Lights, Camera, Some Action

As you know I'm all for products which enable us to tread a little lighter on this earth, so how could I refuse when the people at Dobbies offered me these starry solar powered path lights to evaluate?

I've often wondered if this type of lighting might be just the thing for my front garden: we're next to woodland, facing north and quite some way from the nearest street light, so things can get quite dark around here. Our neighbour has invested in a set of individual stick solar powered lights which seem to work quite well around their lawn edge, so if we had a set of something similar, we could gently make the neighbourhood a safer place without too much in the way of light pollution or running costs. Besides, a path lined with twinkly star shaped lights looked kinda fun :)

A few days later the lights arrived and were very easy to assemble and set out alongside our front drive. I even managed to find a place to site the solar panel without it being shaded by any shrubs. I then left them for a few days to see what they could do: this often involved making sure the solar panel was gently wiped clean (the instructions say not to press down when doing this) as my setting them out coincided with last week's snowfall.

Having had them out there for a week, here's what I've found:
  1. Lamps come out of their sockets easily, but can just as easily be put back together again.
  2. The on/off and static/animated switches are flimsy and hard to use: they look the same (unlike the enclosed leaflet diagram that comes with the lights which shows a clear difference in switch height depending on what you've done) and it can take several attempts to change from static to animated, or on to off and vice versa.
  3. One light completely dislodged (see photo below) after I brought them back in even though I was very careful in the way I handled them. Flimsy construction and just one session's use isn't quite what I had in mind.
  4. The ground spikes bend/break very easily.
  5. Lights have a variable brightness - some are bright and others are hard to tell if they're on.
  6. Lights are unsuitable for a north facing garden in the winter: a bright sunny day on Sunday gave only 25 minutes illumination (1 lamp only lasted 15 minutes). The leaflet says there's a maximum of 8 hours*.
  7. It's difficult to get the lights to be as upright as in the illustration as they're on a bendy wire. Personally this wasn't a problem as it meant I could gently alter the lights to peek out from under foliage where needed
* = I wouldn't have expected 8 hours at this time of year, but my neighbour's currently getting 3-4 hours

Whilst I realise I've not tested them in ideal conditions, looking at the accompanying leaflet I would question whether they're suitable for use at this time of the year, even if I moved the lights to my south facing back garden. It's recommended the first day's use needs bright sunshine for 8 hours to fully charge the batteries. There's less than 8 hours daylight (never mind sunshine) in the Bath area from 9th December to 2nd January: this period will be even longer the further north you go. Also the leaflet's Maintenance section recommends they're put away for the winter to dry off thoroughly and then brought out again in the spring.

In summary - a great idea, but a disappointing execution. If I was reviewing these on Amazon I'd be giving them one star; possibly 2 for summer use. As they're an electrical item, I now need to take them to my local household centre for recycling.

However for the sake of balance, Patient Gardener's experience was much more positive than mine.


  1. We have solar lights in the back garden & have now put them away for the winter as the amount of light they give is minimal. Even in the sunniest of positions winter sunlight is much lower & therefore does not charge most of the lights adequately.

    Gardening Which has just reviewed solar powered outdoor fairy lights & said none of them were any good at this time of year!

  2. Ms B - I'd often thought that would be the case and in fact have some v old solar power lights which I bring in at the end of October.

    However, I don't have any LED lights and seeing that my neighbour's lights work quite well, I was glad to have the opportunity to see for myself.

    NB Dobbies are aware that this review isn't a positive won and were happy for me to go ahead with my review.

  3. Its interesting you have had poor illumination as ours stayed on all night the other day and that was without much sun to charge them, in fact we set them up at dusk - I was really surprised. In fact my response in the morning was 'oh for goodness turn the damm things off'!! I wonder if you had a dud pack not that that is a good thing. I agree that they are flimsy but to be honest I didnt expect much else given the price.

  4. PG - yes the variability of the lights makes me think it was a dud pack too. However, the manufacturer's own leaflet doesn't really recommend them for this time of the year anyway, so perhaps you're one of the lucky ones!

  5. PS setting them up at dusk might have been OK if you'd had the package in bright light during the day. I did the same when I first set them up - in fact it was just as well I did otherwise I wouldn't have been able to tell if I'd switched them on!

  6. I've been uniformly disappointed in solar powered landscaping lights. Plus, the fraternity boys keep running over them when they drive across my lawn. I've given up on them.

    (I've mean I've given up on the lights, not the frat boys. I still think there's hope for the frat boys.)

  7. Hi VP
    Strangely enough I had to take a series of solar light photos in January for a magazine test. They basically came to the same conclusion as you - apparently this was the first time they said don't buy to a whole test. It was snowy and cold - not ideal for any kind of battery, but it was the devil's own job to get even a glimmer to take the pics..and when they did perk up it wasn't for long. You would have thought the manufacturers would have thought of that, considering they were Christmas lights!
    Paul Debois

  8. Oh - I got these too, I am still trying to work out what to say!

  9. Useful research this.
    U've kind borne out in admittedly just one test what I thought these things might be like. It seems an ironical pity and design flaw that they work least just when we want them most!
    Such is life!

  10. Susan - it's funny - my neighbour installed his lights so that people wouldn't drive over his lawn. Mind you, we dn't have frat boys here, so that might be why it works ;)

    Paul - welcome! That's a really good point re battery performance in the kind of weather we've had recently. I'm having to keep my camera next to my body as much as possible when I venture out with my camera at the moment. It's amazing how quickly the battery low message pops up.

    Karen - Easygardener posted about hers too, so you need to get diddling!

    Robert - yes that irony's not lost on me either!


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