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Do Virtual Garden Planners Work?

Our yard has looked a bit of a mess for ages, as we’re rebuilding and landscaping. All the design work can get expensive so we’re looking at doing some of it ourselves using a virtual garden planning app – but are they any good?

Virtual garden planners can work very well in helping you plan out your new garden design. Whether free or paid apps, or dedicated online software, garden planners are an effective and low cost way to plan your perfect yard without having to pay a landscape designer.

Let’s dig down (pun intended!) into the subject of virtual garden planners in more detail, and discover great free apps, paid apps, and online options – plus we’ll look at garden design principles to help you get started…

Do Virtual Garden Planners Work?

Is There A Free App For Planning Your Garden?

Need help planning your new garden layout? It can really help you plan if you can easily visualize how your space will work out, and that’s where virtual garden planning apps come in. The great news is that some of these are free.

Here are a few of the latest free garden planning apps:

  • iScape is a fantastic app that’s easy to use, and is a great visualization tool. It has a basic free version, and if you decide that you need more features, you can upgrade by subscribing. The main issue is that it’s for Apple devices only
  • Planter offers lots of tips about companion planting and fruit and veg gardening, as well as helping you create a new layout. It also automatically works with your plant hardiness zone. This app is compatible with both iOS and Android devices
  • PRO Landscape Home uses photo imaging and easy-to-use CAD to let you visualize your revamped garden. It’s available for iOS and Android.

What Are The Best Paid Apps For Garden Design?

If you don’t mind paying a fee or a subscription cost, there are also plenty of paid-for garden design apps. Take a look at these options:

  • Small Blue Printer works with a Mac or PC. It has great editing options, and you can set up a key. You can download a free trial before committing, to see if this works for you
  • Smart Gardener has the perfect planner if you’re starting a vegetable patch. Sign up for an holistic approach that gives you a time chart, a layout planner, a journal, and a To Do list
  • SmartDraw is a great app for layouts It works on most devices and platforms. It’s easy to use, and ideal if you’re a details person. There’s a free trial if you want to check it out
  • Realtime Landscaping Architect is helpful, pro-level software for those larger garden projects, rather than planting. Download the free trial, as the software costs in the region of $399

Take a look on the App Store or Google Play Store to see what’s available: there are new titles being added all the time.

How Can I Make My Own Landscape Online For Free? (Best Desktop Software)

You can also get a good idea of what your yard could look like by trying (or repurposing) free online design tools on your PC or Mac.

  • DreamPlan software can be used for homes and gardens. Although it’s designed with pros in mind, it’s simple enough to be used by homeowners, too. Download it for Windows on your PC 
  • Plan-A-Garden is a free app for your desktop from Better Homes & Gardens. There are pre-made templates, and you simply drag-and-drop items onto this to get a better idea of how your yard could look

Again, take a look and see what best suits you. There’s quite a lot of there for free, if you’re willing to spend a bit of time searching for the right one.

How Do I Plan My Garden Layout? (The Creative Designing Part)

The best place to start? With a list, of course. Write down everything you do (and don’t) want from your garden. You may not be able to achieve everything (there are always space and budget constraints), but let’s see how close you can get.

So armed with your wish list, it’s time to see how your ideas would pan out. A planning app is a really helpful tool when you’re designing a new garden (or section of a garden). This helps you get the scale and balance right, and makes sure that you can fit in everything you want.

You’ll need to work out what areas are devoted to which use: parking, playing, eating, growing and so on. What is the most important aspect for your family? Is your garden going to feed you, or simply look wonderful?

Think practically. Where are the services? Is there a convenient source of water or will you need a water butt? Do you need electricity? If so, is it already in place? What about parking and pathways? Are there areas that you want fenced off from pets and small kids (such as the compost pile)?

An app should also be able to help you with other limiting factors as well as size. For example, which parts of your garden get the most sun, and which are shaded? You’ll need to take into account which plants will best thrive in these areas. 

What is your plant hardiness zone? As we mentioned earlier, some apps will automatically work out your local climate, and be able to advise you on planting accordingly. This is also really helpful if you’re creating a gardening timeline.

An app or software programme should allow you to build in all of these factors, and help you work your way down your wish list. And if you don’t have room for that second vegetable patch? Think outside the box (ofr bed), and have some large containers on your patio instead.

From an aesthetic point of view, there are seven principles of landscape design that you need to keep in mind. We’ll go through them now.

Virtual garden plan

What Are The 7 Principles of Landscape Design?

There are 7 elements of landscape design that you’ll need to incorporate into your garden, if you want to achieve a perfectly balanced, beautiful, and functional space...

  • Texture brings variety to your lanting scheme, landscaping, and accessories
  • Simplicity helps you achieve something wonderful without the stress
  • Balance ensures that your colors match and don’t feel overwhelming, as well as keeping an eye on heights and form (more about this later)
  • Color is so important. This applies to flowers, foliage, decking, furniture and so on. Be bold, and choose colors that make you happy. If you can. Think about year-round color
  • Unity. Does everything work together? Look at your garden in the same way you would your living room or bedroom. Is it a coherent design or simply a mish mash?
  • Scale. Again, think of your garden as a room. You wouldn’t stick a grand piano in a small hallway! Are larger pieces such as trees, shrubs, and furniture to scale with the size of the garden? Do they look too big or too small compared with your house?
  • Form refers to the overall shape and outline of your garden. This defines whether it’s formal or informal (clipped hedge over natural-looking trees).

That sounds like a lot to think about, but honestly, it isn’t. These elements naturally flow together: for example, when you’re thinking about color, you’re also thinking about balance and unity. If you’re planning the form of your garden, you’ll also be thinking about the scale (now, what sort of hedge should I have?).

Summary: When Should I Start Planning My Garden?

You can start planning any time you like (whatever the time of year), and the answer really is – as soon as possible! If you know what you need, you have more time to get hold of everything, and perhaps hire in extra help.

Obviously, you’ll want to get started in the warmer weather, or at least when there’s no snow or ice on the ground. Spend the winter on the couch with a pile of gardening books, browsing garden design apps and planning your future yard. 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >