Lighting Gardens Near the Sea in Cornwall

I’ve been a designer in Cornwall for over 25 years, and through (sometimes bitter) experience, I’ve learned how challenging the maritime climate can be for lighting coastal gardens.

Here are some tips to help you avoid common pitfalls when lighting your garden by the sea.

Resistance to Salt and Corrosion

Just because a fitting looks nautical doesn’t mean it’s built to withstand harsh maritime conditions. The best metals to choose are bronze, brass, copper, marine-grade stainless steel, or hot-dipped galvanised steel.

Remember, the placement of the fittings also affects corrosion. For instance, even the best marine-grade stainless steel can ‘tea stain’ if placed under an overhang. I encountered this during a lighting project in St Mawes, Cornwall, where the fittings weren’t washed by rain but were still exposed to salty, corrosive air. To prevent this, make sure to wash and grease the fittings periodically.

Resistance to Water

Opt for fittings with good IP ratings, but be aware that many EU products may not be tested to the same standards as in the UK. I’ve found excellent exterior fittings from Scandinavia that have lasted years; they would likely be IP65 quality in the UK but only have an IP44 certificate. Use your judgement, ensuring the exterior light meets safety regulations and is appropriately placed. Always be extra cautious near sea spray.

When using drivers or transformers, I prefer to be extra careful. Specify waterproof versions and place them in watertight boxes for double protection.

Resistance to Wind

Choose robust fittings that can withstand high coastal winds. Ensure that bollards have strong fixings or are cemented in place. A fitting that works in a city garden will face much harsher conditions near the coast.

Watertight Connections

For any garden lighting, treat joints as the ‘weakest link’ and minimise underground connections. If you must connect beneath the soil, use a joint kit with crimp sleeves and adhesive heat shrink to prevent moisture ingress. Insist on this with your electrician.

Where possible, specify longer leads to reach the driver or mains supply. This is usually an option with high-spec fittings, and it’s worth paying a bit extra for a longer lead.

Control Glare

Minimise glare from light fittings by selecting the right fixtures and placing them carefully. This is especially important in sloping or terraced coastal gardens. Low-level lighting works well for pathways and steps, but if you have many steps, it can be more cost-effective to use larger, hooded fittings that provide a wider spread of light.

Positioning Light Fixtures

In designing several cliffside gardens in Cornwall, I’ve learned to consider how you’ll maintain the fittings without risking safety. Even LED fittings may need maintenance, and LED bulbs on mains fittings will need changing occasionally. Always keep this in mind.

Environmental Impact

Consider the impact of your chosen light fittings on wildlife and neighbours. It’s unfortunate to see coastlines dotted with bright, glaring lights that detract from the area’s natural beauty. Even large, beautiful gardens can be lit discreetly and sympathetically. Remember – less is often more.

In summary, as long as you consider all the elements above, lighting coastal gardens is similar to landscape lighting anywhere in the country.


Claire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting consultant with over 20 years’ experience

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