Garden variety computing Home: Software programs allow you to design and redesign your yard.

December 14, 1997|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was bound to happen. Virtual gardening. Well, almost. Computer programs that enable the gardener to design and redesign a property without ever lifting a spade. Though computer gardening is not a replacement for actual, dirt-under-your fingernails grubbing in the earth, these increasingly popular programs let the gardener not only gather information about plants, life cycles and a host of other things, but to play with the possibilities in a landscape without the usual wear and tear on major muscle groups.

There are a number of programs, both on disk and CD ROM, ranging from complex and expensive to simple and cheap.

One of the simple and relatively cheap ones is "Design Your Own Home Landscape" from Abracadata ($59.95). Available for DOS, Windows and Macintosh, it can display your landscape plan from five perspectives -- left, right, front, back and overhead.

It also enables you to create your own symbol libraries, so you can add, for example, a Japanese fringe tree, a red-berried nandina and Shackleford mums to your own plant lists. Its aging feature lets you see how a plant will look up to 25 years from the date of planting, which will keep you from planting too thickly and later having to break your back thinning crowded, semi-mature plant material. The operator's manual is clear and thorough.

Gardening software can be used as a design tool, an information database, or both.

Khaki Janssens, administrative assistant at the William Paca Garden in Annapolis, bought the Pro Series Plant Database (MKS Compugroup Inc., $190 on CD ROM) to assist in the redesign of her home gardens.

A landscape designer had drawn a plan with several options for each space, but her husband, Joe Janssens, wasn't familiar with many of the plants in the design scheme. With a file of 2,300 plants, the plant database enabled them to view the plants in place before they plunked down hard-earned cash for the real-life materials.

"It has super pictures in three sizes," Joe says. They could see not only what the plant looked like at its blooming and/or fruiting period, but could see autumn leaf color, growth habit and full-grown size, soil needs, blooming time, foliage color and how deep to plant it.

"It also tells you how to pronounce all the botanical names," Joe adds. "It has great sound. And you can create a file for each of your gardens and put in each of the plants you have."

"The lacking part," says Khaki, "is the manual. It is very very sparse."

Before you buy

Before you stuff a gardening software program into your favorite gardener's stocking or buy one for yourself, there are some things you should consider.

* Know your own hardware. What processor, how much RAM and how much available hard drive do you have? Like most software, gardening programs list hardware requirements on the box.

* Check to see whether the manufacturer recommends any compatible software. For example, the Home Series Landscape (Autodesk, $69.95) recommends a math co-processor to maximize its capability.

* Consider your needs. Few gardeners completely redesign their property every three years, but may repeatedly use botanical information. Monika Burwell, owner of the Baltimore garden design company Earthly Pursuits Inc. bought the Land Designer CD (Sierra, $49.95) last May. "It's good for a dictionary," she says. "They have all the plants, and they tell you the climate [and] the shade [needs]. They have a plant biography and a slide show [that] gives you pictures of different gardens."

* Consider which features you will most benefit from. The ability to age plants is a biggy. Miscalculation of a plant's full-grown size is chronic in even long-time gardeners. Other features make great planning tools. For example, 3-D Landscape, version 4.5 (for Windows or Power Mac), provides a shadow-caster feature that enables the gardener to see how plant material will shade the house or deck in addition to whether the anemone you propose to put in beside the bearded iris will actually grow.

* Choose a program with a good manual. You can't enjoy it if you can't operate it. Additionally, on-screen tutorials, which take you step-by-step through the program and its features, are extremely helpful, particularly for those unfamiliar with computer jargon.

* Ask whether the merchant or catalog from whom you purchased the program will allow you to return it (within a specified time) if it does not meet your needs or expectations. Some do, some don't.

* Learn the program. Rainy winter days are perfect opportunities play on the computer. The more familiar you become, the chances are the more pleasure and practical use you will get out of the software.

Sources

Gardening software can be found at such stores as Egghead Software, but you can also call around to software dealers to check on specific titles. Software is also available through catalogs like White Flower Farms (800- 503-9624), Gardener's Eden (800- 822-9600) and Timber Press (800- 327-5680).

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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