Apart from the obvious perks of enabling people to see, illuminating your garden with lights can be a great way to add drama outside. Some people resort to plonking the odd garden spike light outside whereas others crave to get more out of their landscape. In this weeks interview we meet Michael Shackleton from Ornamental Garden Lighting, a specialist garden lighting design company based in Farnham, Surrey.
Michael has a wealth of experience, he previously worked for 35 years in the film industry as a lighting designer and was involved in the production of iconic films such as Star Wars and Superman. Off the back of a successful time in film and advertising Michael concentrated his attention to garden lighting design. Since this move, Michael and Ornamental Garden Lighting (OGL) have visited, worked with and produced garden lighting designs for a whole host of properties and people.
From the prestigious Raymond Blanc Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons Hotel and Restaurant (pictured above) to country estates, listed properties and town houses. Whether he’s working with limited space or has a vast area to contend with, Michael endeavours to operate closely with his clients to get the best out of their garden landscape.
Q&A With: Michael Shackleton @ OGL, The Garden Lighting Designers.
Can you tell us a little bit about the journey which led you towards garden lighting design?
After 30 years of success in the film industry, starting out within the camera department and working my way up to Lighting Cameraman and then Director, I would occasionally light town or country properties for night shoots. It was on one of these location shoots that the owner of the property asked if I could re-create the temporary look I created for film on a more permanent basis.
So faced with this technically challenging request as well as my love for the aesthetics of lighting, I formed Ornamental Garden Lighting to cater for this potential opportunity. The result, I am pleased to say, is after 10 busy and fruitful years, I find myself running a business which is now busier than the original film production company.
Can you name some of the films you’ve been involved in and is there a favourite production that stands out?
Through the Camera Department I was lucky enough to work on some prestigious films. I worked on the first Star Wars with Sir Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford, the first Superman with Marlon Brando and Christopher Reeve, Greek Tycoon with Anthony Quinn and Jacqueline Bissett as well as Bugsy Malone for Alan Parker.
I have also lit and directed over 250 television commercials for clients as diverse as Martini, DHL, Proctor and Gamble, Ford, Volkswagen and Conde Naste. I have also worked with various music artists including Pink Floyd, The Who, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Robbie Williams and Boyzone. In the past I have also written and directed light entertainment for television, drama programmes, corporate and training films, and an American feature film.
Would you say your talents lay in getting your green fingers dirty or sitting back, orchestrating and devising a plan?
One of things that differentiates Ornamental Garden Lighting from other companies in the field is the fact that I come from a film or aesthetic background, this means that our lighting expertise centres on how the architecture or a garden will present itself and how we can create the appropriate atmosphere or mood. To achieve this, not only am I very pro-active during the lighting design stage but I am also very ‘hands-on’ during the installation. I like to get involved with our terrific team of experienced electricians to help achieve the best possible result for the client.
Do you prefer to work on big landscapes with vast grounds or do you enjoy designing for smaller spaces such as a garden terrace in the city?
The challenge of both environments is equally interesting, because every garden or building has key elements that can be tastefully enhanced to bring out the very best features at night. It’s creating a different environment at night that makes architectural and garden lighting so interesting, involving, challenging and ultimately rewarding. It’s fantastic when you can deliver a positive and creative experience that the client perhaps hadn’t envisaged.
Do you think that garden lighting gets overlooked compared interior lighting inside of the home?
People immediately appreciate and understand they need good lighting inside their home, it’s essential to living a full and fruitful life. However with architectural or garden lighting, it’s more of a ‘nice-to-have’ than a ‘must-have’ choice for the client, unless of course you are running a country house hotel (for instance), where the safe and easy passage of steps or paths for your visitors is essential.
Where I think many people miss a potential opportunity is in the benefit of good creative garden lighting. This is especially true with the modern trend of installing multi-fold doors across the back of town houses, because this presents access to the garden in a seamless transition from the interior living space. In the winter (around 16.30 here in the UK), those intimate family living spaces are faced on one side by a cold black wall of glass (as the garden disappears with night), while with appropriate and tasteful lighting, this exterior area can create a wonderful and interesting backdrop.
What key advice would you give to our visitors who are thinking about improving their garden lighting in time for the summer?
The first thing to consider if you are thinking about garden lighting is to spend some time in your garden and decide what key features you would like to enhance with light. This can be the creation of quiet sitting areas, spots where you might like to sit and enjoy a glass of wine when you get back from work. From that view-point, you can then decide what plants, trees or feature shrubs have the potential to culminate an interesting and different perspective on your garden.
Are there differences in winter and summer garden lighting?
The main difference between summer and winter garden lighting is the fact that most plants die in the winter, often leaving very little to light up. That’s why at Ornamental Garden Lighting we encourage our clients to move the lighting themselves, because many of them use lights to accent textured walls or pergolas in the winter, giving yet another dimension to the scenery.
What are your favourite parts of the design process?
Apart from working closely with the client and determining what type of lighting is appropriate, the very best part of the job is when you actually switch it on. For many clients, the actuality of turning on their architectural or garden lighting is a complete leap of faith because it’s not something that can normally be shown in ‘stages’ (like planting), meaning that the ‘reveal’ at the end of the job may well be the first time the client sees it in all its glory. This requires a great deal of faith and trust from the client because after all it is their money we’re spending and it’s not until the very end that they will see the fruits of our labour and their investment in action.
What would you say are the most challenging factors related to garden lighting design?
The most challenging part of the whole process, whether it be architectural or garden lighting, is getting the client to appreciate and understand just how much work and installation material goes into creating good creative garden lighting. In reality, about 50% of the installation is hidden or underground, but without this and a robust installation, you wouldn’t have any lighting at all… or even worse, lighting that fails after a short period.
The whole process has to be a quality product, this is made even more vital because you’re installing electrics outside, in often adverse weather conditions where rain, standing water and other hazards can cause havoc with low or main voltage electricity. Not to mention the obvious health and safety implications that go with it.
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Ornamental Garden Lighting is currently working on some extremely interesting and challenging projects. At the moment we’re lighting the principal gardens and main buildings of three large private country estates in the south-east, as well as two small inner city gardens which we plan to utilise our new ‘GLO’ packaged lighting product (Garden Lighting Options). We are also designing the architectural lighting for two other prestigious and historically significant buildings in London.
Any last words…
As a final thought, I would encourage your readers to consider implementing garden lighting and think about how it could enhance their enjoyment of any outdoor space. You don’t need to do it all at once, but you do need to find a competent lighting designer and installation company, a team which can work closely with you to help develop the mood or atmosphere you want. Once these decisions and contacts are made it shouldn’t be too hard for you and your family to enjoy the garden all year-round.
Check out more about Michael & Ornamental Garden Lighting by visiting the website.
Learn about how you can create the perfect lighting balance in the garden by checking out our guide: 5 Useful Tips & Advice on Garden Lighting.
If you’d like to buy a garden spike light then check out our spike light blog showcasing lights from as cheap as £8 up to luxury models priced around £200.