In the night landscape
By Mary and Hugh Williamson
There is little in life that is more mesmerizing than the random rhythm of a flickering flame. We associate candles, lanterns and fireplaces with glamour and warmth. Of course in South Florida, added warmth is not necessarily welcome, but the glamour of a flickering flame always is. Our favorite restaurants are candle-lit for a reason; the radiance and pulse of a glimmering candle in a dimly-lighted room suggest romance and allure. And the same is true in your evening landscape. Both flame and fire are powerful design tools that affect us strongly.
‘Flame’ is distinguished from ‘light’ in the night landscape. Light is cast on objects to highlight them in the same way a fine supporting actor supports the lead. Accent lighting! Flame in the night
reverses the roles, becoming the design focus and the most dynamic element in the night landscape.
Flame can be the solitary glow of a candle, a gas lantern or a torch. Grouped together in a firepit or fireplace, flames are viewed as fire. Flames cast fascinating shadows of foliage and hardscapes, creating mystery. It extends the use of your landscape into the evening, especially when reflected in the shiny leaves of magnolias and other glossy-leafed plantings. Here is where cast light can support the shimmer of the flame.
A Little History
Candles and torches have been a part of life and celebration for over five thousand years. Credit for this seemingly simple marvel is bestowed upon the early Romans who saw the candle as a beneficial use of flame enabled by the god of fire, Vulcan. The use of candles has been seen in religious ceremonies for thousands of years in many faiths. Firepits have existed for eons as well. Nomadic tribes would cut the turf above a firepit, and after building their fire to cook their food and warm themselves, replace the turf to conceal their whereabouts as they moved on. See familyfirepit.com for a fascinating read!
Our American Iteration
In colonial times, bayberries were used to extract a waxy fuel, but this laborious process was phased out when the whaling industry burgeoned and whale oil became available. Incremental improvement continued as chemists developed better fuels, and inventors introduced mechanized methods of candle production. Increased manufacturing, aimed for the decorative market, started in the 1980s. Candle suppliers now offer an enormous variety of shapes, scents and colors. Gas lanterns, which became prominent as street lighting in American and European cities in the early 19th century, now offer everyday sparkle to homes and gardens.
There are multiple opportunities to add flame and fire to your night landscape. Choices for introducing flaming additions to your landscape do not end with candles in hurricane globes, or votive lights. Chimineas, (or chimeneas) plentiful in the South Florida market, are a trouble-free addition to the landscape. Largely enclosed, they burn safely and efficiently, and are available in clay or cast iron versions. Firepits – preferably portable versions – also offer a magnetic gathering place.
More is More
Fire in fireplaces, chimineas or firepits can be seen from some distance and can provide psychological warming. Be sure to include at least two fire features in your landscape design as there is a multiplier effect that is quite impressive. Clusters of these artistic elements mounted on raised platforms of varying heights are spectacular.
On a Smaller Scale
The nighttime patio landscape experience can be greatly enhanced with the inclusion of fire features, ideally placed in uncovered areas. Multiples, even if with small versions, make much more of an inpact than a single component, and are striking when placed within a container garden. If the idea of chimineas is appealing, and you have a covered balcony, fill the bottom of the bowl with sand or gravel, and add masses of candles. Torches are also a great and festive idea. The flame of candles or torches needs to be integrated into your more intimate spaces as they provide their magic best when viewed close-up, so a patio setting is perfect. Candles should only be used in hurricane globes or their many variations. Varied shapes and heights of the globes, whether on a dining table or on a patio, have heightened effect.
Whatever the size or location of your landscape venue, lack of flame is a foregone opportunity!
While most are the result of lightning, please remember that Florida has the second highest number of wildfires in the nation, and your flames must be extinguished thoroughly when your last