Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Landscape Design Software

I have spent the last few nights working on the design for the reclaiming the patio project.  We generally refer to this area as the dog's area.  That's because currently it is a glorified dog run.  Our yard is not fenced, so when Spazzy McDrool goes out, he heads to this area.  In the picture from the balcony above, you can see the path he is most fond of taking in this area.  We are planning a complete overhaul here.  The balcony rails and treads are getting replaced, the fence-line is getting replaced and moved outwards, the patio is getting expanded and beds are getting dressed up.  The new area will hopefully also include a pond provided we don't have issues with underground utilities in the area.  There will not be much grass.  This is because grass is not all that eco-friendly, we hate mowing it and the weirdo pooch hates walking on it.

I've been doing it using a software called PUNCH Landscape, Deck and Patio Designer.  This product does lots of cool stuff but the learning curve is not small.  If you are familiar with CAD you'll have no problem with it.  If not, while the 490 page instruction manual pretty much tells you how to do everything.  It does not tell it in any sort of rational order.  

It does also not tell you what NOT to do.  A component that contributed to significant colorful language on more than one occasion.  Several days later I still have not figured out how to draw a decent curve, as evidenced by the weird shape of the pond.  I also am finding roofs impossible, after many hours trying to do them.  Posts are easy.  Spacing them not so much.  Can you tell?

This program was really designed for house building.  Many of its features are related to building a house.  It has a robust landscape component though, so they repackaged it and called it a landscape design program.  For gardeners, it does a ton of cool things.  The plant and tree library is huge and if by some weird chance you need something that isn't there, you can import it easily.  You can sort thru the library by gardening zones, sunlight, or whatever parameter you are challenged with.

There is a plant aging function which allows you to see what your design will look like in 5, 10, up to 20 years!  Even cooler you can plug in your GPS location and your property's position related to the sun and the program will accurately project shadows depending on what season you look at.  That's huge!  Want to know how much mulch you need for that bed you just drew?  Press the calculate materials button and it will tell you, once you plug in how many inches deep you want it.  Plug in some prices and it will total up all your material costs related to your project.  

My favorite thing I have discovered so far about this program is that you do not have to view your design birds eye.  If you click the person icon, you can walk thru it as if you are doing it in real life.  It allows you to feel what the space will feel like.  It was this feature that clued me into the fact that the design above needs a bigger area.  The patio pad feels too small for what we'll be using it for.  Unfortunately I haven't figured out how to correct that without redrawing the whole entire thing.   Sigh.

The software was $39 at Best Buy.  It's a memory hog and will require a reasonable decent system to run it without wanting to heave it out the window.  If you want to mess with design and have a bit of skill related to figuring out software though, you might find this fun for rainy evenings.    

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