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Where to Begin
It can be both exhilarating and daunting to have a new or existing area to design. And if your drawing skills are less than stellar or you need some guidance then you might want to turn to technology to help.
Then the overwhelming questions become which one to choose. Just the mere thought of having to research all the available options might have you deciding to pout in your unlandscaped yard while drinking. But never fear. I have done the research for you and have provided the necessary information you need to make a decision in this article. But first, let’s consider what you need.
When making any decision it is best to know what you actually need. Our first reaction as humans is usually to get the most expensive thing with all the capabilities whether we actually need them or not. So take a moment and truly ponder what you need.
- Do you just want get an idea of what your garden could look like?
- Or do you need a full scale plan to give to whomever will be doing the work?
- Do you need that amazing 3D modeling to impress your partner and get them on board with the project?
- Or do you just need a few reference points of where you will be putting plants?
- What is your budget?
- Will you be using this software or app for more than one project?
- What is your level of technical capability?
- Is it more important to make a pretty design or have functionality such as materials lists?
Once you have considered these questions it is time to look at some of your options. I have broken them into two categories: Phone and Tablet app vs. Complete Software for a computer.
Why the designations you ask? Basically because phone and tablet apps, at this moment in time, do not have the same functionality as computer software. Also, the way in which you would use a phone or tablet app is different than working on a computer.
So here are three apps that might be helpful to you when in the throws of garden or landscape designing.
Phone and Tablet Apps
Cost - Free to download and start using then $9.99 a month to get access to all features.
Augmented reality is the latest fun fad in garden design. Want to stroll through your luscious garden before it is finished? Then download iScape and start designing.
This app lets you use the camera on your phone to wander through a space and virtually create the garden of your dreams. But there are limits. First, it only works with iphones so if you have an android you are out of luck.
Then there is the fact that you can’t export the design in any way. No blueprints or draws. I guess you just have to wander around after designing and draw everything out on paper?
And although it is free to download the app, there are purchases still to be made. If you want access to all the plants and other features then it will be $9.99 a month. Not a lot of money but something to consider.
So if you want a fun and easy to use tool that can help you visual the possibilities in your space then iScape might be a great option. But in the end it is really just a fun toy and not a fully functioning design app because you can’t get your design off your phone.
Garden Organizer: Manager and Planner (Available on Google Play)
Cost - free to download then in-app purchases
If your goal is to plot out your vegetable garden then the Garden Organizer app might be just the thing for you. It is not a super fancy app with realistic plants but rather colored squares to denote plant varieties.
It is basically digital graph paper but if you prefer to do your planning on the computer then give it a look. But keep in mind there are in-app purchases. And the largest garden size it does is 20ft by 20ft so if you have a garden larger than that you might have to try something else.
Landscape Calculator (Available on Google Play)
Cost - Free
Although this app is not strictly for design it might be helpful. The goal of this app is to let you easily calculate how much gravel, soil or other landscaping material you might need. It won’t let you make pretty designs but it could save you some time with your calculations.
Overview of Using Apps for Landscape design
Although there are many apps in both the mac store and on Google play that claim to do landscape design there really aren’t. Most are just design inspiration apps with pictures but no real design function.
As I mentioned earlier, phone and tablet apps just don’t have the capability of full computer software. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a useful tool when designing or working in the garden. Just not the only tool.
Now that we have looked at the lackluster phone and tablet apps let’s move on to what will actually be useful when designing your landscape or garden. Computer software can be either downloaded and installed on your computer or physically purchased and then installed. This is usually done with an installation disk so consider if that is compatible with your computer.
There is also the subscription option versus the one time purchase price. If you are the type who starts projects and then takes a while to complete them, then you could rack up a hefty price tag.
Cost -$120 a year for the online edition
Need a basic design software to get your design out of your head and onto the paper? Then SmartDraw will do the trick. This software isn’t super slick with 3D features or virtual reality but it will let you easily create a basic garden design complete with plant lists.
