Whatever the weather’s doing, this is the time of year when we spend a lot of time outside making the most of our gardens, decks and balconies. Energy-saving solar lighting can make all the difference to a space (and stop you from tripping over your flower beds or borders).
These clever, eco-friendly lights use solar panels (either integrated or placed separately) to collect sunlight and charge batteries that power the lights when dusk falls. The sort of light you go for will depend on your needs: something to mark out borders or paths; decorative strings or lanterns to jazz up a space; lights predominantly there for security; or lighting that packs more of a punch and illuminates your area for the hours you need.
Border lights often come with an integrated solar panel, so without the hassle of cables but the light you get won’t be as bright as those with a larger, separate panel. With those, the output will depend on the size of the panel, how many bulbs there are and the sort of bulbs it’s powering. The length between the panel and the first light will dictate where you set them up, so if you have a shady space to adorn, make sure you look for those with more cable to work with.
We tested various shapes, sizes and functions, all put through their paces in June and July, so when the sun is at its strongest. Bear in mind that performance may not be the same in the winter months but to get the best out of your lights, make sure that the solar panels are exposed to direct sunlight as much as possible.
We looked at the ease of set-up, the quality and durability of the post, fittings and solar panel and any cables. How long the light lasted after a full charge and whether the output met our expectations, given the specifications. All here should last between six to ten hours in summer.
1. Philips myGarden Blossom Solar Powered Post: £109.99 for two, amazon.co.uk
You get what you pay for with these lights from Philips. They give you enough light to see, rather than just highlight a small spot (like many cheaper post lights), and they’re made from sturdy aluminium and look sleek amid the shrubbery. At nearly 90cm tall they won’t get lost in the flowerbed and the larger-than-average solar panel on a cable can be placed wherever maximises exposure to rays. Philips says they’ll last five hours if charged in bright sun. Ours averaged about four hours in British “summer”, but that’s plenty of time for a barbecue. These also come in a cylindrical “flower” design and there are more powerful lights in the range if you need a flood-light effect.
2. Sun Jar Yellow: £20, notonthehighstreet.com
These colourful, weatherproof jars are more for decoration than illuminating a space, but they add a certain something to your outside space. Each has an integrated solar panel that charges the battery so the LED will come on in the dark. Ours took a few hours to charge up (tip: leave it switched off while charging to get the most out of the battery) but then made a pretty addition to the outside table when darkness fell. You can manually switch the jar off to help conserve the (rechargeable) battery. Choose from yellow (more like an ambery colour), pink or blue.
3. Solar Dual Function Lights: £39.99, lakeland.co.uk
You get eight lights in this pack of reliable white and colour-changing LED lights - ideal for marking-out a pathway. You can choose from the white or colour-morphing setting and, while, they’re not the brightest or biggest on the market, they will ensure someone can see the way to the front door. If you charge them in direct sunlight, you should get eight hours out of these ones – we found them more consistent than some competitors, plus the battery is easy to change so they should last you for summers to come.
4. Cole and Bright Solar Ice Orb Border Light: £12.99 for three, charliesdirect.co.uk
If you’re after something that’s a bit more of feature to line lawns and walkways, Cole and Bright’s solar offerings stand out from the pack for their quality. These ones are made from stainless steel and the light component is “crackle glass” which gives a pretty patterned effect. Each of the 60cm-tall posts has an integrated solar panel, so there are no cables to contend with. There are white and colour-changing setting to choose from, and we found that they lasted the promised six-eight hours. The company also makes smaller, low-level versions if you’re after something for your borders.
5. Marakesh Lantern Solar String Lights: £10, tesco.com
Want to make the most out of a tree or large plant in your garden? Then this set of 15 little lantern-shaped lights on a three-meter string is a good-value option. They give out a soft white light that highlights rather than illuminates, but they certainly made a pretty addition to one of the larger pots on my deck. Just make sure you choose a sunny spot as there isn’t much cable between the lights and the solar panel.
6. Albany Premium Solar Spotlight: £49.99, thesolarcentre.co.uk
If you want a brighter light, you will need to look for something a bit more powerful, like these little spotlights that come with a 2-watt solar panel. Made of aluminium and glass, they will light up a space up to 25 metres and come with various mounting options, so you can be flexible as to where you put them, (as long as there’s space for the solar panel nearby). The Solar Centre advises they’ll last ten hours. We found the one we tested stayed going long after we’d turned in for the night.
7. Colour Change Solar Party Lights: £29.99, glow.co.uk
We put this string of 20 colour-changing lights across a trellis to add decoration for a barbecue. They look pretty and, usefully, you get two meters of cable between the panel and the first light, so unlike some string lights, these can go in a shady spot if needs be. They need a couple of days to charge up so make sure you get them out well in advance of your soiree (remember to keep the switch in the off position while they charge to get the most out of them).
8. Eco Wedge Solar Motion Welcome Light: £17.99, thesolarcentre.co.uk
Don’t be put off by the size of this - it produces a surprisingly strong light for such a small package. The light is motion activated and it stays on for about 10 seconds, making it great for lighting a gloomy side passage, marking out a path between walled beds or giving a bit of help finding your door keys in your handbag. A day’s worth of charge provides enough power for 250 activations, so not a problem if you have a particularly active cat (or teenage son). They're also incredibly simple to use: simply nail or screw into masonry with the solar side facing upward and the bulb down.
If you’re looking for something to mark-out a path or border, we’d go for Lakeland’s Dual Function Lights – they’re sturdy, long-lasting and we found them the most reliable ones we tried in their category. For a bit more light (and money), the Philips myGarden range is worth spending on; you get a great quality, nice-looking lights that are more durable than most. Anyone after a brighter light should consider the Albany spotlights; they might not be the most attractive on the list, but they’re small enough not to be intrusive and crucially, each can provide 25m of light. If it’s sheer decoration you’re after, Suck UK’s sun jars are a colourful, fun addition that require no set-up (beyond the initial charge).
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