Nightscaping—Showcasing Your Landscape in a New Light

March 2016 View more

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Photo courtesy Hursthouse

For years Naperville homeowners have invested time, energy and resources to transform their backyard gardens into much more than a pretty view. Combining beautiful landscapes with special features like outdoor kitchens and living rooms, designers have enabled us to expand our living space beyond the confines of our homes and into welcoming backyard retreats and festive social gathering spaces.


Now designers have enabled homeowners to take outdoor living one step further with one of the hottest landscaping trends called ”nightscaping.” Nightscaping is what enables homeowners to extend their enjoyment and use of outdoor spaces into the evening hours. Known especially for its nocturnal lighting effects, well designed nightscaped backyards can make water sparkle like diamonds on cascading spillways and cast its inviting glow upon your favorite focal points.

“Great lighting is really the finishing touch on all great landscaping. Our clients tend to do a lot of entertaining after dark, and we need to really keep that in mind when coming up with our designs,” explains Carter Conlin Jr., landscape architect and construction manager of C.B. Conlin Landscapes in Naperville. “Nightscaping has really developed over the years and bringing the party outside is really our biggest goal at C.B. Conlin. The more you, and your guests, can interact with nature, the better.”

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Photo courtesy C.B. Conlin


When many of us think about lighting, we think about its practical side: safety, security and seeing well enough to get from point A to point B. But lighting is also about mood. It’s about creating atmosphere with pockets of light and shadow, playing up silhouettes and architectural features.

Up lighting, for example, which has been around for some time, is a type of floodlight placed at the base of vertical elements such as pergolas, trellises, fountains, or a striking tree to accentuate their sculptural qualities.

Moonlighting—also called down lighting—is usually more subtle. Perched in high tree branches or at the peak of a roof line, it bathes a broad area of a garden below with soft light, much like the glow of the moon.

Back lighting, too, is more subtle than direct. Positioned behind objects of interest such as an urn, it creates a dramatic silhouette that catches the eye.

Floodlights and path lights are probably the most familiar to us but are used far less than years past. Strong floodlights, in the wrong hands, can overpower a space, creating an unwelcome glare or “Vegas effect.” Pathway lights, too, are not uncommon, but are used less and less by some designers because they are so easily damaged. Instead, many designers use wall or step lights or even down lighting as path light substitutes. The key is application. Not too much, not too little.

“A great system will utilize many of these lighting techniques to move people through, as well as draw attention to key features, within the space without overpowering it,” said Scott Lucchetti, landscape designer with C.B. Conlin Landscapes.

Backyard design has come a long way. Far beyond adding a few perfunctory light fixtures, nightscaping isn’t just about newer, better light applications. According to John Algozzini, a designer with 35 years experience and lead designer with K&D Landscape Management, nightscaping is anything in the outdoor environment that extends the useful time in the landscape after dusk.


“Lighting is only a part of nightscaping, not the whole picture. It also includes elements of fire, water, sound and scent,” said Algozzini. Although every client’s needs and tastes are different, there is currently one hot request among Naperville clients when it comes to their outdoor spaces: fire.

“If that’s a wood-burning fire pit, or gas-fire table, or fireplace, it’s what extends our enjoyment a little bit more into the cool October or March nights. If we can light a fire with our children and make more family time, roasting marshmallows together, that’s real value,” said Algozzini.


Fire elements have at least three factors making them ideal for nightscaping: light, warmth and sound. Sound, however, is one of those things we don’t often think about. However, when it’s present in the right way, it can truly impact our outdoor experience. Of course, installing a sound system to listen to Rochmaninoff after dinner while sipping pinot noir is certainly one way to do it. But acoustic elements can also be as simple and uncomplicated as a set of wind chimes, the sounds of wood crackling on a fire, or water rushing over rocks in a stream.

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Photo courtesy Bruss Landscaping, Inc.


And then there’s the universal appeal of water. Like elements of sound or fire, water takes on a whole new personality in the dark of night. Whether it’s a koi pond, rippling stream, elegant pool with fountains, or water spilling over the sides of a large urn, water combined with accent light, looks utterly magical and adds its soothing sounds to the nighttime experience.

Scent and Moonlight Gardens

But perhaps the most overlooked nighttime aesthetic is fragrance or scent. Although a subtle, almost imperceptible part of our experience, each one of us has a unique fragrance or smell we most enjoy.

Lucchetti agrees. “Every client is different, which is why every design is different.” While one client may love the vanilla-sweet perfume of spice viburnum or lilac blossoms, another may enjoy the backwoods scent of wood burning in their fireplace. It all depends on personal preference.

Interestingly, some varieties of plants are ideal for nightscapes or moonlight gardens. Whether annual, perennial or woody, these nocturnal plants only bloom and release their fragrance at night. In our climate zone, such plants might include evening primrose, moonflower, some varieties of lilac, honeysuckle or bleeding hearts. Others, with silver leaves or white blooms, glow especially well in moonlight like some hosta, dusty miller, silver sage or lamb’s ears.


Photo courtesy Hursthouse

Inside Out

Many of us enjoy the sights and sounds of nature at night, but many also enjoy the sights and sounds of a good Bears game on their outdoor TV. Outdoor kitchens, dining areas, seating areas, play areas, and fireplaces have all become part of the nightscape landscape as well. “One of the newest trends in Naperville nightscapes has been the outdoor entertainment center,” said Conlin. “These days it’s about bringing what we enjoy most about indoor living, to our favorite outdoor spaces.”

Whether summer days are just too hot to enjoy, or we don’t get home from work until the evening hours, nightscaping is one way we can beat the heat and unwind to enjoy the nighttime calm and beauty of our backyard sanctuaries.