Fall is a good time to think ahead about what you’d like your garden to look like in the spring. It’s also a good time to plant. With that in mind, I conducted a search on the Internet for interactive garden sites. I wanted to find sites that would help me literally map out a garden by allowing me to set plot measurements and “place” items—such as flowers, bushes, and stones—by clicking and dragging icons or selecting them from menus. There are numerous sites where you can redesign or redecorate your home like this, so I thought surely there must be similar garden design sites. There aren’t many, and only two are especially good.
The first one is www.bhg.com/bhg/gardening, which is part of the Better Homes and Gardens Web (BHG) site. It has two interactive tools to help with your outdoor planning: Plan-a-Garden and Arrange-a-Deck. Both require free registration before you can use them.
Plan-a-Garden: This tool sets up a grid onto which you can click and drag various icons representing fences, stones, sheds, decks, and other elements. Arrows help you select specific species of trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials. You can zoom in and out of specific areas, pan around, change the color of the items, or rotate them. Name and save your garden plans and open them later when you need them.
Arrange-a-Deck: Also on a grid, this planner starts off with your yard size. You can then place structures, such as doors, posts, stairs, etc., and yard “extras,” such as barbeques, benches, flower beds, fire pits, hot tubs, and tables. Even better, it allows you to select colors, sizes, and types. For example, do you want your deck to be a tan half-moon? A red circle? A gray triangle? And what of your other lovely yard accoutrements? You may want to see what your yard will look like with a gas grill, an 8-ft. brown bench, red posts, and glass chairs with your round stone table.
Other features of the BHG site include free garden plans, how-to videos, a flower gallery, garden zone maps, and a free enewsletter. Examples of the many free plans are container gardens, color-themed gardens, pocket gardens, and seasonal gardens, and each category has subcategories. The container garden plans alone have the following, among others: Vine Trellises in a Pot, Containers of Bulbs, Strawberry Jar Gardens, Bread Box Container Gardens, and Chippendale Window Boxes.
The A–Z Plant Index is a comprehensive encyclopedia of plants categorized by Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, Roses, Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. Some specialty guides include Budget Gardening; Wildlife Gardening; Veggies, Fruits & Herbs; and growing trees and shrubs. As any avid gardener knows, what transforms a garden into an Eden is not limited to its plants—other elements add to the charm and grace. BHG has a projects list, which includes Garden Décor, Creating Paths, Arbors and Pergolas, Trellises & Vine Supports, Deck Projects, Patios, and Water Features.
The second good interactive planner is on the Lowes home center site, www.lowes.com. Click on the “Outdoors” tab, then choose “Garden Center” from the drop-down menu, then choose “Garden Planner.” You must register (free) to use it. When you’re ready, enter the dimensions of your garden and select your planting zone. A grid appears, at which point you can click and drag your items onto it. Place “hardscaping” (your house, shed, deck, furniture, etc.) and plants (bulbs, trees, perennials, and so on). Once you’ve added plants to your layout, the program automatically adds those items to a shopping list along with the quantity you’ve chosen. Change the shape of the elements on the grid, zoom in and out, or turn the grid on and off (to see your layout without gridlines). The only drawback is that there’s no clear way to save your plan to return to it later.
Also worth mentioning is Garden Planner (www.gardenerspath.com/gardenplanner/index.html). It is a very simplistic planner, but it does its job. Choose from a few grids and click and drag items for a basic layout and some general ideas. There is one more interactive site, but it will cost you. Not much — only $2.95 a month—but if you plan on regularly consulting this site, it may be worth it. It allows you to landscape y our yard, patio, and pool areas in real-time 3-D. It can be found at plan3D (www.plan3d.com). Choose a building plan, then put in lawns, fences, hot tubs, decks, fountains, flowers, trees, and pools. You can also d esign porches, patios, verandas, d riveways, and sidewalks. An interesting feature here is that it allows you to landscape at different levels—for instance, on a sloping hill.
Beyond the aforementioned sites, you can plot out your garden using the old-fashioned method of reading articles and how-to guides. So, here are the online gardening sites that I thought were the most user-friendly and informative:
This site has a variety of design ideas for both novices and advanced gardeners. These are some of the topics:
There is a garden-care grid that describes a basic regimen for the southeastern U.S. The site also provides a climate map, a reading list, links to other gardening sites, pictorial tours of various public gardens, a garden art gallery, and a plant library, which links to the USDA Plant Database. If you decide to join Gardendesigner.com, you will the monthly newsletter, 10 percent off merchandise, free garden advice via email from experts, and forum participation.
Garden Design (www.gardendesign.com)
A keyword in this site’s search engine will get you a long list of articles to choose from. For your gardening questions, there is Ask the Expert and a community forum. The site also offers downloadable wallpaper, a News and Events page, the Showcase (pictorial articles showcasing gardens), links to other garden sites, and an events calendar. You can also subscribe to Garden Design magazine or the enewsletter.
Articles at this site are archived into useful categories, such as Beginners Gardens, Urban Chic, and Wildlife and Organic Gardening. A unique feature is the links list to newspaper garden sections throughout the U.S. There are monthly garden to-do lists, a forum, and a store. Some of the different designs you can find are for Alpine gardens, fence designs, and rose gardens, as well as design articles, general information, and plant listings for each category.
Garden Guides (http://my.gardenguides.com)
If you’re serious about your garden landscaping, this site is an excellent resource. Along with informative articles, there are scores of drawings and illustrations of all types of plans, a community forum, a store, and a blog center. Membership is free, and you can make use of the tip of the day and share in member photos.
Landscape Design (www.the-landscape-design-site.com)
This site boasts 120 free design plans. It offers guidelines on basic design principles, l andscaping ideas, and plant selection. Some of the topics covered are Creating Focal Points, Using a Bubble Graph, Making Moss Rock, Hillside Watering, Landscape Lighting, and Artificial Rocks. It also addresses xeriscaping. (At www.wikipedia.org, xeriscaping is defined as “landscaping in ways that do not require supplemental irrigation. It is promoted in areas that do not have easily accessible supplies of fresh water.” Plants commonly used in xeriscaping are desert plants, such as agave and cactus, as well as lavender, juniper, sedum, and thyme.) In addition, this site has a p lant encyclopedia, a plant database, software reviews, photo archives, a newsletter archive, forums, and a blog. The enewsletter is free, as is the Consult-a-Designer and the 7-Part Lawn Care Mini-Course that the site is currently offering.
This site has some appealing articles on creating an aesthetically pleasing garden, such as bird- and butterfly-attracting arrangements. Other articles are more practical, such as garden enhancements, gardening with children, seed planting, and creating theme gardens. If you’re anything like me, you will particularly appreciate the section on caring for indoor plants, which includes a list of 18 houseplants that are perfect for bad gardeners.
If you like, you can purchase landscaping software. But why, when the Internet has it for free?
Roberta Roberti is a freelance writer who has written more than 25articles for various publications. You can find links to some of themat her web site (www.rroberti-writer.com).