With most consumer level landscape programs you usually get a lot less than what you pay for. My own experience with consumer level garden design programs is just short of a total waste of time and money. Some brands are so primitive and cartoon like.
Yes, some landscaping programs are better than others. And yes, software can be very helpful in visualizing and even generating ideas. But you'll at least need to have some idea of what it is you want to accomplish.
NOTE: Garden design software programs won't design for you any more than Microsoft Word will write a finished story for you.
So back to the original question
Is there really a good landscaping software program for consumers and do-it-yourselfers?
The following are some of my reviews and views of a few design programs I've checked out.
GrowIt Gold design software
I'm very disappointed in this program. I paid a good price and was somehow expecting more. I really don't understand why they charge so much for this software.
The drawing (CAD) module in this landscaping program isn't much different than the paint program that comes already installed on your computer. The drawing tools are set and incomplete. And even though there are plant and object symbols, they're so artificial looking that they didn't help me create a feel that is easy to visualize.
NOTE: For this type of plan view drawing, you can download a lot of free cad and drawing programs here. There's also an extremely easy and powerful drawing program called Smart Draw. It does come with a landscape symbol library and you can get a free 30 day fully operational trial to check it out.
The photo draw module in Growit is as good as any I suppose. However, you can get the same functionality for far less price.
The rest of the modules in this package, in my opinion, aren't for the homeowner or do-it-yourselfer.
Custom LandDesigner 3D Design 7.0 by Sierra
This is one of my top picks for homeowners and do it yourselfers. I actually used this garden design software professionally for over a year when I first started out. Regardless of negative reviews, I found it to be exceptional and easy to use. It has some great drawing tools (they take a little time to learn) and a very nice 3D walk around. I'm not real crazy about walk arounds and don't generally use them. But for you, it may be just what you need to visualize your landscaping project.
Unfortunately, the developer abandoned the program and no upgrades were made past Windows 98. I have not been able to find an upgraded version in over two years. However...
Recently I picked up a cheap piece of software off the shelf to give it a review. When I loaded the program onto my computer, it was the Sierra product. While the product package makes no statement about Sierra, the actual software says it all over it. As I checked it out further, it is without a doubt the same Sierra program upgraded to Windows ME and XP.
The product is now sold under the name of Your Complete Landscape and Garden Designer (DVD-Rom)
. As I worked with it for a while, I found that even the program has been upgraded and enhanced. It's even better than it used to be.
I would have to rate this landscaping program as mid to poor quality. There's not much to it. While this program has been out for a while and the developers have made some improvements, there is much better stuff available.
The main reason I recommend you avoid this program is that it is a subscription service with an expiration. In my opinion, there's just something that ain't right about that. Designing your new landscape or garden could take weeks, months, or even longer. Get a program that you can own and work with at your own pace.
Punch Super Home Suite 3
This product has come a long way since I first tried it. I have to admit that I like this one too. However, it's not one of my top picks. The drawing tools are a little more advanced and there's plenty of them. They take a little getting used to. However, once you figure them out, it moves very quickly.
The plant library is limited and generic. However, you can still create visual ideas.
The 3D and walk around are exceptional and smooth. This thing makes great pictures. The rest of the programs on this suite are just as fun to mess with.
Broderbund 3D Home Landscape Designer Deluxe 5
Note: Version 5 is NOT a direct upgrade of previous versions. It is a complete rewrite of the software based upon the Envisioneer CAD engine from CADSoft.
This edition is far from the junk that these guys have put out in the past. It has evolved from a toy into an actual tool.
Anyway..... this landscape program has some good tools and is easy to draw with. I really found no quirks with this design software. However, this program and most programs require 600mghz or better to make the 3D and walk around work well.
I really don't know what to say about this program. After a couple of hours of messing with it, I got so frustrated with it that I simply uninstalled it. If I can't draw with it, then I know that the average do it yourselfer won't be able to.
This software doesn't even have what I would consider to be design drawing tools. Period. To create a unique design for your own property with this software seems almost impossible to me.
I'm sorry I spent my money on it. However, the point of my purchase was to check it out for you. It wasn't a total waste.
Better Homes and Gardens Landscape and Deck Designer
I found this to be the closest rival to the professional design software that I currently use which cost me over $700.00. In fact, rather than buying my secondary designer a license of my own design program, this is what he's using now. Much cheaper.
The engine behind this program is from Chief Architect, who, from what I understand, are developers of professional CAD software. It shows in this program.
While this program has one of the best 3D walk around and capabilities, I tend to judge this and others by the drawing tools that it possesses. And this one has some good usable tools.
Like most consumer level landscaping programs, this one has photo import so you can design around an actual photo of your home. Unlike other programs, the BHG software allows you to import and mask your own plant images. This is a great feature that my own program has which gives much better visualization with plants you might actually use.
While we haven't checked out all the features that this software has to offer, all the important stuff that we need to create a sellable visual landscape is there. For now, and with the choices I know of that are available to you, I find this to be the best consumer level landscape and garden program out there.
This design software comes with an easy to understand tutorial CD. It was easy to install and start using right away. As far as these landscaping software reviews go, I think most folks would do quite well with this one.