Gardening

Tools & Resources Online

HomeCheck

Garden (noun): a) plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated b) a rich well-cultivated region c) a container (as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants [Merriam-Webster Online]. As seen in the preceding definition, gardens can be functional providing herbs & veggies or they can be landscaped areas of beauty with flowers and other cultivated plants. Whether for an apartment with window boxes and porch containers or a house with acres to play, everyone can create a garden if they want one. There are many wonderful resources online that can help those who want to add plants around their home environment.

First we collected some good, free, online landscaping planners that help you plot out your yard and garden before you plant a single seed. Most come with some plant information but we have also collected a list of plant reference sites that detail plant climate preferences, light requirements and much more. Finally, we have listed sites that offer ideas for unique and complex garden solutions or not so common alternatives to liven up your bit of green.

Part I:

Planning Your Garden Masterpiece Part of the fun of gardening or landscaping a home are the random finds at the local nursery. Ooh! That hasta is beautiful and would look great next to my window! Never mind the poor sage that now gets no light and begins to wither away! Granted this doesn't always happen and not everyone has the time (or the budget) to pre-plan and selectively purchase everything for their yard at one time. However, free online landscaping tools are easy to use and are a fun way to get a little more structure to your garden before you start tossing dirt around. Most of these planners are ideal for large scale sketches. Once the big picture is sketched out, you can more easily concentrate on the smaller parts of the project. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the plant choices and concepts you may like to try around your home. Having a plan eases the work of the anxious gardner working towards a larger masterpiece. Better Homes & Gardens Plan-a-Garden www.bhg.com Website: Plan-a-Garden lets you design anything from a patio-side container garden to your whole yard. Use your mouse to "drag-and-drop" more than 150 trees, shrubs, and flowers. Add dozens of structures like buildings, sheds, fences, decks -- even a pond. Homecheck Review: You must sign up for online membership to access, but it is free. Opening quick tips offers the only tutorial. Plants are more ‘cartoonish’ which makes it easier to draw out spaces but doesn't help the plant-challenged who may not know what the heck a real Heuchera looks like! There is a option for more plant info that offers info about temperatures and growth height; but very basic at best. I do really like the drag-and-drop with the mouse to place objects. Also easy rotation, zooming and hiding controls. Don’t forget to save your garden; one perk to having an online account is that you may save work on projects and come back to them later. gardenplanner www.smallblueprinter.com/garden/ Website: Arrange plants, trees, buildings and objects using an easy to use 'drag and drop' interface. Use tools to quickly create paving, paths and fences. Then produce a high quality color print out of your design. Homecheck Review: This is a paid program but there is a free trial version you may download to your computer or try online.This program is very basic with both objects and their shapes. This is a better concept planner where you can draw out what you want the yard to look like and then fill in plant details later. Program itself is easy to use, just click drag and click you objects wherever you want. Homestore.com The Garden Designer www.homestore.com/homegarden/gardening/tools/landscapeplanner/ Website: Homestore.com's Garden Designer is the easiest way to visualize the perfect outdoor design! Homecheck Review: There is a simple introduction to the program that gives information by answering common questions. There is no membership requirement to use this program. Like the others it includes a drag and drop interface. Objects are easy to size. Although plants are again clip art, they do offer more variation in look so it is easier to distinguish which plants you place on your grid. However, no information about plant lighting, size and other details are provided. Quick and easy to use, just have a good idea of your plants ahead of time. Lowe's Landscape & Garden Planner www.lowes.com Website: If your outdoor inspiration needs a little help, here is the tool you need. Use Lowe's Landscape and Garden Planner to help build the yard of your dreams. With our design tool, garden and landscape planning are as easy as clicking and dragging. Homecheck Review: This site does request user registration to use freebies. It offers free online newsletters at the time of registration and you can opt out if you choose. Once in the Planner there is a great opening tutorial - turn on your speakers as it is narrated! This program is easy to use with a point-and-click and drag-and-drop tools. When you begin your layout you will be prompted for width and depth of the lot and your region on the US climate map. Hardscapes or objects like your home, driveway and fence are basic images. Plants are listed by sun requirement and type. Plant pictures are basic drawings rather than real images which is not as fun to plan with for those of us with less plant knowledge. Nice features include the sectioning off of areas on the plan so you may work on smaller plots one at a time and printable shopping lists of of your design. NOTE: I used this site the first time a couple of months ago (1/05) and LOVED it, great detail and real images of plants! Recently when I reviewed it again (6/05) it was too simplistic and buggy - many of the radio buttons brought up 0 options to choose from when I logged in the first two times; at the third log-in things started working. And now cookie-cutter-clipart plants rather than images of the real thing? What were they thinking? Blah! Not sure what happened to this once awesome program? Still good and easy to use but not as stellar as before.

