Landscape/Garden design software

>> Friday, February 1, 2008

Does anyone use these? When I looked into them last year I decided they were pretty much designed for large yards or people who consider themselves perfectionists or for businesses who would use them more often than the home gardener and therefore stand a better chance at getting their money’s worth out of them. I don’t have a large yard by most standards: 7,700 sq ft with 2,300 sq ft of that devoted to garden space, I certainly am not a perfectionist and I don’t run a business. The ole ‘pencil and paper’ method works fine for me.

Some people need to see the layout on paper whether it be via hand or computer and printer, while others have the ability to envision it all in their talented heads and bring it all to life without ever touching paper.

I need to see it on paper and I use Excel to layout rectangular representations assigning a separate workbook for each garden space. Next to the design I list each plant and its color, bloom time and length, height and width, and how many plants are planted (or going to be). The plan ends up as squares and rectangles, which can get a bit tricky for curves and rounded ends, and trying to determine the exact amount of space used is a bit skewed, but it all works. I even have hyperlinks to photographs so I can quickly see what the plant looks like in full bloom. The one thing that using a spreadsheet or drawing it out on paper lacks is, how the whole layout looks with all the plants together. This requires that talented ability to imagine the space as it might look.

There are some very good landscape design products on the market and some of these are getting more press lately, presumably because this time of year is when we are all itching to get back into the garden. We all know the best time to put a garden in is in the fall but we can design one any time we want.

Advertising for these products typically starts off by making sure you know that by using their product you will save ‘time and money’, make ‘fewer mistakes’ and prevent your frustration level from making you want to kick the family pet.

One major improvement I have noticed this year over last years offerings is the ability to import digital photos. This, to me is a nice touch. It helps prevent the cartoonish look of your design by using your own photos of plants you really want to design with and you can actually use a photo of your own house! Some software allows you to edit and touch-up the photos to give your plan a little more sparkle. And while this isn’t a deal breaker it does add a bit of value. Most have diaries to track your gardens progress, and a built-in video tutorial on how to use their product, and the ability to add in hardscape, such as, walkways, driveways, decks, patios, birdbaths, etc.

The more complete software packages, in my opinion, have pre-designed garden plans to get ideas from, access to a (large) plant encyclopedia, helps you identify your hardiness zone, guides to common diseases and insects and their treatments and controls, and the ability to print out a shopping list of plants to order from.

Some extras, that would probably drive the price up, would be:

tips on when to plant,
watering and techniques on how to save it,
soil preparation,
seed starting,
companion planting,
basically a ‘complete package’ (provided there ever could be such a thing).

I realize that all of this information could be found in many good books found at book stores and libraries everywhere, but let’s face it, a lot of people are turning to the internet and their computers and, sadly, away from books.

With this in mind let’s look at a few examples of landscape/garden software for purchase in the $30 to $200 range. Trust me, they do come a lot more expensive than this.

Stand alone Computer Software

Graphics have come a long way in recent years and the ability to draw in 3D will greatly enhance your experience. One software product that takes full advantage of this selling point is 3D Garden Composer. This is an upgrade from their Garden Composer 2004.

This software package has one of the most extensive and complete encyclopedias I have seen yet. The illustrations are full color and some come with slide shows. Plant entries include growing zones, sun exposure, soil moisture, soil composition, colors of flowers, leaves and fruit, the colors of autumn leaves, growing rates, spreading rates, plant sizes and annual flowering, fruiting calendars, plant origins, and other useful information.

A plant and resource editor allows you to create your own plant encyclopedia of your own digitally photographed plants with customized fields, and backgrounds, such as fences.

You can publish your garden plan on your webpage allowing visitors to take a virtual tour of your garden. Very nice touch.

You can also publish a detailed list or create an illustrated catalogue of your garden plants.

It comes with a garden care calendar, garden tools database, notepad, photo designer, photo editor, guide to garden pests and diseases, pre-designed garden plans, and the ability to view your garden design throughout the changing seasons.

One drawback is it’s learning curve. Plan on devoting several hours to learn to use its features and apply it to your own landscape.

Another major bit of landscape design software is Landscape Vision Design Software.

This package has one of the best features yet, it allows you to use a picture of your own home. This is a definite plus and I think more software ought to have this capability.

Some other features are:
Drag and Drop pictures of plants from their plant data base of over 1,000 plants, or import your own.
Import images of stone and pavers from select vendors, or draw your own.
Draw garden beds and fill with your choice of mulch.
Draw walkways and patios and fill with pavers or stone.
Drag and Drop images of lawn furniture, gazebos, arbors, bird baths, mailboxes, grills, etc.
Print a shopping list.

A third software package is from Realtime Landscaping and comes in three flavors-Pro, Plus and Photo.

It too has 3D graphics and most of the popular bells and whistles.
Realtime provides:
allows you to edit in 2D or 3D,
shows day and night visualizations,
allows designing of raised flowerbeds and decks,
has a plant growth tool,
allows importing of digital photos and custom materials,
can design sprinkler systems, ponds, waterfalls, etc.

Plant databases for these and other design packages range in size from 16 to 15,000 different plants. The three mentioned here fall somewhere in between.

Website based landscape design
Another area of landscape design offering allows you to use them online.

Some are free and some allow you to download their software for a trial period with limited functionality. Not all will allow you to print the design you create while online but you can use it for a quick look at how some plants might look together. They all come with a small list of plant shapes for a birds-eye view.

Here are three, picked at random, that highlight the range of functionality you can expect (listed in no particular order).
BBC – Gardening Design
I have used this one several times for a quick look at how some plants will look together. It requires a plug-in to be downloaded but it provides the usual grid where you can quickly layout your chosen bed and add a few plants to see the colors together. The software is easy to use and is quite useful for design basics.

This package uses real color photos, includes photos of real homes or use a photo of your own, allows you to select your hardiness zone, shows the plants grow over a five year period and also is very easy to use.

Garden Planner Online
This design software can be used online or you can download a trial version. The online portion is pretty handy to get a quick representation of your yard and plants in general terms.
Besides the usual trees, shrubs, plants, groundcovers, etc, you can add buildings, paving, ponds, fences, garden furniture and you can print the plan.

Each object you place can easily be resized.

The downside is that you cannot save the plan, but you can print it out.

Do it Yourself Websites
There are of course loads of do it yourself websites that are ready to show you their projects and walk you through designing your own great looking yard/garden.

One of the most detailed websites, full of great information, is Landscape Design Do It Yourself. Landscaping is very informative as well.

These are only two but if you do an online search you will find a large selection of information sources from webpages and books.

For those of you who are talented enough, there are graphic design software packages, such as IrfanView, Adobe Illustrator, and a host of others that require a fair amount of graphics understanding and talent to freeform the whole shebang. With these you have to build everything from the ground up.

All in all there are loads of options to help you design your own landscape depending on how much time, effort, and money you are willing to spend.

To me, gardening is not spending time on the computer designing, but designing is part of the overall gardening experience. So it is something we all do sooner or later.

If you are ready to throw your hands up in the air and turn everything over to someone else, you can always pay a landscape designer to do it for you.

During the winter months we may have time on our hands to design but how many of us actually shell out money for design software?

Disclaimer: I want to take the time to point out that there are no promotional considerations taken or given for listing any product or website on this post.


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