One thing that can really make or break an outdoor space is lighting. Lighting is what really sets the mood as a hot summer night starts to wind down and a cool breeze (hopefully) begins to blow. Our last house had a pergola already built on the property, so it was easy enough to string some globe patio lights around the edge of it and call it a day. But at our Nashville house, well, there is no pergola to speak of. So what’s a mood-lighting-lover to do? Figure out another way of course!
Since we are just starting to work on the outside of our house, I don’t know what kind of deck or pergola we might want to build in the future. So I wanted a solution that would stay as long as I wanted it, but wouldn’t have to be permanent in case our plans changed. I started investigating online and saw that there were a few variations of outdoor lighting that one could rig up using a long pole mounted inside of planters, and I decided that would be the perfect solution for the space. And since you don’t have to install anything permanent for this set up, it’s totally something you could do if you were renting a house as well. Let’s get started!
-10’ metal pole or pipe (about 1”-1.5” thick)
-3 J-bolts long enough to go through your pipe and 2 corresponding nuts for each bolt
-metal drill bit the size of your J-bolt
-outdoor globe patio string lights
-Christmas light gutter clips
-50lb bag of quick dry cement (I used 2)
-dirt and decorative rocks (optional)
First I determined how high I wanted the lights to be off of the pipe, and since 10’ seemed like a good height, I left the pipe the length it came in (you can have them cut it shorter at the store if you need to). Mark your hole locations with a marker and use a metal drill bit to drill three holes (all the way through) spaced about 2” apart at the top of the pole. Put your J-bolt through each hole with a nut on each side of the pipe to keep the bolt in place.
Place your pole in the middle of your planter and pour the cement into the planter one bag at a time. Use a hose to add water to the planter. Then use a scrap piece of wood or a strong stick to stir the water with. You can follow the amount directions on the package or basically just get the cement to where it’s thoroughly wet but not soupy, and it should turn out just fine. It’s best to have a helper on these steps so you can have one person to stir and mix and one to hold the pole straight as the cement sets. Add another bag of cement as needed. You want to make sure that your pole and planter aren’t going anywhere, so make sure to also take into account how skinny or wide your planter is and how tall it is when deciding how much to fill it (I filled mine about 18” deep with cement). Since the pole isn’t that thick, wind just goes around it, and it feels very sturdy in the base.
Use a level to make sure your pole is standing up straight in the container and allow the cement to dry (make sure your hooks at the top are facing the direction you want as well). You can either fill the planter to the top with cement or leave some room to fill with dirt and a few small plants or some decorative rocks instead.
Measure the distance from your pole placement to the gutter line at each area you want to attach lights and sketch out a rough estimate of your light strand path. Knowing the distance will let you know what length of light strand you need and allow you to make placement adjustments before you start. Believe me, it’s way easier to do it on paper than when you’re on the ladder! I haven’t found any light strands that will let you go longer than 100 feet without blowing fuses (I learned that the hard way after stringing up too many strands and having to redo the whole thing!), so adjust your design as needed or add in another extension cord to plug in two lights. Anyway, once your plan is mapped out, use a ladder and the gutter light clips to string your lights from the gutters to one of the pole hooks and back again until you have your lights set up!
You can have an outdoor extension cord plug into your lights at the top of the pole to give you a few more hanging lights, or you can wrap them around and down the pole if you have lights to spare. We have an outdoor electrical box in that corner of the porch from where an old lamppost used to be, but you can also just run your extension cord to your closest outdoor plug instead and watch your porch glow!
Important note!! Make sure to hang the lights without the bulbs first, and then add the bulbs once the lights are secure. This will save you cleaning up lots of broken glass if you accidentally drop light strands onto cement. Twice. Just believe me OK…
Isn’t it so cozy looking?! As soon as we put the lights up, I knew that’s what this space had been missing all along. I love being able to sit back here now and just take in the hot summer nights and listen to all the crickets and cicadas in the woods behind our house. If you are looking for a short or long-term lighting solution in your backyard, I hope this option works for you as well! xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Project Assistant: Collin DuPree