Create Gorgeous Gardens: 5 Useful Free Garden Design Software Features

Today, in the increasingly competitive free garden design software market, some of the skills of professional landscape designers are already built into the software itself. For example, in the past we have to depend on the professionals to select suitable plants that will thrive in your local climate. Today, the USDA Hardiness Zone Map is encoded into most paid and free landscape design software, so selecting suitable plants for your climate has become a much easier job.

Over the years of using both free and paid garden design software for garden design projects for my clients, I noticed that there are 8 “must have” features in the software that can help to save lots of time and avoid garden design mistakes:

1) Large searchable plant library with Hardiness Zone Maps

I cannot stress the importance of correct plant selection enough. Fortunately, access to Hardiness Zone Maps is just a few clicks away with the correct software. Experienced gardeners will tell you that it is pointless to plant something that will not survive in your climate.

Therefore, to avoid the disappointment of seeing dying plants, it is important to know your hardiness zone before deciding what plants you want in your garden.

2) Ability to design gardens in 3D, and produce 2D drawings

From experience, many people, me included, have problems visualizing how the garden will look like by just looking at a 2D drawing. Unfortunately, many professional landscape designers still like to communicate the garden design concept to their clients. For example, by looking at a “bird eye view” plan, there is very hard to imagine how a bird bath looks like beside a raised flower bed. Some clients absolutely love it; however some clients want the bird bath removed after it was installed. Such costly design errors can avoided if the client was shown a 3D photo of the future garden.

Anyway, 2D drawings are still important. It contains much important information, such as the size of the garden, and the location of every garden element. Therefore it is crucial for paid and free garden design software to have both 2D and 3D design capabilities.

3) Ability to import your front yard or backyard photos

This type of free garden design software is probably the easiest to use, and it is definitely the most practical for gardeners who has only a small garden to work on.

This type of software allows you to import your front yard photo and add garden features around them. So, it is particularly useful for creating “before and after” comparisons. Some software even can create different lighting effects so that you can see how your future garden looks like in the morning as well as in the evening.

However if you have a large garden, this type of program is probably not for you. The reason is, if your garden is a large one, in this type of program it is not possible to design in every single detail.

4) Plant growth simulation

With the Hardiness Zone Maps installed into the software, some landscape design software nowadays can also predict how your plants will look like in the next 3 months or 5 years. This is particularly important so that adjustments can be made for space constraints which are not apparent at the first look.

Besides, it is also a great experience to see how your garden will become more and more gorgeous year after year, without the need of time travel!

5) Ease of use

The ease of using your paid or free landscape design programs is one of the most underrated features. Many beginning garden enthusiasts pay too much attention to whether their software has a certain type of plant in their plant library.

Obviously having a large plant library is very important, but I always belief that gardeners should never let the software difficulties limit our imagination. If the software is way too hard to use for you, just change to another one, since there are dozens of them out there.

These are the top 5 features that I will recommend to all garden enthusiasts to keep an eye on whenever they want to install any paid or free garden design software. Once you make a wise decision and install the correct software, you are already one big step nearer to creating the garden of your dreams.

Garden Design – How to Plan Your Garden and Make a Garden Project?

The garden planning process starts with an analysis of the existing situation. You have to be aware, what are the values and what are the disadvantages of your garden. At first estimate the good views in the garden – to a natural territory, to a hill or a lake – mark on a plan all views, that you consider valuable. Mark also important views – from the garden terrace, from the living room in the house or any other place, which is used often. Estimate also bad views, which should be screened in the garden rearrangement process. After the analysis is completed, the planning stage starts, during which it is important to take into consideration the seven most important planning aspects.

1. The first and most important garden planning aspect is functionality. The garden plan should be created according to the functional zones of the territory. So the first task is to divide the garden into functional zones.

