Landscape Design Software – Choosing

I recently appealed to gardeners for their experiences using landscape design software.

Landscape Software – List

As could be expected, some liked it and some did not. Here are their comments:

Marjorie: “I work on computer software for a living, so I looked forward to trying several of the landscaping packages available. Instant Landscaping, Total 3D Landscape, Garden Composer, etc. Some of them are truly a pain to use, others are not too bad, but what I have found with all of them is:

(1) I can spend hours on the boring set-up part — just trying to set up the “background” I want to use, like the shape of the beds, the hardscaping, existing trees, etc.

(2) No matter how many plants they say they have in their repertoire, they never seem to have the ones I want, especially when I’d like to use the exact cultivar to see the effect of the height, spread, etc. I end up with so many substitutes or generic shrubs that I don’t feel that the result coincides with my imagination at all.

I do find the plant search engines they include to be really helpful. Garden Composer is my favorite. Others have great gardening tips or other extras that are nice. But I have given up on actually using them to design my landscape. I use a pencil and a piece of graph paper.”

Alan: “I am a Master Gardener in TN and one of our MG projects is to design a landscape plan for the Habitat for Humanity houses as they are built and occupied. I thought that, since the houses have basically the same footprint, it would be beneficial to use a Landscape Design program to create the first plan. Then, as new houses were complete, a lot of the work could be re-used. Besides using this software for this project, I was planning on giving a presentation about its use to the local Master Gardeners Association and one to the local computer club.

I have an old copy of Sierra’s Land Designer ver 1.1 that I had used before and gave it a whirl. This software is much like a CAD program, and the mastery of the “layer” concept is important to do a good (and reuseable) job. I found the drawing tools to be satisfactory and after a while I was actually getting proficient. This program, like all of the current ones that I studied, has a database of various plants. One of the databases is from White Flower Farms, a mail order nursery.

The process was to design landscape layouts and then populate the layouts with plant materials. The plants were placed using drawing objects for various types/sizes of plants. Then, I had to go back and specifically identify the plants by using the database or typing in text. These plants, on the plans, were coded and the codes were on the resulting materials list. When I was done, I had a drawing of the lot, the house, outbuildings and a landscape design. I also had a materials list (although only complete if the plants were in the data base).

As I remember, this program only cost $10 on a bargain CD rack and is very good for that price. In using this program I did not have any PC “lock ups” or crashes nor did I ever loose my work. Some other software that I have checked on seems to be famous for that behavior. I want to get an evaluation copy of a much newer and better package ( Punch! Master Landscape & Home Design ), but that has not come through yet. From what all I have read, that program is probably the best one for the non-professional.

Overall, I got what I needed, but I probably spent 4 times more time than I would have with pencil, paper, stencils and some tracing paper. I’m not sure it is worth it for a single project for your own home, but I do plan on using it on our Habitat for Humanity landscaping projects, since the base work has been done. It does make for a nice presentation to our clients. I have not yet put together my presentation for the computer club or the MG organzation — I’m still hoping to get the Punch! system and start over.”

Lisa: “I got Punch! Master Landscape for Christmas. As ease of use goes, it ain’t much, but it is pretty cool. Wish I had experience with others to compare it to – Have a sneaking suspicion that it would be a lot tougher if I hadn’t had previous experience with cad programs.

The Plant Finder search function had to be downloaded from online (as a patch) to have any means at all to search for plants by name, and as search functions go, this one is incredibly lame – it will, for example, only pull up a single Acer when searched, tho there are lots more in the database.

Some of the 3-D plant photos are very strange looking – put a lorapetalum next to the foundation and it was so out of proportion it looked like something out of a Godzilla movie. (picture hot-pink fringy flowers towering over the roof-line with leaves the size of a suit-case. Hmmm…) Still, I’m getting a pretty accurate picture of what the yard will look like after renovation, without physically dragging plant material.

Seeing as I have a couple of thousand square feet of beds I plan to dig up, knowing where it’s going to land is important before bringing in the rented Bobcat.

I don’t know if other programs give the 3-D walk-thru features Punch! has, but that was primarily what I was looking for. I can figure out on graph paper what will fit where, and I have some experience with pleasing plant combinations.

It’s neat being able to virtually walk through the yard to ‘see’ whether I have successfully screened out my neighbors’ Broken Plastic Toyland next door and still left enough room for seating, doggy play, mowers and carts to navigate etc. Having big fun, now that the initial frustrations have been worked through, but am waiting to hear from others that have tried other programs.

To sum things up:
Pros: Decent plant library, Ability to import photos, 3-D imaging

Cons: Terrible plant search, awkward and sloooow to choose plants, Instructions nearly non-existant (tho I understand Pro has video tutorials)”

George: “One large landscape design and installation company in town uses Dynascapes design software, and has been extremely pleased with it. My company plans to use it ourselves in the future.”

Don: “As a Landscape Architect, I have been using “Autocad” to complete Landscape Designs for about 12 years now. It is expensive and used mainly by Landscape Architects and Engineers, but any software that lets you easily and accurately measure, draw circles, polygons, arrows, leaderlines, create text, calculate areas and print should work.

Paul: “I have used SIERRA Complete LandDesigner a few times. It is not real expensive and, once you get use to it, easy to use. I have been pleased with it.”

Arlene: “Sierra Home Landscape Design is pretty good. Howeve, I got it after I’d already designed my garden by myself. For someone who never had a green thumb, my yard & bank to the woods are beautiful; hope to get it approved for a Wildlife Habitat per National Wildlife. Did make a few mistakes, but I learned a lot by trial & error. My neighbors are all jealous of my ability.”

Chuck: “I have sort of used the Broderbund 3D Home Landscape Designer 5. I found it useful to try out looks, but it was difficult to try to recreate my yard in it. Also they want you to buy add on plant list. I would be interested in any better programs out there.”

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