Designing your home landscape digitally

This is a before photo of a home used in design lab exercises in the Trident Technical College horticulture program.

Sometimes fooling ourselves is the best way to get results.

I’ll be 49 years old in a few months. Birthdays have never bothered me, but I’ll admit that 50 feels like an oncoming tidal wave. A lot of changes have taken place in my 40s. The optometrist asked if I had trouble reading. No problem in that department. A month later, I was pricing reading glasses at CVS. Did you know you can get a three-pack for $10?

I recently purchased prescription glasses online where you can upload your photo and virtually try on a thousand different pairs. It’s nice to sample a different look before purchasing.

Landscape designers can use a similar illusion to present their ideas.

Designs are intangible products. The customer can’t touch or smell or even see the actual product. It’s up to the designer to convey the idea with words and pictures and plan drawings.

But computers have changed all that. Now the designer can take a picture and digitally create trees, shrubs, sidewalks, turf, water and just about anything you might find in the landscape.

Homeowners can take advantage of simple software to see what a tree would look like in different locations.

Thinking about a pricey painting for the living room? Digitally insert it over the couch before purchasing.

Graphic programs, such as Photoshop and Paint, have been around for quite some time.

There are programs, however, that specially target landscape design applications with libraries of plant material. The process varies from product to product, but the basic tools and applications are similar.

A digital photo can be downloaded from a camera or phone and opened in the program. Digital objects can be placed on top of the photo.

Consider this scenario: You take a picture of your house, then print it and place it on your kitchen table. You have numerous cutouts of trees and shrubs in a box that you can pick and choose to place on the picture, moving them around and putting one on top of another.

The problem with the kitchen table picture is that it doesn’t look real. It’ll look just like I described it, pictures of trees and shrubs on a picture. It’s not very convincing.

With digital imaging, most products have a library containing thousands of plants from every region. You can even add your own materials.

Want to figure out where an enormous urn would look good without hauling it around? Digitally move it, even to inside the house.

Every plant can be resized and the colors manipulated so that each object can be blended into the photo. Shadows can be added, realistically dropped on the ground or against a wall with a click of the button.

But there’s more than plants. Fountains, fences, steps, boulders, sculpture, benches, pergolas and many other items can be sampled. All of these objects can be manipulated and seamlessly integrated into the picture.

The ground plane is just as easily altered. Areas can be outlined and filled with turf, mulch, concrete or pavers.

With digital imaging, perspective can be added. For instance, the pavers in a driveway will appear larger in front and progressively get smaller the further they recede in the distance.

Imaging works as a great tool to see what an evergreen screen will look in one part of the yard or how a pergola might change the appearance of a patio. Professional imaging products cost a couple hundred dollars and more. There are many homeowner products at local retailers that are less than a hundred dollars.

Imaging works as a great tool to see what an evergreen screen will look in one part of the yard or how a pergola might change the appearance of a patio.

Professional imaging products cost a couple hundred dollars and more.

There are many inexpensive products that can be purchased on Amazon, such as Total 3D Landscape and HGTV Home and Landscape.

While more expensive, the professional products include all the features and extensive databases to create presentation-quality graphics.

Examples of these products are PRO Landscape, GreenScapes and Realtime Landscaping.

There also are a number of apps that make simple imaging a snap such as iScape.

Want to know what uplighting would look in your front yard or mulch in the backyard? You can see it on your phone in minutes.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony. bertauski@tridenttech.edu.