You’ve transformed your garden over lockdown into an oasis, and now it’s time to reap the rewards by showing it off to envious family and friends. Once the sun sets, decent outdoor lights will let your garden continue to shine after dark.
While mains lights are all well and good, solar lights offer an easy – and bill-saving – alternative. They charge through the day and light up your garden at night.
Although they might not be quite as powerful as mains-powered lights, we were seriously impressed with their brightness and flexibility.
And there are a huge variety of solar lights on offer, from festoon to lantern to spotlight styles.
Lighting can give an amazing new dimension to your garden. “Keep it simple and, this may sound obvious, but make sure your lights are actually lighting something and for a reason,” says garden designer Ben Martin.
“Be that to create a mood around outdoor seating, to light a path or to enhance a key feature in your garden such as a focal-point tree, sculpture or standout plants.”
We recommend looking for solar lights with dusk sensors, which sense when natural light is fading and automatically switch on your lights. All of the lights mentioned in this review have them.
We spent weeks testing lights by looking at how well they held their charge and how pretty the light looked, as well as making note of their durability and ease of use.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Habitat solar filament lightbulbs, pack of 4
We can’t resist a pop of colour – everyone knows the British summer weather could do with it – and these bulbs deliver on that nicely. The filament-style bulbs are quite big in diameter and have a metal clip to hook them onto fences, washing lines, trees or whatever you’ve got. We really liked that they’re separate from one another so you can dot them around your outdoor space.
The small panels in the top of each bulb didn’t take very long to charge the batteries – about six hours in decent sunshine – and then let out a really strong glow long into the night. We think these are fantastic ambient lights and love that they bring a little bit of a fiesta feeling to our yard.
Buy now £20.00, Argos.co.uk
Atlas solar spotlights, set of 4
Wow – these little lights sure are powerful. They have a sizable solar panel attached, which might account for some of it, but we were still very impressed with the intensity of the bright light they gave out – they claim to light up to 25m, which sounds about right to us.
They’re each mounted on a stake, so you can pop them in flower beds or lawns, but you can also mount them to decking too. And each light has a decent amount of wire flex (4.5m) that leads back to the solar panel and splitter. We buried the wires under the soil for a seamless look. These lights are designed to work year round, and have a power-saving mode so the batteries last for longer.
Buy now £59.99, Amazon.co.uk
Lights 4 Fun lismore solar lantern duo
If you’re looking for a more warm, subtle glow, then these contemporary lanterns are a great option. The metal lanterns are impressively durable and sturdy, while the candles inside “burn” a nice warm yellow light. They claim to have an eight-hour battery, and they stayed on the longest of all the lights we tested. While they’re not going to cast enough light to illuminate a path, they do provide a lovely cosy feeling and look really premium. And although the price tag is high, you do get two large lanterns for your money.
Buy now £63.99, Lights4fun.co.uk
Robert Dyas smart solar eureka firefly lantern
We really liked the copper-effect frame on this lantern, and the utility-chic vibe. The “bulb” inside is actually filled with a short string of micro fairy lights. This means it doesn’t give out the most powerful glow, but makes for great ambient lighting. There is a large hook on the top, which means you can either hook it onto a wall or tree, or leave it on the ground like a traditional lantern.
Buy now £14.99, Robertdyas.co.uk
Robert Dyas smart solar damasque lantern
This decent-sized lantern emits quite a bright white light that we were impressed with. The lattice casing means that it projects a pretty pattern on the patio too, which we really liked. It’s lightweight but robust enough that you can leave it outside all summer long. We found it’s also great to pop on a table for after-sunset gatherings as, while it’s ambient, it provides enough light by which to enjoy an alfresco G&T (which we did, if you’re asking). The handle also means you could hang it on a wall or tree if you wanted to.
Buy now £22.49, Robertdyas.co.uk
B&Q silver-effect starburst solar-powered LED outdoor stake light
There are 120 bulbs in this starburst stake light, which makes it fairly bright by solar light standards. The tendrils are about 10cm long and the stake is especially tall, meaning it packs quite a punch. We did find the solar panel – which flips up halfway up the spike – not the most attractive, but it could easily be hidden by shrubs and flowers. Despite being called a starburst this light reminded us more of a huge light-up dandelion, and we imagine a few throughout a garden would look really magical.
Buy now £16.00, Diy.com
The Solar Centre lumify USB solar Edison bulbs, set of 20
We fell hard for the romance of these ones. The string of festoon-style lights have different-shaped plastic bulbs dotted throughout, which we thought was a nice, whimsical touch. The bulbs are filled with micro fairy lights, rather than a traditional filament, but you can’t really tell once you’re stood away from them.
You can charge them using a solar panel or plug them in via a USB socket. This might be handy if it’s been a cloudy day, or if you want to have them working pretty soon after getting them. We found that charging them via the solar panel worked well though, and they let out a warm light. The dusk sensor on these lights is very sensitive, so they are best suited to somewhere away from other lights.
They are quite pricey but we have included them in this round-up because they are a decent length and are just as good as some of the mains-operated festoon lights we’ve seen.
Buy now £69.99, Thesolarcentre.co.uk
ShapeLights USB mood light
This cool orb is modern and one of the more interesting looking lights we tested. It’s quite big – 35cm in diameter – and so made an impact in our garden. You can charge it either via USB (a cable is included) or using solar power. We found USB gave a great charge – the claim is seven nights, and we’d agree with that. When we used solar power, however, it really needed to be in a very sunny spot to power up, and definitely didn’t charge fully.
You can have this light cycle through red, green, blue, green, purple, pink and light blue on a slow rotation, or just stick with one – you can also opt for bright white or warm white. This would be great for a party, wedding or just a cool, modern garden. It’s currently available to pre-order.
Buy now £49.99, Thesolarcentre.co.uk
Worm oval bulkhead wall light
For adding a bit of industrial chic to your outdoor space, you’d be hard pressed to find a better solar option than this. It’s fairly lightweight, but looks the part with a distressed metal casing. You can hang it vertically or horizontally using the hooks while it gives out a decent bright white glow and charges well in a sunny spot. It has a dusk sensor and automatically switches off after six hours.
Buy now £26.95, Worm.co.uk
Robert Dyas Monaco rattan solar LED lamp
If you’re after something that emits a brighter light, this freestanding model is a great option. The rattan-style design would suit most gardens, and the amount of floor space it takes up versus the light it gives out is impressive. A decent-sized panel is subtly located in the top of the light and charges its batteries throughout the day so it comes on at dusk. We found this to be impressively sensitive, with the light coming on as soon as the sun set. The tube inside contains 25 LED lights, which give off a whiter light than some of the other options we tested.
Although it feels quite hard-wearing, it is lightweight, so it might be blown over in heavier winds. However, its style, durability and brightness meant we were really impressed with this light.
Buy now £49.99, Robertdyas.co.uk
The verdict: Solar garden lights
We couldn’t fault the Habitat filament bulbs – they are flexible, fun, fiercely bright and budget friendly. If you’re looking for some more serious lighting then we were really impressed with the Atlas solar spotlights – they had a powerful beam and are very durable.
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