Each garden has a representative zone. Usually it embraces the front yard and it is situated by the main entrance, where are the first views towards the property, when approaching it. The representative zone has a decorative meaning – it should be appealing during the whole year. Therefore often evergreen plants are used in the representative area, plants, which have a beautiful silhouette, decorative leaves as well as annual flowers in the summer. Special decorative objects of art are also suggested to be placed in the representative zone of the garden.

The recreational zone is a garden area, which is used most often in the warm season. There can be a garden terrace or a gazebo as well as a bigger lawn area for outdoor activities and recreational equipment. If there is a swimming pool intended, it will also be placed in the recreational area. The recreational area can be dividend into a quiet and active zone. The quiet zone is designed for relaxation, dining and resting, but the active zone can be designed for different sports activities – it can also include some sports fields. In the recreational area such plants are planned, which have a long flowering period and which are specially decorative in the warm season. Near the terrace or gazebo some scented plants can be projected.

If the garden is used by children, a children’s playground will be one of the functional zones of the garden. The playground should be placed in such a part of a garden, which can be supervised by adults from a place, where they spend most of their time. It should be a sunny place, but shade also should be available in the hot season. The children’s playground is often dividend for children up to 6 years and for children 7 – 14 years of age. There are different activities and different types of play equipment intended for these age groups. The playground can have a special theme or it can be intended for some specific activities – imagination games, adventure, gymnastics, water therapy etc. Choose the plants by the playground carefully – be sure to avoid poisonous plants and plants with thorns.

Another important functional zone is the household area. It is a place, where you will put a compost heap, a barn or a greenhouse, where a dog can be kept and some construction materials can be stored. There was a tradition to screen the household area from the rest of the garden before, but nowadays it is often left open and designed so, that it looks appealing.

All elements, which are planned later in the garden should be arranged according to the layout of the functional zones. Do not put elements from one zone into another zone – that is the basic tip to form a logical garden layout.

2. The second important aspect in a garden project is the ecological aspect. The ecological aspect suggests to appreciate the natural values of the garden, to choose plants according to the ecological conditions of each specific place and to arrange the garden in an environmentally friendly way. Evaluate carefully the natural values of your site – do not rush to cut trees, shrubs and eliminate natural biotopes. A natural meadow, a wetland, a river coast or a forest ground cover can be much more valuable than artificially created plantings.

And moreover, when planning new plants, they should be chosen according to the ecological conditions of the place – sun or shade, humidity, nutrients in the soil, alkaline or acid soil etc. Plants with opposite ecological demands can not be planted close together.

3. The third important planning aspect is the visual aspect, which means the artistic composition of the garden – how will it actually look like? The garden composition like any kind of art has to be harmonic, based on a good choice of proportions. There can be different design concepts, but it is important to connect the concept with the existing situation – the landscape embracing the territory and the style of the buildings in the territory – all these elements should compose a united composition with the garden. The garden style can be more natural – appropriate for countryside, bigger gardens and more natural environments. Or on the other hand it can be more artificial, composed of different pavements, architectural elements and regular forms – appropriate for city gardens, historical gardens and small sites. In countryside gardens the territory is often dividend in different zones of naturalness – closer to the house the garden is designed more regular and further away it becomes more natural.

4. For sites with a great historical value it is important to take into consideration the historical aspect and the garden has to be planned according to the historical style of the buildings.

5. Symbolic aspect of planning can be important in gardens with a symbolic meaning.

6. Psychological aspect is very important in all gardens. It is important, that people in the garden feel comfortable, relaxed and are not restricted or stressed by anything in the garden. There are different environmental factors, which have impact on our perception of the garden (e.g. vastness, complexity, mystery, flexibility, uniqueness, light, colors, contrast, materials etc.) and they should be adjusted to the optimal level of the garden users, when creating a garden design. The optimal level is not the same for everybody – each person has a different optimal level for each environmental factor.

