Garden design software review and compare

Garden design software can help you plan and maintain your patch of green, but packages have their drawbacks.
 
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  • Updated:7 Jan 2004
 

01 .Introduction

Garden-design-software

In brief

  • Garden design software is more than just a landscape design tool. Many products also include a comprehensive plant encyclopedia and care and maintenance advice.
  • Most of the garden design software packages we tested didn’t provide extensive information on Australian conditions, such as plant suitability to local seasons and soil types.

Can’t get the Backyard Blitz team over to your place to clean up the garden? If your backyard resembles overgrown bushland, you could either employ a professional landscaper to give it a makeover or try the cheaper, do-it-yourself approach — garden design software.

Landscaping software lets you map out garden beds, lawns, barbeque areas and other features onscreen. But the real beauty lies in the plant catalogue and encyclopedia.

You’ll be able to plan all aspects of your garden — right down to the types of plants — as well as prepare for the coming months using the software’s care and maintenance advice.

Most programs also produce a three-dimensional view so you can have an idea of how your new garden will look in reality.

We trialled four garden design software products to determine how easy they are to use and whether they’re suitable to Australian users. We dish the dirt on how garden design software can help you, and which ones our triallists liked best.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2007 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands tested

  • Broderbund 3D Home Landscape Designer Deluxe 5
  • DiComp Garden Composer
  • GSP Geoff Hamilton's Garden Designer
  • Punch! Master Landscape and Home Design

How we tested

We trialled four garden design software products to determine how easy they are to use and whether they’re suitable to Australian users.

Five intermediate computer users with an interest in gardening tried each product for about one-and-a-half hours over a three-day period. They were asked to design a garden with specified dimensions and features such as a lawn, plant bed, edging, several varieties of plants, a paved section, fence and gate, footpath, and a water feature.

In a separate assessment, our expert tester evaluated the features and ease of installation of each product.

 
 

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  • Punch! Master Landscape & Home Design - $128
  • DiComp Garden Composer - $150 

Punch! Master Landscape & Home Design was the most popular program with triallists. Although they experienced some problems with its ease of use, they were happiest with the end results from this program and wanted more time to experiment.

DiComp Garden Composer was also popular, largely because it was easy to use and understand. It’s similar to Geoff Hamilton’s 3D Garden Designer in look and feel, but it’s designed for the Australian market and triallists experienced fewer glitches. Despite this, triallists were a little disappointed with the quality of the end result. Geoff Hamilton’s and Broderbund 3D Home Landscape Designer Deluxe 5 were harder to use, have limited information on Australian plants and don’t consider local soil conditions and seasons.

03.Setting up your garden design

 

Defining the yard

The first thing you’ll need to do is define the dimensions of your garden. Some triallists had difficulty finding the correct tools to do this using Punch!, Geoff Hamilton’s and Broderbund. It’s fairly easy using DiComp, but triallists felt restricted by having to use a fence as the yard boundary. The other programs allow you to define the boundary without using a fence. You can also create slopes and gradients using all the products, but this can be complex. For more information, see How easy are they to use? Choosing and adding plants

Broderbund has the largest range of plants overall. Triallists found the information relatively useful and fairly easy to access, but they were disappointed that the catalogue didn’t include images and that they couldn’t select plants directly from the encyclopedia to place them on their plans.

In general, triallists found it easy to add plants to their designs. In most cases, it’s a matter of dragging and dropping the chosen plant from the plant encyclopedia or database (called a catalogue in Broderbund) to the plan. Geoff Hamilton’s is a little unintuitive: you can only select plants from the encyclopedia which isn’t linked to the plan. You have to switch back to the plan and place the plant by clicking on a location.

You can add plants individually, in groups, or in rows using DiComp and Geoff Hamilton’s. For the other programs, you have to cut and paste or place each plant individually. Some triallists had trouble accessing relevant information to help them choose suitable plants for their Sydney-based gardens.

All the programs use some level of filtering to sort plants by different criteria such as the amount of water required or the soil type. But some are better than others.

  • Punch!, for instance, filters plants into different categories (such as trees, flowers, cacti, etc), but it doesn’t include an encyclopedia or a search function, so it’s hard to find details about plant sizes and growing conditions.
  • Broderbund filters the plants listed in its catalogue by broad categories only, such as ‘tree’ or ‘edible’. More advanced filtering is available using the encyclopedia but this is separate from the catalogue and contains a different selection of plants, although you can add more.
  • The filters in Geoff Hamilton’s and DiComp are more advanced — they allow you to sort plants in a variety of ways including by category, height, soil type and sunlight needs. Triallists found them hard to locate, however.

