If you're a budding garden designer it's important to plan ahead before you embark on any large projects. If you find yourself tempted by the gorgeous shrubs and flowers, or even outdoor furniture, on offer in garden centres and online garden shops it's worth thinking about what you really want to do with your garden before making any impulse buys.
Whether you're creating a wildlife habitat, planning a colour-themed border, going for scent or you've been inspired by something you've seen on TV or Pinterest, you need to think about the space you have, the light your garden gets, the soil you have and what kind of layout you need to allow for to make it practical and beautiful.
For those of you looking to get stuck into a big project there's plenty of free garden design software available online, so try one of these tools to get started.
My Garden from Gardena allows you to drop an extensive range of objects onto a blank lawn to design your garden.
Graphics are basic but the menu is simplicity itself. The six categories - including landscape, flower and vegetables, and water features - include over 150 objects. You can show/hide items you have placed, and save your design. To start your garden select your surface (grass, patio, decking etc) and draw out your shapes on the 'graph paper' background, you'll see measurements on each side showing how large the space is. If you're used to using Photoshop you should find this a breeze. Then select any of the prebuilt items such as trees, flowers, buildings and ponds, and adjust their sizes to fit your scale.
PROS: User-friendly, effortless interface; wide variety of features; provides templates; not time-limited.
CONS: Rather basic graphics; cannot upload a photo, limited range of plants.
Read our ideas for small garden designs
Marshalls Garden Visualiser
More sophisticated than many rivals, Marshalls Garden Visualiser tool is a 3D garden design tool that allows you to see your design from a variety of angles - and you can even ulpload photos of your own house to see what it looks like with the garden.
Once you've registered you'll be asked for a garden name and its dimensions. After setting your garden's dimensions, you select from ranges of objects such as walls, hedges and fences. This tool is more about "hard landscaping" than plants, but a limited range can be added to your design. The hard landscaping is very detailed, with paving options, edging and kerbs available in a variety of colours and finishes, making it a great tool for any large landscaping jobs where you might be building a brand new patio or stairs, but could also be a bit overwhelming. Marshalls also offer a Paving Visualiser and a Driveway Visualiser.
You will need Adobe Shockwave installed on your computer to use the visualiser.
PROS: Great 3D visualiser; can upload own photo; helpful videos.
CONS: More complex than some tools; limited range of plants.
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My Garden Planner
Shoot's My Garden Planner offers a time-limited free trial - just 48 hours after registration - to create a garden design. You are then invited to pay a membership fee for use of the product, with access to unlimited designs. If you'd rather not pay, set aside a free weekend and make use of the free trial period.
Essentially, My Garden Planner is a design tool customised for gardeners, both professional and hobbyist, and you can upload a photo of your own garden, and choose objects from 14 categories in a drop-down menu. These range from vegetables to pools and ponds. Plants are often generic, rather than an actual species.
One of the benefits of My Garden Planner is the directory of 10,000 plants, a much larger assortment than many others. For those who would like to pay for the product beyond its promo period you can then get monthly tasks tailored to what needs doing in your garden.
Using the Garden Planner in browser requires Flashs, but you can also download it.
PROS: User-friendly interface; can upload own photo.
CONS: Very limited free trial; sometimes basic graphics.
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SketchUp, Google's 3D design software needs to be installed on your computer. Not purely for garden design, it nevertheless includes landscape templates. A basic version is available for free, and there's a tiered price system for anyone wanting to do more complicated designs or use it for business.
Rather more fully-featured than some online tools, SketchUp lets you upload a photo, as well as create objects from scratch. How useful you find that could depend on your creativity and willingness to learn this generic design program for beginners.
PROS: Can upload your own photo; plenty of features.
CONS: Possibly harder work, and more complex, than some garden design tools.
Not sure where to start when it comes to designing your garden? Find out how to plan and lay out your dream garden with our top tips.
Next article: How to design a herbaceous border >>>
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