Best landscape design software
Given the time, effort and costs of landscape gardening, having an accurate plan and price before starting digging is critical.
By using a software package to model the location, document the amendments and visually realise the finished product the chance of it coming in on time and on budget is dramatically improved.
As it’s much easier to change things on the computer than move a hole dug in the wrong place for a swimming pool or placed a tree that obscures an amazing view.
But the layout is only part of what good landscaping software can deliver, as some contain planting expertise, water feature design and a host of other useful features.
Here are five of the better products that can get you on the right path.
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Ambitious landscaping for free
The website for Lands Design describes its product as a ‘work in progress’, but it’s much more sophisticated than that label might suggest.
Lands Design first appeared in 2012, and ninth Beta version was made available back in July 2019.
Where this product is different from others is that this isn’t a standalone tool, but a plugin for the 3D modelling tool Rhino.
Therefore, to use Lands Design requires version 5 or 6 of Rhino, slightly undermining the ‘free’ status.
If you have Rhino, then this is a remarkably powerful solution that includes freeform landscape modelling, a database of more than 1800 plant species, an urban furniture library and both 2D and 3D representations.
Using Rhino rendering engines it can turn a design into a photoreal representation, and it can also generate virtual tours.
Buildings and furniture can also be imported from AutoCAD, and the finished designs exported to that platform if required.
With all the power of Rhino under the surface, this solution isn’t for those that tinker as landscape gardening, but professionals that are likely to work with architects.
Augmented reality landscaping
Let’s imagine you’ve bought a new home and your trying to decide how the garden might be redeveloped, then iScape could be for you.
This software uses an Apple iPhone or iPad to gather data about the existing space and then, using augmented reality, overlay those existing features with new ones.
The beauty of this solution is that you can walk around with the phone and see what the new garden will look like from different vantage points, and adjust if a tree blocks the view, or similar.
iScape has a huge selection of trees, plants, fences and other garden paraphernalia that you can drop into the virtual garden and then move to the exact location you’d like that feature.
And, to speed up the process, elements can be mirrored, copied and cloned.
What this isn’t is a CAD tool for creating exact models, but it does provide an excellent method for trying out the options and get feedback on what works, and what doesn’t.
Our only reservation is that you must own an Apple phone or tablet to use it, with the developers ignoring the much larger Android market.
This tool is free, but you can upgrade to a Pro version that is designed for landscape professionals to use to promote their services. That version costs $19.99 a month or $99.99 annually.
A cheap and cheerful tool
Garden Planner by Small Blue Printer is an accessible garden and landscaping design tool that is available for both Windows PC and Apple Mac.
On either platform, this is a drag-and-drop interface where objects are selected from a comprehensive library and simply added to the design.
Once the placement of plants, furniture and features is complete, Garden Planner will create a selection of notes that includes a list of everything added and any notes you created while working on the project.
New to version 3.7 is 3D views, but all planning is in 2D. The representation of plants and paving is highly stylised, and it doesn’t offer photoreal rendering or light calculations.
What it does have is the ability to add your own plants, and control how they appear.
Overall, this is a simple tool with limited objectives. But, if those are to produce a map of a garden with changes to give to a landscape gardener, then it might be ideal.
The pricing for Garden Planner is very straightforward; a one-off fee of $38 with no subscriptions and no in-app purchases. Site licenses are also available, as are educational deals for up to 500 computers.
Landscaping by numbers
PRO Landscape HOME has an interesting approach to landscape design that starts with you using a phone or tablet to take pictures of the area you wish to redevelop.
Using the image as a start point, plants, grass, mulch, pavers, furniture, and more, can be placed into the scene
This product is funded through in-app purchases. The product is free to download and install, but you pay for access to the extended library of plants, pavers, etc.
It also has adverts, and these can direct you to local landscape service and resellers. These are useful, but the selection of free plants is very limited and takes no account of the geographic location of the user and their garden.
PRO Landscape HOME is a very basic product for exploring landscaping ideas. If you want to produce plans or detailed instructions for a landscaper to follow, this probably isn’t the tool.
The ultimate digital digger
Some landscaping products are for home use and have limited functionality, but Realtime Landscaping Plus isn’t one of them.
What it offers is a professional solution that enables designers and homeowners to create an accurate model of a house and its surrounding area and then design changes.
It enables a landscape gardener to present ideas for approval along with accurate costings to the homeowner, and even invoice once the work is complete.
The images that the system creates are stylised, look very professional, and it is very clear what is being represented.
You can simulate landscape lighting if that’s a part of your project, and the system can handle changes in altitude and curved property boundaries.
The creators, Idea Spectrum, have four different versions of Realtime Landscaping that are meant for specific sectors. It has Architect, for those that work with CAD, and Pro and Plus that are meant for designers, and a basic tool Photo.
Pro costs $99.95 and Plus $79.95, and those are purchase prices.
The main difference between Plus and Pro is that the latter has water features (ponds, streams, waterfalls and fountains) and custom swimming pools.