In the previous year as a company we decided to start moving to working digitally.  We’d been thinking about it for a while and circumstances led us to invest and we haven’t looked back!

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In some ways I prefer having a pencil in my hand but overall the process is more efficient and I feel just as creative, something I was worried about.  I put many hours in to training upfront and practised using a small garden which had never been built but would have different planes and was basically full of straight lines.  Something which was easier for a novice!

I’m not using Vectorworks as well as I could but I’m trying different things.  In December I produced my first 3D perspectives, I am particularly pleased with these as it was a balcony above a terrace so involved two different levels, one above the other, whereas normally we would be working with different levels across one plane, on a sloping site or even just steps into a house.

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For a few years as a practice we have been commissioning a professional land surveyor to give us a base plan far better than anything we could achieve using a tape measure and dumpy level and for about the same price as doing it ourselves.  We feel this represents good value for money and reduces any uncertainty when it comes to designing gardens.

Now we’ve taken the digital step we can easily import these surveys into out software and start designing instantly.  We visit the site and use the survey to carry out a site analysis and invariably complete an inventory of the existing plants, annotating those to be retained or removed and any work needed eg pruning or crown lifting.

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Using digital software enables us to be more precise and ultimately this helps the contractor to quote for and build the new garden.  Setting out plans are now far easier to complete and importantly read; and construction details are far simpler to put together and therefore feel less daunting. We are confident that using digital software will make us more attractive to work with for architects as now we can import their plans and the whole process is more seamless.  This is especially useful when people have had an extension done and therefore their garden has inevitably shrunk, sometimes the access has been compromised and it needs a rethink.  Ideally get a garden designer board before you start building so any hard landscaping can be done alongside the build.  Not when there is limited access and budget!

The garden I am currently designing, for which I’m at masterplan stage, I’ve been able to add the different paving options and can therefore demonstrate more easily exactly how I want the layout to look, allowing for beds to be a part of the patio and how the paving fits.  Very rarely does a designer have a rectangular patio isolated from other features and paths so the layout is important.  By adding a layer showing the paving layout we can iron out potential issues before they arise.

Setting out plans are amazingly straight forward on Vectorworks, there is a dimensions tool so you can decide which measurements are key and after three clicks hey presto. a neat arrowed line shows the given length.  It can do angles but I’ve yet to see a contractor on site with a giant protractor, so triangulation is the order of the day here.

If there is a curve we use a running line and then take measurements at set intervals, depending on the curve this could be every 1 – 2 metres. We hope these setting out plans both make it easier on site for the contractors and that there is less margin for error.

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Planting plans similarly are easier to read when done digitally although while I’m at beginner / intermediate stage they do take longer than when done by hand.  I’m starting to get the knack of it and after a few more I’m sure I’ll be a lot quicker.  I haven’t mastered how to do the plant schedule yet but I’m sure there’s a video on YouTube which will help me with that.  For now using Excel is fine.

As I use the software I know I’m getting faster and using tools I was unsure of before. There are various online seminars which I tune in to and these show me what can be done and how to stretch myself, they are invaluable.  I wouldn’t say we will never do hand drawn plans again but for the moment it’s full steam ahead with digital. Now I just need to find that plant schedule video ….

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