Before you string out your bulbs this year, it helps to clarify the installation process and test out some new ideas on holiday decor. Lighting your home doesn’t have to be a chore, and at the end of the day, you want it to look special. Seen from the right perspective, lights can be more than mere decoration, but an essential part of your whole winter garden. Ready to be illuminated?
Hanging lights is as much a creative art as it is a practical problem.
Incandescents vs. LEDs
Before we dazzle you with our bright ideas, let’s untangle the difference between incandescent and LEDs.
They are what most of us have used for light since Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1879. They consist of a filament that glows when powered by electricity. On the plus side, they’re a tried-and-true technology that we’re all familiar with. On the down side, they create a lot of heat, making them less safe around a tree, and a greater strain on the energy bill and environment.
Short for “light-emitting diodes,” this newer technology emits the same full-spectrum glow as incandescents, but rather than using a filament, it operates with a diode. Don’t let this scientific term trip you up. The result is simply that they’re much more efficient. They use 75% less electricity, don’t heat up, and have a much longer lifespan. While the initial cost may be more, LEDs are cheaper in the long run.
Tips and Accessories for Hanging Lights
Hanging lights is as much a creative art as it is a practical problem. But before we climb to full enlightenment, let’s start with the first steps of setting up your display.
Test Your Lights before you hang them. Plug them in to make sure your bulbs are working, even if they are new. Inspect for frayed and damaged cords that might pose a safety hazard.
Measure the length of the surface you intend to decorate beforehand, rather than discovering you’ll be short halfway through the installation.
Use Light Clips instead of clothespins, staples, or nails. Light clips are made to attach to particular surfaces, be it the edge of a gutter, an overhang of shingles, a railing, or elsewhere.
Use a Light Hanging Pole, especially when stringing up a big tree. This simple tool lets you reach high places with ease and spares you the effort of moving your ladder around and around.
Put Your Lights On A Timer to save you electricity and time. Rather than keeping them on for an empty street at 3AM, a timer can switch them off as you’re sleeping.
Creative Ideas for Displaying Lights
Choose a Focal Point
An attractive design usually has a focal point, a spark to catch your attention. It’s also a place to rest your gaze after you’ve wandered over other details. A frame around your front door, columns on your porch, or a big tree may serve as a centerpiece to balance your other lighting around.
Think Outside the Gutter
While the edge of roofs will always be an attractive place for lights, you don’t need to limit your lighting to your gutters. All shrubs, trees, pathways, driveways, planters, window boxes, wreaths, and more are waiting to be lit up!
Think Like Snow
Have you ever noticed the beauty of snow? It captures light, both day and night, in the most exquisite shapes—drifting along sidewalks, hanging off tree branches, and gracing the edge of railings. Rather than follow the straight-edged logic of buildings, let your mind wander with this magician of winter and imitate some of her magic in your design.
When decorating your home, it’s easy to forget that lights can actually illuminate your outdoor living spaces and make them more inviting. For example, hanging lights over your front patio can make it more welcoming when the days are short and frigid. Likewise, illuminating a dark walkway has a practical benefit. It guides you home at the same time as pleasing your neighbors.
Think Like a Gardener
Not that we’re biased or anything, but we argue that thinking like a gardener can beautify any holiday decorations, including light displays. What do I mean? Just imagine the lights as an extension of your winter landscape, part of the seasonal life of your gardens, evergreens, flowers, shrubs, hardscapes, and walkways. Once you make this leap, suddenly you realize that winter doesn’t have to be bleak and gray, but can be as colorful and pleasing as any time of year.
Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.