7. Economical aspect is also important to plan a garden, which fits the planned expenses for it’s establishment.

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Garden Design – How to Design a Small Garden

Designing a small garden involves making use of every centimetre of space, and using visual tricks to make the garden seem larger. The plan for a small garden must be millimeter accurate as there is no room for adjustment if the plan is found to be incorrect when constructing the garden.

Many people think a plan is not necessary when they are landscaping a very small garden, whereas the absolute opposite is true. It is especially important to prepare a plan where space is limited to ensure that the finished garden meets the practical requirements and looks great too. Preparing a detailed garden design plan will ensure all the functional areas are the correct size for their purpose and will fit into the garden. A good garden design plan allows you to check that the garden will work before you approach landscaping contractors and start spending money. Some well-prepared 3-D visuals bring the garden to life and help you see how the garden will feel once it is constructed. The garden model and visuals are the final check that the spaces all work in harmony with one another ensuring that the garden is a comfortable, relaxing space in which to spend time.

When designing a small garden a simple layout with clean lines and strong geometric shapes works best. The design should not be overly complicated. If curves are required a central circle which can be either lawn, planting, paving or a path is better than fussy freehand curves.

Although it is tempting to scale down the garden features to avoid cluttering the space this will result in a muddle of insignificant elements that does the exact opposite. Including a single bold structure like a chunky pergola or a rendered blockwork wall around a seating area creates a sense of enclosure, introduces a touch of drama and holds focus inside the garden. Textured finishes like slate or pebble cladding can be used on courtyard walls to add interest and also stop the boundaries from becoming overbearing.

Wooden structures like pergolas and arches enable vertical planting and provide height. A heavily planted pergola placed against a boundary wall blurs the edges of the garden and suggests extra space beyond. Paint a black rectangle on the wall at the end of the pergola to suggest an entrance to another garden area beyond the wall to increase the sense of depth in the garden. Another extremely good way to add height and drama to a garden is to include a tree. A well-chosen tree will give immediate internal focus to the garden as well as adding an essential 3-D element. There are small trees suitable for even the tiniest garden.

A gate fixed to a wall or fence surrounded with climbing plants creates the illusion that the garden continues beyond the boundaries. A well-executed trompe l’oeil doorway painted on a wall framed with evergreen planting and climbers is a simple, fun way to add interest and give the appearance of more space. Using diminishing sized pots, plants or statuary, or narrowing a path as it approaches the boundary will create a false perspective that makes the garden seem larger.

Level changes like steps, raised beds, or a raised pool give the garden an extra dimension, make it appear more interesting and distract attention away from the boundaries. Raised beds and retaining walls for pools can also double as seats if they are between 450mm and 600mm high. Creating extra useable space in the garden by introducing features that have a dual purpose it more useable as well as more attractive and this automatically gives the illusion of more space.

Using contrasting colours is another way to suggest that the garden extends beyond its actual boundaries. A pale wall with a door-sized rectangle painted in a darker colour framed by some climbers and planted pots looks like a passageway. Contrasting flower and foliage colours are also effective for creating interest, contrast, directing focus and adding the illusion of extra depth.

When there isn’t much ground area using the vertical space helps to provide more visual interest without cluttering the garden. Some ways of doing this include attaching planters to walls, hanging baskets and troughs from fence posts or mounting them along the top of fence panels.

In a small garden is it essential to use a limited plant palette – too many different plant species will make the space seem busy and closed in. It is also important to make clever use of all available planting space. Climbers are a great way to introduce greenery without taking up valuable space, and shrubs like Garrya elliptica, Fatshedera lizeii and Itea illicifolia, Ceanothus and Rhamnus alaternus perform well when secured to a wall or fence. In courtyards where there are no borders place trellis panels in floor mounted troughs. Green walls work extremely well in small spaces. Sedum roofs on sheds, bin stores, and other covered spaces are a great way to introduce low-maintenance planting into smaller gardens.

A small garden does not have to be boring and featureless. With some careful planning and creativity smaller spaces can make stunning gardens and wonderful, low-maintenance places to de-stress and entertain.