I am having a hard time properly mapping my suburban backyard onto paper to further design it with proper polycultures then to take the design and plot it again in the real world. The several attempts I have made using compasses and google have always been a few to several feet off. I am not sure of a good method for this scale. What do all of you suggest? Any suggested reading? How on earth do they do plantings with detailed design like the clocks etc.
If it's just a small yard, I would start with some simple drawings, perhaps eventually moving to some graph paper on which you can plot measurements and locations by means of a tape measure, etc. from some starting points. Or you could get your property's plat map and lay your grid on top of that to start with.... If you want you can lay out contours, water drainage patterns, etc. on the same sort of template, or figure out how to do it on computer. Personally I think mapping is overemphasized and most of my own designing for myself is done on scrap paper if not just in my head.
SketchUp. It is free to use and you can make 3D drawings. When I first planned out stuff in my backyard I went into detail with the shed, but I just drew circles or cylinders where plants and trees were going to be located. There is a rather steep learning curve, but if you just want to make a 2D flat design to start out with then it isn't bad. I would suggest looking up videos or books such as 'SketchUp For Dummies' as well as A Series Of Videos At Woodgears that has helpful information.
The thing I like most about SketchUp is how precise it is. You can create several objects and then measure different distances between each part, angles, and clearance while still in the planning phase before spending any money on a failed venture. If you have more time than money then it is an excellent tool. If you have more money than time then it might be worth spending a few hundred dollars to pay someone else to make the 3D drawing for you. You can always save the file to modify at a later date or use it as a reference to measure clearances for future projects.
If you get serious into this, the best thing I learned was from one of the Woodgears videos - turn every piece you make into a component. It is amazingly frustrating trying to move or modify something and have it get skewed out of proportion because it acts like it is still 'attached' to a different object. Some of the functions are not intuitive and need to be learned from some source such as YouTube. You can easily waste a lot of hours doing things the hard way (ask me how I know).
You can also use graph paper, but you might want to use the metric system as it is easy to make mistakes trying to divide things up in tenths of a foot as opposed to inches. Getting good measurements of the area and not assuming things are perfectly square (checking with the 3-4-5 rule) should help you make a scale canvas to which you can plot things out.
Trees are our friends
Location: Huntsville, AL
posted 3 years ago
For me it is much faster using sketchup (I have built and used cnc and 3d printers using sketchup) for the design/mapping itself thats not the issue. The problem I have is taking what is in sketchup and translating it to the physical ground in a fairly precise manner. Precise to me here +- 6-12" " across the entire property. For example in the screenshots below I used google earth to give me a satelite image and plotted things out. Now when I went to apply it to the back yard and started to measure things out turns out that there is about a 3 -4 foot difference in the length of what google says was there and what was. I believe this came from the angle of the satellite. Anyhow, I went back and adjusted the image best I could to reflect what my measured values were but things weren't lining up. That was all this spring and since I had trees and stuff already on order the whole plan has been kinda messed up and things need to be re-inputted and a new plan created. It was only my first attempt so not going to give up on it but clearly what I was doing wasn't working out either and while the backyard if its off or lopsided I don't care as its meant to be more natural and chaotic looking when I do the front of my suburban property I want/need it to look professional. So I get the design principles patterns/ philosophies and how to create the plans (yes I know the plan below has shortcommings) but the transition from the paper/screen to the ground is what perplexes me.
I've tried a lot of different design methods and the one that works best for me is to go out and buy plants, seeds, root stock etc and then get busy putting them in a place where I likely won't step on them. Satellite maps are good for mapping out basic designs of larger landscapes, earthworks and water modeling. I say "basic" because they are often off by many feet in all three dimensions. I know for a fact that the height values are consistently erratic. Given that you won't be able to accurately design to your specifications digitally without some significant margin of error, I say just go out there and start planting stuff where it looks like it will fit.
Put in the largest tree species first as your Main Frame and then work around that. Obviously if you are planning earthworks,do that first. If it's just the planting you're concerned with, just start plopping things in. Keep in mind how big they get, what amount of light they need and what other plants are their buddies and you'll likely do just fine. Also remember that some things will thrive and some will die. You may want to transplant or replace something later so leave a little extra space for those possibilities. You may also wish to leave a little space available for future additions of things you haven't yet thought of.
I have write ups, pictures, sketches, "designs", maps of every sort and all the rest. I always end up deviating at least a little (often radically) from any plan I come up with. There's a lot of reasons for this but one of the main ones is that no map or photo is able to accurately describe the territory I'm working on. Now I'm more inclined to just set to work on something and see where it takes me.
If the original layout is off then the whole thing will be skewed. Getting the perimeter laid out properly will be extremely important. I used scrap pieces of tile and brick in a few locations and measured from all sides to help with some inconsistencies. If you thing the area is 60 feet across but measuring from both sides adds up to 64 feet, then something may be out of square. It's fairly common for property lines and fences to be off by more than a few degrees at a corner.
I would definitely get a 100' measuring tape and get physical numbers as opposed to using satellite data. I used to do house framing and I don't ever recall seeing a set of plans that didn't have at least one discrepancy from one page to the next. They measure from one side one one page, the other side one the next page and the two numbers are no where near the length of the side. If the professionals and their multi-thousand dollar programs have difficulty with this then you shouldn't feel too bad if you run into a few problems. Try to take a few measurements from one side to the other at intermediate points instead of just at the corners. Once you get numbers that are within your margin of error then the SketchUp model should work without any issues.
I zoomed in on a google earth image of my lot, saved it and started plunking circles in for trees, shrubs etc. The smaller stuff I can just make a list of what is beneficial to said tree. Things get changed, like when I impulsively bought 3 hardy orange and 2 dwarf strawberry arbutus trees that weren't on my design sketch. They had to go somewhere and my sketch had to change to accomodate them. But for me that's all part of the process. I've also measured my yard with a tape, so I can plunk those numbers onto the google earth picture too. I can see that being infinitely more difficult on a larger scale for a larger property.