Desperate for decent design software

One of the blessings of having no established landscape is being able to design the garden from scratch. But that’s also a bit of a curse. I’ve had my gardening reference books out, my sketch pads, my diagrams of the front garden and back garden, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Too many variables to keep track of—height at maturity, color, blooming season, light requirements, soil requirements, water requirements….

I need help.

I’m stubborn enough to want to design this garden myself, so that rules out working with a professional garden designer. (Budget is another reason to rule that out, too!) What I’d like to find is some decent garden design software.

I’ve looked around and haven’t found anything for the Mac (at least, nothing that is reasonably priced and not intended for professionals). So I’ve been looking for software available on line, and here’s what I’ve found.

BBC Virtual Garden

This software is very easy to use, but it has some serious limitations. It was so easy to draw an outline of the quirky space of my front yard, complete with sidewalk, retaining wall, and bay window. All you have to do is click dots on the grid and you get the shape of your own garden.

What I really love about this software is that when you’ve finished designing your garden, you can get a 3D view of your creation. You can pan left and right, look up and down, get closer and move farther away. For a visual person like me, this 3D capability gives me a better idea of how the plants I’ve chosen will work together.

But there are two major drawbacks. First, because this software is designed for British gardening conditions, there are no USDA hardiness zones or AHS heat zones. That information is critical for me, because this part of upstate New York gets quite a bit colder than Britain in winter, and quite a bit hotter in summer. Years ago I made the mistake of trying to grow Britain-friendly plants in my central Texas garden. Everything was gorgeous until late April, when the thermostat headed up into the 90s and the plants began their rapid decline toward death. Yes, I learned that lesson the hard way.

The other serious drawback to this BBC software is that the plant selection is minimal. There are a number of classic cottage garden plants, but the selection is very small, so your options are very few. Still, I just love that 3D capability, even if it’s limited.

Better Homes and Gardens Plan-a-Garden

The plant varieties in the BHG software are much more plentiful than in the BBC software, and because this product is intended for American gardens, it does provide information about zones. But this software is clunkier to use. Setting up the initial garden space is a real chore, because you have to configure every line of the perimeter separately. For example, for my bay window I had to create three separate lines (the side windows and center window), selecting not only the length of each line, but also a color and material. (The software assumes that perimeters are fences, walls, etc., so there is no option for selecting “nasty 1950s asbestos siding.”)

It’s very easy to drag and drop the plants you want in their intended spaces, to move them around, and to change their sizes. But all you can see on the plan are general green-and-flower-color blobs which give you no sense of the interaction of height, flower size and shape, foliage shapes and colors. And when you go to print it out, you only get shapes with initials of the plant names in each shape. You have to search the software to find a key so you have any idea what you’ve created.

Conclusion

As you can see, I’m not 100% pleased with either product. I’d love to combine the ease of garden layout and the 3D capability of the BBC software with the plant selection and American content of the BHG software.

Anyone out there have any suggestions for me?

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