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The Fall Garden / PLANNING TOOLS

Add software, and water

September 27, 2007|Nancy Yoshihara

Got an image of the perfect garden in your head but no one else seems to get it? Design it yourself on a computer. Three recently updated landscape programs make the job doable, if not always easy.

Better Homes and Gardens Landscaping and Deck Designer

Version 7.0. By Chief Architect ( www.homedesignersoftware.com)

Price: $69.99

Format: PC; Windows 98, 2000, XP, Vista or newer

What's new: Design Inspiration Center with photos and tips from Better Homes and Gardens magazine

Plants: 2,000-plus in an improved Plant Chooser

Tutorials: An in-depth users manual, a Quick Start Guide and videos are included

Ease of use: The tendency with all three programs is to load them up and go. Not so fast. Though the Quick Start Guide on the Better Homes and Gardens software is helpful, it's best to take the time to review the longer user's manual as well as the video tutorials. Though the program focuses on landscaping and deck design, you can draw a house, see it in 3-D and surround it with plants, a pool, walls, even a hill. This No. 1-selling landscape

software is easy to navigate, though its inventory of some home-related items isn't as vast as in other programs.

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Punch! Software Master Landscape Pro

Version 10. By Punch! Software ( www.punchsoftware.com)

Price: $69.99

Format: PC; Windows 98 or newer

What's new: Pool Designer; Global Sun Positioning, so you can see shadows; and Decorator Palette, which can change siding, wood stain, colors and roofing

Plants: 4,009

Tutorials: Users guide and video

Ease of use: This one is the most detailed and sophisticated program, as its name implies, at once intimidating with its thoroughness yet satisfying because of the value -- you get so much for the price. The software is for the die-hard do-it-yourselfer who's a stickler for planning, right down to costs, or for homeowners who want to bring their own ideas to a landscape architect or designer to save time and reduce fees. Master the software and you be able to design your dream garden. It just may require hours of experimenting with all those options at your fingertips.

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Turbo FloorPlan Home & Landscape Pro

Version 12. By IMSI Design ( www.IMSIdesign.com)

Price: $129.95

Format: PC; Windows 2000, XP or Vista; available on DVD or by electronic download for the same price with a free 15-day trial

What's new: Landscaping has been added to existing home design programs

Plants: 7,500

Tutorials: Users guide. Training videos online soon

Ease of use: The newest of the trio -- released just last week -- is inviting and user-friendly. It was the one program that could create simple design scenarios without requiring direction from the users guide first. The initial window opens to a simple House Builder Wizard that gives you the option of starting with a basic house, a template to experiment. Within minutes, you're adding in walkways, patios and furniture. Then you can move on to draw your own house and garden. This product is more expensive than the others but has the largest plant inventory.

-- Nancy Yoshihara

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