There are a few templates you can start with or you can create from scratch. Whatever works best for you. And everything will be clean and legible if that is your worry about hand drawn diagrams.
And if you need to design your house then this software can do that too. In fact, it can create a lot of other useful designs.
Want to create a family tree. There’s a template for that. Need an infographic or emergency exit plan? Take your pick from a variety of templates. This software does way more than just garden design so that may be a huge bonus.
Cost - $97 a month with a $95 setup fee
If you want to see your design in 3D, but not in virtual reality like iScape, then try VizTerra. This program has everything. It’s pretty easy to use, creates both 2D and 3D renderings and even creates construction sheets with material lists.
You can import county land schematics to get just the right dimensions or use measurement you took yourself. Start with a 2D plan and with one click it becomes a 3D design.
This is a great program if you are super detail oriented and want control over the tiniest detail. You can change the color of the patio furniture and make plants grow to look just right. There is a great introductory video to get your started and will certainly inspire you to take your design to the next level.
But if you don’t need to change the color of the furniture or know every last detail then this may be too much. It does seem to be geared towards professionals as all the marketing materials refers to ‘your client’.
It’s a toss up between all the cool features and the price. If you are not trying to impress your significant other with your amazing plan for the backyard then you probably don’t need this one.
HGTV Home and Landscape Platinum Suite
If you are obsessed with watching every HGTV show there is then now you can use their software to redo your entire home. In reality it is made by Virtual Architect and just branded as an HGTV product but it still looks pretty good.
There are actually eight different options, each costing about $40. There is a specific landscape design software and then one for garden design. The garden design software focuses mainly on plants while the landscape design option has more hardscapes.
But either option would be useful for personal design projects. And if you need to remodel your kitchen or do some interior design their are package deals to get multiple software options.
The HGTV Home and Landscape Platinum Suite may not be as fancy as some of the other options on this list but for the price and ease of use it is worth checking out.
Home Designer Software
Cost - Starts at $99
Sometimes landscapes are a bit of an afterthought for home design software. It is very obvious that Home Designer is software originally created to design houses. That isn’t to say that the landscaping portion of the software isn’t good, it’s just not the main focus.
But if your garden goals include an outdoor kitchen or expansive deck then this software may be perfect. It does have a strong architecture component so if there is building to be done in your design then check out this option.
With over 3,600 plants to use in your landscape you should be able to find something to virtually plant. Combine all these benefits with the one time purchase price instead of a potentially costly monthly subscription and this is a good contender.
Cost - Starting at €795 or roughly $961
If you want it all, and can pay for it, then Lands Designs is awesome. It can do just about anything. Create 2D and 3D architectural models, virtual tours in walkthrough mode and 1,800 plant species to choose from. Plus a whole lot more. Which might be too much.
This software is definitely geared towards landscape professionals. Everything about it is for creating amazing designs to wow clients. So if you just want a basic tool to design your backyard then this software is probably overkill.
Not to mention that you need another program, Rhino or AutoCad, just to run the software. It is not a stand alone project but a plugin for a different piece of software. So you have to buy that too.
So overall awesome but spendy and most likely excessive.
Realtime Landscaping Plus
Cost - $99.95
As the winner of TopTEN award for best landscape design software this program has it all. It focuses just on landscape and offers professional level design features. Of course you can design a beautiful garden but then you can have realistic animated characters lounging in your hot tub.
Don’t need lazy people in your pool? Then you can animate them to walk. But besides the ridiculous amount of time you can spend putting people in your garden design there are some really useful features you may want.
There are over 5,300 detailed plants to choose from including trees, shrubs and more exotic things such as water plants and cacti. To see all these plants in your yard you just need to import a photo and you can start designing.
You can also create custom models for things like gazebos and add in lighting. This really is professional level design software that you can get for a reasonable price. And with project estimates and materials lists you can keep track of costs.
For the best value and ease of use all signs point to HGTV’s Home and Landscape Platinum Suite being a great option. It offers enough features for the vast majority of users and a surprisingly low price tag compared to other software options.