Part II:

Plant Reference Sites Solanum Tuberosum? I just wanted a potato... Sometimes the most frustrating or overwhelming aspect of planning your yard can be finding the right plants. Knowing your climate zone is only the first part of the battle. A plant's happiness in your yard will depend on sun exposure, watering, soil make up and all other types of fussy tid bits.Then there is the not so obvious questions of what will the plant look like in 5-10 years. Having a good book to flip through is a good start. The power of the internet is that you have the ability to refine searches and find new hardier plants that may not have been originally strong enough for your region. Below are some online plant guides that can help demystify the abundant world of flora. BBC Gardening Plant Finder www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/ Website: Look up detailed information about thousands of plants using our searchable database. You will find descriptions of the plants and tips about growing them. Homecheck Review: Okay, we know it is not local and there are certain quirks - using centimeters instead of inches!? But seriously, this is an easy to use database. The pictures are great and there are good short plant bios. Burpee www.burpee.com Website: The Burpee company was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by an 18 year-old with a passion for plants and animals and a mother willing to lend him $1000 dollars of "seed money" to get started in business. Within 25 years he had developed the largest, most progressive seed company in America. By 1915 we were mailing a million catalogues a year to America's gardeners. Homecheck Review: Granted this is a site interested in selling products. But the garden wizard is easy to use and full of good information and pictures. A nice feature is the ability to describe what type plant you need: sun, sow, height and difficulty. The search results come with pictures that may be selected for more detail. This was an easy tool for getting information about vegetable garden plants. Again, due to the fact that they are limited to products they sell not every plant out there will be available for search. Dave's Garden http://davesgarden.com/pf/ Website: Welcome to PlantFiles, the largest plant database in the world with 101,549 entries, 76,918 images and 45,373 comments. Currently entries are from 350 families, 3,587 genera, 22,207 species, and 68,483 cultivars. PF continues to grow through the collaborative efforts of 11,388 gardeners from around the world, most notably the Uber Gardeners. Any registered user may add new plants, images, details, comments, and ZIP codes. Homecheck Review: Finally a database worth checking out! Easy to search, great pictures, and great information about how to sow, grow and maintain the individual plants. An extra plus is that visitors may post comments about their experiences growing the plants listed. HortiPlex Database from Garden Web www.gardenweb.com Website: The HortiPlex database contains plant images and data as well as links to information sources, images and vendors at other sites. Searches may be limited to: just those records with images or links to images; records with vendor links; or, records of botanical taxa. Homecheck Review: Some of the plants listed have information in the actual database which is provided users who leave remarks and pictures. For the most part this database lists other listings out there that reference a particular plant. It is bare bones and somewhat difficult as it is not at first obvious where to click for more information. Disappointing in that most plants only have links to other databases. Would be much better if more users participated and left remarks about the plants they have used or know about. GreenPlace.com (Part of Home & Garden Showplace) www.gardenplace.com Website: Need gardening information and inspiration? Help is just a click away. Homecheck Review: Number of plants are limited to the more common variety. Probably based on what the store carries as well. Easy to use search - really like the show everything option. Nice pictures of the plants. Information for the individual plants is basic, similar to what you would find on the the plant tag at the store. Home Depot Plant Guide www.plant-guide.com/HomeDepotForm.asp Website: Get the information you need to design your garden like a pro. Find out which plants are right for your landscaping project or learn about a particular plant you purchased at Home Depot. Homecheck Review: This site is easy to use. I find doing a broad search by climate and plant category to give the most results. When doing a search like this the results can be substantial (in the hundreds!). Results include list of scientific and common names. Clicking on selection takes you to a more detailed description that includes pictures, scale, uses and much more. For an online freebie, I really liked the usability of this tool. Martha Stewart Living www.marthastewart.com Website: Finding plants for your garden is as easy as picking the features that are most important to you. For instance, for plants that attract butterflies, check that box and your Zone, and click on Search. Homecheck Review: The plant search is very detailed. You may also want to browse by plant type if you are still in the broader planning stage. Pictures are good, usually of the plant feature, flower or fruit). The detail about the plants is wonderful. Definitely a great resource about most plants out there. Another fun addition to this planner is the ability to search plants