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.