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Garden Design Software FAQ


This FAQ is a compilation of comments and suggestions from subscribers to URG over recent months
I've tried to correctly attribute what was actually said, but if you find a mistake or an omission, let me know.


Fred Rayers started the ball rolling when he wrote...

I want to buy some garden planning software. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Jon Green offered these thoughts. "Ask yourself how often you'd be using the software. (How often do you do a full garden design -- as opposed to, say, a simple rotation plan for the veggies? Once every how many years?)
Ask yourself whether you couldn't do as good a job using pencil, paper and references, or a milk-bottle full of silver sand to mark out on the ground.
Ask yourself which would be quicker. Bear in mind that if you're using a program you'll be tempted to fiddle for ages, without contributing anything significant to the design.
For most people, for most purposes, garden design software's a waste of money.

Andrew Smith replied....
I have tried a few such programs in the past and even bought two of them.
They were a complete waste of money and unless things have changed dramatically over the last two years then my recommendation would be to invest in a drawing board, some paper, pencils and a scale ruler. One of the products was from Sierra and was a particularly bad, hard to use and bug ridden piece of software which was really not fit to be sold. The other one was marginally easier to use but no more useful. It lacked the ability to do such basic things as change the size of the one shed which you were allowed to use!
The programs were really little more than toys. The drawing area was severely limited and accurate drawing was impossible. The plant representations were poor, the range of plants limited and the 3D was slow.

Rosemary Hayward added...
I have got 2 - Geoff Hamiltons (not the 3D) and 3D Landscape. I do have fun playing with them but I find them very restrictive on various things.
Plant types are very limited and I find I am trying to guess for similar shape and size. Also garden additions (pools, sheds, gazebos etc.) seem to be without imagination in shape and size.
On the plus side they have both been useful in remembering what my our garden (we are moving soon) will be like and I have got some layout ideas even if not for specific planting.

Aileen Power commented....
I have Sierra 3D Landscape and agree with Rosemary's comments. However, there is a later version than the one I have and it may be better. It's great to play with over the winter to made further design additions or modifications to the garden and I find it much easier to do than using pencil and graft paper. It also allows you to see how the new additions will look in your overall landscape and house.
Problems for me concerning the plant list is that when I put in my zone (sorry for mentioning zones ;-) ), it leaves not much to choose from. I put in a higher zone which then includes plants I know I can grow, but also ones that I know can't survive the winter in my area.

Iris Smith told us, "I've got (Geoff Hamilton's 3D Garden Designer) but haven't found it a great help. It's quite complicated to use and I'm not one for measuring my garden into centimetres (or feet for that matter). If it looks right it is right in my book and I tend to work things out in my head. I can't be bothered to spend hours measuring things up - or working out the best way to use what seems to me to be a quite complicated programme. It may be easier if you have a standard square/oblong garden with straight lines and circles rather than a meandering one like mine! If I was you I'd try to find someone who has a copy and would let you try it before spending any money.

And on the same program, Chris Figa added, "I got this CD-ROM last summer . It IS complicated but I usually get it out when my husband is watching the football so I have something to do. I found it quite interesting , and as I am quite a new gardener I found the database interesting but the actual design bits were too complex to be that useful, and I am not very computer literate so that doesn't help either.I think really I am better off with my RHS books.

Alec Fry added, "I tried Geoff Hamilton's Garden Designer but I'm afraid I cannot recommend it - far from user-friendly, and no great advance on your present method. In the end I just got stuck in with hosepipe-shaped beds on the ground, planted roughly according to height and spread, and moved them around as necessary. After all, plants never grow as predicted, it all depends on the soil and position, so I find "trial and error" is by far the best way!"

Philip Hurford said, "I've tried the Geoff Hamilton CD ROM and I wasn't at all impressed with it. The list of plants for certain positions is quite good but not very comprehensive. The actual design program itself is very limited in what it can do and is no substitute for graph paper and a pencil!"

Gems said.....
I got BBC Gardeners World's 3D CD ROM about 5 years ago and found it quite useful. There is an updated version that can be found in most Software shops and a respectable price. You can choose the exact plants to go in your garden and where to place paving etc. but don't expect too much

Michael Fearn reported.... I've used Garden Design 3 which is OK if you have the patience to put in the characteristics of your own garden. I gave up with it eventually - and it wasn't as enjoyable as reading a few books and putting my own plans/ideas into action !

Someone with a name composed of letters and numerals proffered....
I recently bought Data Becker Garden Design- a gimmicky waste of money

Jill Bowis warned....
I have had quite a lot of fun with 3D landscape but the plants tend to be American

To which Mike Berridge responded, "I have 3D Landscape professional, have managed to get the design of my house and garden on and the ageing/seasons do seem to work. The plants in the plant finder do have an American leaning but most are there, especially in the gardening encyclopaedia part."

Barry Oliff added, "We have the BBC Gardeners' World "Garden Manager" which is good and helps with selection of plants and prompts you with hints of what to do and when."

David told us about his experiences with Alan Titchmarsh's Garden Designer, "I have since bought this package and regretted it. The images of plants are not very realistic, the heights to which they grow are inaccurate and the database of plants is quite small.

On the plus side, it would be useful if you were doing some serious landscaping of the garden and wanted to see what the overall impression would be without much detail.

I wanted it for border design, for which its no use,"

mick.wellheeled added, "I have found that a) it is not possible to manipulate the directional layout of such things as fences, bench etc. b) the contouring is too inaccurate. You think that you are creating a dip on the plan, but it looks more like a bomb crater from the side elevation. c) plant information is limited, and somewhat inaccurate. It also has a tendency to freeze my PC, and I have to use the reset button. I uninstalled it in disgust.


It would seem that not many urglers are terribly impressed with any of these packages, and to add my own two-penn'orth, I have never seen one that is as fully featured as UK gardeners would like. A lot of the stuff seems to be very North American based, and therefore not entirely suitable to these soggy isles.

With my professional hat on, the hard-landscaping design work that I do often involves some 'garden planning' and I use TurboCad and/or AutoCad to prepare my designs. I have managed to build up my own library of different plants which enables me to drag and drop them where I will, once the structural elements are in place, but it is far from being encyclopaedic, and the 3D views can take a disproportionate amount of time to create. Also, there is no aging/maturing or seasonal feature.

Pencil and paper anyone? :~)


Links of dubious usefulness

  • Sierra - Makers of 3D Landscape
  • IMSI - Simple but powerful CAD programs including TurboCad
  • Autodesk Inc - Creators of AutoCad, the industry standard CAD software
  • Bradstone - UK paving manufacturer offering free, downloadable garden planner


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