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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS / KIM KOMANDO

The Perfect Garden Is a Mouse Click Away

March 31, 1997|KIM KOMANDO

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Why, in the '90s, of course, it's using her personal computer. Whether you're merely looking for help deciding what plants grow best in your hometown or becoming your own landscape architect, CD-ROMs help every step of the way. The only thing these programs don't seem to do is water the plants or get dirt under your fingernails.

For starters, Microsoft's "Complete Gardening" provides solid gardening information with thousands of photos, illustrations, audio clips, videos and animation. It also helps answer nagging questions like, "How do I prune a tree that's growing out of control without killing it?" Don't worry. It's all explained in video and animation.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. You can also specify the region where you live and find out the best plants for any type of garden. This ties in nicely with the program's plant encyclopedia, which includes information about nearly 4,000 plants, including annuals, perennials, herbs, bulbs, fruits, shrubs, trees, vegetables, vines and grasses.

When your garden isn't worth the dirt it's planted in, ask the Problem Finder. Type in some specifics, and the finder pinpoints possible culprits such as the diseases, pests and other pitfalls that are turning your green thumb brown. If you have no idea what even makes for a great garden, there are tours of 20 gardens throughout the U.S. and tips on designing your own.

Go beyond gardening and you enter the world of "3-D Landscape" from Books That Work. "3-D Landscape" allows you to create an entire outside environment for your home.

Here's how it works: You can start from scratch or use one of the sample layouts. If you start with a blank screen, you'll need to specify the lot area and place your home on the lot. Either way, the fun starts when you roll up your sleeves and get your mouse to work.

From the menu, place structures in your virtual yard--decks, fountains, gazebos, flower beds, patios and the like. Next, add projects that complement your design, such as pool, fencing, grass, ground cover, brick walkways, sprinklers and retaining walls. You can also add statues, birdbaths, a dog or cat, children and trash cans. And what would a yard be without some pink flamingos? Fear not. Those are an option too. Then select from more than 800 trees, shrubs and flowers, according to your local growing conditions.

When you're done with the design, the landscape is brought to life on your screen. You can "walk" around your yard or, better yet, use the helicopter view--complete with sound effects--that lets you fly above and around your yard. You can experience your yard any time of day in any season. The growth-over-time feature shows you how large your plants will grow so you don't plant too close to your home, over a flower bed or into a neighbor's yard.

You can print out a shopping list, cost estimates, the plans and more to hand off to a contractor or use yourself. "3-D Landscape" packs a lot of punch for creating and visualizing your dream landscape. You'll find both programs at a computer store near you.

Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword Komando). She can be reached via e-mail at komando@komando.com

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