Adding other features

All the products allow you to add extra features to your garden in the much the same way as you add plants. You may be able to select from a range of buildings, footpaths, fences and gates, playhouses, barbecues, water features, rocks, furniture and other structures. Geoff Hamilton’s and DiComp include wizards to help add buildings and structures. Punch! has the ability to import a photo.

When it’s complete

The 2D plan you’ll get from garden design software can be daunting to people with no experience with design. Geoff Hamilton’s and DiComp use contour lines to show gradients, and shading and shapes to indicate plants, trees and other objects. Punch! and Broderbund stick to a more traditional blueprint style, using circles and squares to show items.

All the software tested can generate a 3D image to give a clearer idea of the design in progress or your completed garden. Cameras play a major role in this. In Geoff Hamilton’s and DiComp, the camera can be dragged into different positions or moved by typing in co-ordinates such as the height, front-on view, and vertical and horizontal angles of view. Broderbund has several default views but you can alter these by moving the mouse, or create your own views by positioning cameras. A handy feature of this program is the ability to directly add objects and plants to the 3D design.

In most cases, triallists liked the detail produced by the 3D images and thought the end results looked quite realistic. Triallists found the camera views in Punch! and DiComp easy to navigate, but initially had trouble positioning the cameras using the latter program. The split-screen in Punch! that shows both the plan and 3D view was popular.

04.Maintaining your garden

 

Ongoing care

In our test, Punch! is the only software that doesn’t include an encyclopedia component or detailed plant care information. Encyclopedias can be useful for gathering information such as the size of plants, optimal growing conditions and potential disease risks, but they aren’t always relevant to Australian conditions ( see The Australian flavour).

Geoff Hamilton’s, DiComp and Broderbund use the same encyclopedia and have plant care calendars that detail the type of care (such as when to prune, fertilise etc) needed on a month-by-month basis. Geoff Hamilton’s and DiComp are more useful because they allow you to build a care list specifically for the plants used in your design. Broderbund has individual plant care calendars but you can’t create a master list containing only the plants in your garden.

With the exception of DiComp, the care calendars match Northern Hemisphere seasons.

Budgeting

Landscapinging a garden can be a costly affair. In our test, Punch! and Broderbund include tools to help track expenses.

You’ll have to find and enter the cost of the plants and other materials yourself, but once you’ve entered the information, you can easily monitor your spending and estimate the cost of maintaining your garden in the future.

The estimator tool in Punch! can also calculate the quantity of material (such as sand or gravel) needed to fill a section of your yard. The spreadsheet from Punch!can be saved in Excel 97 format and Broderbund’s can be saved in CSV format.

Extra features

Some garden design software has nifty features that can make planning and maintaining your garden fun. Geoff Hamilton’s and DiComp both include lighting placement to position outdoor lights throughout the yard. You can see how they illuminate the garden using the night view.

For the programs with a limited range of Australian plants (see The Australian flavour), the ability to add your own information for plants not included in the encyclopedia is handy.

05.What our trialists thought

 

Performance table

  Performance
Publisher/product
(in rank order)
Price 1
($)
Overall 2 Ease of use3 Ease of learning4 Satisfaction5 Min
system
require
-ments6
Punch! Master Landscape & Home Design
www.punchsoftware.com
128 Pretty
good
Not always easy It took a while Reasonably happy Win 95+,
16Mb RAM
DiComp 3D Garden Composer
(No longer available)
150 Reason
-able
Reasonably easy Reasonably quickly A little bit disappointed Win 95+,
64Mb RAM
GSP Geoff Hamilton's 3D Garden Designer
www.gsp.cc
40 Reason
-able
Not always easy It took a while A little bit disappointed Win 95+,
16Mb RAM
Broderbund 3D Home Landscape Designer Deluxe
www.broderbund.com
100 Poor Reasonably easy Never got comfortable A little bit disappointed Win 98SE+,
128Mb RAM
 

Table notes

  1. Price paid in February 2004.
  2. Overall triallists were asked to rate each product overall. This is an average rating based on all responses.
  3. Ease of use triallists were asked to rate how easy to use the product was. This is an average rating based on all responses.
  4. Ease of learning how long it took triallists to get comfortable using the software.
  5. Satisfaction how happy triallists were, on average, with the quality of the design they created.
  6. Min system requirements all require either an on-board graphics chip or a dedicated graphics card