimmering effect that cannot be created during daylight hours.

A quick and inexpensive way to create mood and romance with your pond is to add floating candles in clear, glass saucers. For a more subtle, quiet effect, position candles in faceted glass vases. Place sand or pebbles in the bottom of each vase to keep it upright. Once the candle is lit, the facets on the vase refract the candlelight into the water.


Clear and clean water invites the use of underwater lighting to create several different effects. Whether you want to illuminate the water in order to enjoy the fish, or create an atmosphere of mystery, underwater lighting provides several options.
A soft, even, surface glow can be created by using non-directional lighting. Floating plants and water lilies create particularly attractive pictures in this light.

Underwater spotlights can be used to create the same shimmering reflection on surrounding walls and fences that aboveground spotlights do. Project the light through the surface of the water onto the wall.

Waterfalls are especially attractive lit from within. While highlighting the falls with outside lighting is attention grabbing, placing the light under the water, behind the falls, enhances the mystical, relaxing atmosphere.


Pond owners who enjoy home projects can complete many of the lightscaping ideas. Most garden centers and hardware stores carry at least some of the lighting systems such as those described. The main concern is to make sure the lights and all submerged fixtures are rated for underwater use.

Never place anything underwater until you have confirmed this rating. Also remember these lights and techniques are not for use in swimming pools or any water which humans or animals may use. Underwater lighting fixtures made of copper or brass may be toxic to your koi or goldfish.

If you do not feel comfortable using electrical systems around water, solar powered, free-floating decorative lights are available. These lights automatically switch on at dusk and can be used on water or land.

The safest and most convenient choice is to hire professionals. Many landscape contractors have experience with lighting water features, and there are new companies who are specifically trained in this area of expertise. A search on the Internet will provide many suggestions.


Part of the fun of having a water garden, pond, or any water feature is simply enjoying time spent watching the fish, or the play of sunlight across the water. If work takes you away from home during daylight hours, lighting your pond at night will prolong your enjoyment. Patio parties, family barbecues, or romantic evenings take on a special atmosphere and are all enhanced with pond lighting.

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