Night Lights

Baltimore Sun - The moon is a sliver in the sky, but towering trees still cast dramatic night shadows across the lawn, and their silhouettes dance across the surface of the pool.

Every night, the grounds around the home of Rayne and William Lykes of Annapolis glow as if lit by a full moon. With the addition of low voltage landscape lights, this couple has dissolved the walls between the kitchen and garden and extended their living space to the once dark corners of their yard.

In addition, their unique front door is bathed in a warm light that provides security while highlighting its beauty.

Tiny spotlights buried in ground cover shine up and highlight crape myrtle trees. And a light shining from 60 feet up in a pin oak washes the front yard in a circle of light that is just barely noticeable.

"That's what we were going for," said Rayne Lykes. "A full moon every night." The Lykeses have caught on to a exploding interest in landscape lighting that is driven by the same cocooning instincts that have spurred gourmet kitchen makeovers and big screen TVs in the family room.

"People want to extend their living area," said Lee Anne White, author of the Backyard Idea Book (Taunton Press, 2004, $19.95).

"They want to entertain more at home, and they want to enjoy their yards when they get home from work after dark."

Bill Strickland, of Terra Nova Design in Crofton, who executed the lighting design for the Lykeses, came east from California where landscape lighting has been popular for nearly 40 years.

When he got to Maryland 15 years ago, he says, no one knew what he was talking about, so he made his living putting in irrigation systems for major landscape projects.

Now, he and companies like his have more work than they can manage as landscape lighting has become the third leg in even modest landscape projects that include garden design and irrigation.

Mike Dunning, owner of Ac'cent Landscape Lighting and Design in Timonium, said that, 15 years ago, the company he first worked for might do one or two projects a year. Now, his own company does that many a week.

"It is getting quite popular," said Dunning, who also does landscape design. "I used to suggest it. Now customers ask for it."

"People see a beautiful tree in the daylight," said Strickland recently, as the sun set on the Lykes home and his lights came to life. "I see it and I think about what it will look like at night."

Landscape lighting can trace its roots to Bill Locklin of Nightscaping in Redlands, Calif.

"I had a hobby," he said in a telephone interview. "And it got out of hand."

Fifty years ago, he was an electrician who specialized in ranch and farm projects when one of his clients, publisher Walter Annenberg, asked him to light his gardens in anticipation of the arrival of a special guest.

"He told me I had two weeks to get it done," Locklin said.

None of his usual suppliers could produce the low-voltage equipment he needed on such short notice, so Locklin went to work in his shed, putting tractor lights inside coffee cans.

When the guests -- Dwight D. Eisenhower and wife Mamie -- arrived two weeks later, they were swept away by the ethereal lighting in the gardens on Annenberg's estate.

"The effect is to be seen, not the source," said Locklin, now the largest manufacturer of landscape lighting equipment.

Landscape lighting can cost anywhere from a thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, and it has the added benefit of improving the security of any home. Burglars hate light.

Though there are solar lights and low-voltage kits available, professionals agree that this is a difficult do-it-yourself project.

"Electricity, even 12-volt, isn't anything to fool with, especially outdoors," said Strickland.

But a major landscape lighting design is not the only means to create practical light as well as romance in the yard.

There are grill lights that make cooking outdoors after dark easier. There are table lamps and floor lamps built to survive the elements.

And White says not to forget the tea lights, the torches or a festive string of lights.

"Go with lower intensity and use more lights. Highlight paths, water features, a stone wall or a statue. Cast a shadow on the wall or the pavement," she said. "The goal is to create a mood."

Locklin said that, 50 years ago, the California homeowners who called on his pioneering concept of landscape lighting did so because they were proud of their homes.

"They didn't go to the beach or the mountains every weekend. They entertained at home. There was pride in ownership and pride in home.

"It is fun to watch it go back to that. Besides, the night is beautiful."