by 'theme gardens'. Great lists and good way to plan various sections of your yard. Plants Database http://plants.usda.gov/index.html Website: The PLANTS Database provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories. It includes names, plant symbols, checklists, distributional data, species abstracts, characteristics, images, plant links, references, crop information, and automated tools. PLANTS reduces costs by minimizing duplication and making information exchange possible across agencies and disciplines. Homecheck Review: It is not the easiest to browse this database. However, if you know what particular plant you are looking for it is probably in here. Plant information is more scientific. Some plants have pics and some do not. Best for general information about your plants but not necessary a gardening tool. Rock Garden Database www.kadel.cz/flora/kvSearch.html Website: Welcome to the Rock Garden Plants Database. It contains 11253 species with 560 photos and is still growing. For each plant you will find here known synonyms of its name, short description, territory and altitude of its natural location, size, color, bloom, if it is calciphile (Ca+) or calciphobe (Ca-), its type (rosette etc.), cultivation and propagation. Homecheck Review: This site is specialized but has some fun information. Not easy to search but fun to browse. A work in progress shows but still information about plants that aren't as common. MORE SEARCHING... Check out local nursery websites as well. Many of these sites list their plants with pictures and all kinds of good information. Plants will be limited to their selection, but it is another fun way to browse the possibilities. Part III: Unique & Complex Garden Solutions Rooftop need a bit of green? Want to soften and add a natural retreat to your patio? Apartment living have your options limited? No problem! These sites give great ideas for complex and limited spaces. They also offer ideas for container gardens or unique features that any home may enjoy. Finally, these sites also offer advice for various garden problems. We have collected a few examples below. Not every subject for each site is listed below; so take a look at the main link and see what other helpful treasures you may find. About.com-Gardening http://gardening.about.com/ Garden Pests: The following photos illustrate some insect pests and diseases you may encounter in your garden. Mole Control: Mole holes are unsightly on lawns and can be disruptive to the root systems of garden plants. Xeriscape Gardening: Xeriscaping was a term coined back in 1970s in Denver, CO, to mean water wise or water efficient landscaping. Better Homes & Gardens http://netscape.bhg.com/ Container Garden: Create a movable feast of color to match your needs -- whether you live in a country cottage or a New York sky rise. Water Garden: Use water to add sound, sparkle, and movement to your landscape. Wildlife Garden: Make your garden into a delightful refuge for wildlife creatures. Do It Yourself Network www.diynetwork.com/diy/gardening Condo Garden: Even those who live in apartments or condominiums, where space is truly at a premium, can convert a tiny area into an idyllic garden that satisfies the senses and soothes the soul. Container Gardens: Artist and gardener Keeyla Meadows enjoys using containers to experiment with plant textures and colors. Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard, explains how to use container plants creatively. Small Space Garden: Small-space gardening can be a challenge. This segment describes a small Chicago garden that had too much sun on one side and too much shade on the other. Urban Garden: How to transform small spaces into fresh, stylish areas of tranquility, using hip hardscapes and cold hardy perennials. Water Garden: Pond builder Richard Koogle of Lilypons Water Gardens offers advice on maintaining a water garden. Wildlife Garden: [Many subjects from attracting humming birds and butterflies to deterring deer from your yard with plant choices.] Environmental Design & Construction www.edcmag.com Rooftop Garden: The garden roof assembly or “green roof system” has been available in the United States for more than 70 years. Construction consists of two equally important phased applications: the waterproofing application and the garden assembly. The ultimate success of a rooftop garden depends largely on the proper design and installation. Garden Guides www.gardenguides.com Container Garden: Even the smallest patio or porch can boast a crop of vegetables or a garden of flowers in containers. Planter boxes, wooden barrels, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used. See other Tips & Techniques Organic Gardening www.organicgardening.com Organic Garden: We've gathered the basics of organic gardening for you here. You'll be able to find where to get your soil tested, learn how to manage pests without using chemicals, and read growing guides for vegetables and flowers. Conclusion The above collection of resources is only the beginning. Many more articles, blogs, photographs, and other tid bits about gardening are available on the web. Hopefully this article served to illustrate what a great resource the Internet can be when planning and improving your garden. We have covered landscaping planners, plant reference guides and various garden solutions from problems with pests to space. If you find some of the bits in this article resourceful, be sure to bookmark this page to review it in the future. Happy gardening!

7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM