I experimented with quite a few different garden design software packages. Many of them were very cumbersome or too limited for what I wanted. I eventually found that it was easier to use an Excel spreadsheet by treating it like graph paper and combining this with the many autoshape tools in Excel. The end result can give you a plan of your garden as well as a useful plant list. You can even track information about your plants in the sheet if you like to.
Below are some simple instructions on how to draw a garden design plan without using special garden design software.
Step 1: Create a grid
Basically I use an Excel spreadsheet like it is graph paper and just draw out my plan to scale.
- Start by making a grid in your Excel worksheet. I do this by changing the column width and row heights so they look like grid paper. Looking at my saved sheets they say the column width is 2 and the row height is 14.5. Make as many columns and rows this scale as you think you will need. You can always insert more if needed.
- Each square now represents your scale. For my purposes I count one square as 2 feet but it could be anything you want depending on how big the garden is you are drawing. Put your measurement scale along the top and along the left. You now have a spreadsheet that looks like graph paper with measurements down the top and left side.
Step 2: Draw in the hardscapes
Next I draw in the hardscapes (house, patio, etc) and basic bed shapes. I use the features in the drawing toolbar to do this. You can select lines, arrows, squares, circles and a huge variety of shapes under AUTOSHAPES.
To make curved beds I use the curve line option under autoshapes. Go to AUTOSHAPES — LINES — CURVES. Now just draw your shape in by clicking on your grid paper, keep clicking along the way. Everywhere you click you get a point anchored to your plan. Don’t worry if it’s rough — you can adjust the shape later. Just get in the general shape. If you need to close in your shape (eg a stand alone bed) curve back to the starting point and DOUBLE CLICK and it will automatically close your shape.
Now that you have your rough bed shape drawn, right click on the shape (sometimes you have to be right on the line) and select EDIT POINTS. You will now see a series of small black squares marking every spot where you clicked on your graph paper. You can literally pick these up and move them around. Also you can pick up any spot on the line and make a new point. For fancier editing, right click your mouse on one of these points and you will see a lot more options — you can delete a point, open up a curve you closed, make a segment between points straight or curved.
- Under view zoom in fairly large, this makes editing easier.
- To make nice curves I make a temporary circle and follow the pattern. I place a circle shape on the grid, size it (double click a shape and you can get very precise using the SIZE box). Put it along side your curve and now make your points follow the curve. Than I delete the circle when I am happy.
- You can fill or not fill your beds as you desire. If you fill you will have to be careful of the “order” of your objects (we’ll get into that in a bit).
- You can rotate a shape once you make it in either of two ways: click on the shape & if you have a green dot you can just drag it around until you like it’s placement. You can also double click on the shape, go to the SIZE box and you will see a rotation box — just enter a number eg 90 to rotate right 90 degrees. -90 means rotate left 90 degrees.
Step 3: Putting in some details
Next I colour in any details I want in the plan. For example for the patio pattern, I made a series of rectangles, sized them, filled them in with texture then placed them to look like patio stones. You only have to do the first few, cut and paste after that.
To move things you can use your mouse or for finer movements use your arrow keys.
- If you create a scene that involves a lot of shapes (like the patio, or a table and chairs set) it is convenient to group them together so you can move them as one item. To do this select two or more shapes, right click and go to GROUP. The items now move together. You can ungroup, regroup, or group with other shapes/groups as needed.
Step 4: Planting
Next comes the fun part, planting (just like real life — create the hardscape, get the beds ready & go!). I use a variety of shapes from autoshapes, mostly from the STARS AND BANNERS category. I then size them and colour them (fill) as I like. I try to follow foliage or flower colour if I can. I use my scale for sizing. I also tend to make my shapes follow a pattern for example pointed shapes for evergreens, slightly more curved/rounded for shrubs, another shape for perennials / spreaders etc.
Hint: Notice the yellow dot in some of the shapes from STARS AND BANNERS when you click on them? Move this and you can change the depth of the edging.
Next I add plant information. Right click the plant shape and you can add text. Depending on the size of your scale, full plant names may not fit so I tend to number my plants then put an index somewhere on the page or on another sheet. I even sometimes use one scale for shrubs (eg 1,2,3) and another for perennials (a,b,c). You can add text boxes for longer descriptions as well. These can also be rotated if you like.
Ordering shapes. Since all of your objects are shapes placed on a sheet some will fall in front some behind. You can shuffle shapes up or down as needed (for example you obviously want plants to appear on top of a filled in bed). Just right click on the shape, go to ORDER and you will see BRING TO FRONT, SEND TO BACK etc.
That’s it. Now you have a scale drawing of your garden.
Just to say many thanks for taking the time to explain this. Really helpful and I’m now well on the way to a design for my daughter’s new garden.
Glad you like it! I enjoy the planning process. It’s often what gets me through the winter. I’d love to see your end result.
Thank you for sharing your planner! I spent hours looking on line and getting frustrated, thinking how I would love to have the drawing, the plant list AND the calendar with reminders of what to do in different months. Excel allows all of that and you made it so helpfully clear, thank you
A have looked all over the net for this . This is just what I was looking for. Thank you
I have often wondered if this could be done using all the things I am likely to use.for the input, so it was great to see this. However, I need to do a plan for our local Council which must be printed at a scale of 1:250.How can I do this?
Hi Dan, I’m not sure. You’d have to keep playing with the row width & cell width to get the scale you want. You could add a ruler to the top bar in excel then maybe use this calculator https://www.inchcalculator.com/scale-calculator/?