Vectorworks Drawings – creating precision draughtsmanship

CAD for Garden Design

Table of Contents

An overview of the professional CAD software used by the landscape industry

Computer Aided Landscape Design

What is CAD?

For the uninitiated, CAD or Computer Aided Design is now a big part of a landscape designer’s repertoire. 

Not every designer uses them, in fact, some of the most famous designers such as Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith still do hand-drawn plans. 

But CAD drawings are now becoming more and more important, especially for the contractor who now wants accurate garden schematics.

Our choice of CAD software

There are a number of different CAD software providers on the market from AutoCAD to Revit and the ubiquitous SketchUp. 

Each has its merits, but our own personal preference is Vectorworks.

Considered the industry standard landscape design tool it has a number of amazing features which makes it ideal to create every aspect of your perfect garden.

Designing in 3D

A garden is a 3D sculpture

The design of a garden should never be just about the plan.

It should be a reflection of what the garden will look like as a completed three-dimensional design.

Designing with 2D/3D hybrid software

At Jon Norman Garden Design, we create all our designs with Vectorworks drawings.

One of the major advantages of this type of program is that the 2D plan can also be viewed as a 3D model.

The 3D model can then be manipulated within the program to create:

  • Millimetre accurate plans,
  • Construction drawings and details,
  • Section drawings,
  • Planting plans and
  • Photographic rendered 3D views

Creating the Design with CAD

Adding the Survey

Adding the Survey

Our design process begins by adding your garden survey into a new Vectorworks file.

Creating a Site model

Depending on the survey technique used, ground elevations are shown as either contours or spot heights.  These are added to each of our Vectorworks drawings to create a site model

  • This is a 2D/3D representation of your site. 
  • In plan view, the survey displays a contour map.
    The arrows represent the slope of the site.
  • In 3D view, these contours are converted into a terrain model.

Terrain maps, buildings and trees

In addition to the slope details of the site, it is useful to add existing buildings, trees and other features to the plan.

This helps us visualise the entire local area around your garden.  Your neighbour’s houses, trees in your vicinity or other items in your field of view.

Adding a terrain map

To help us judge the local area, a terrain map is added to a new layer in Vectorworks (right of the image shown). 

This can be provided by a surveyor or can be imported from Google maps or other topographical sources

Adding existing buildings and trees

Now the terrain map has been added it can be used to plot existing trees and neighbourhood buildings.

For these features, we use some of the 2D/3D hybrid tools available in Vectorworks drawings.  These display an object as a 2D symbol in plan view, and a physical three-dimensional entity when viewed in 3D.

Image on the left
Image above

Above: Plan view of buildings or massing models (shown in grey) and existing tree symbols (circles).

Below: In the same image shown in 3D, the massing model symbols become physical buildings, and the existing tree symbols become representations of 3D tree shapes.

Notice that we can now visualise the entire local landscape.

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Shadow Maps

How sun and shade affects your plants

Shade and sun have more influence on the design of a garden than any other aspect.

Plants that have evolved to survive in shady growing conditions and will suffer or die if they are planted in a sunny position.

Sun and shade also affect materials

Decks placed in a shady area can become slippy and are more liable to rot. The hot sun could dry out small water features such as lily bowls. 

These and other aspects are where an accurate sun and shade map is an essential feature of the garden plan.

How are shadow maps displayed?

Within Vectorworks there is a light source known as a Heliodon. This generates a virtual sun within the design. This is given the precise latitude and longitude values of your home and creates accurate shadows on the plan.

These can be adjusted to display the sun’s position at any time of day and at any date in the yearly calendar.

Thus we have an accurate way to determine the shadiest and sunniest areas on your site and everything in between.

The House and Boundaries

Matching the house to the garden

One of the most important aspects of creating a garden is to ensure it blends effectively with your property.

We, therefore, take the time to create an accurate model of your house so that we can see how it will look once all the paving, planting and other structures are added to the site.

The view from the window

Also, an accurate house model means we can see what your garden will look like from inside your property.

This is important as the most common view you will have of your garden is when you look out of your kitchen or living room window.

Building the house and boundaries

Vectorworks drawings come with a set of architectural tools which enable us to add fences, hedges, walls, windows, doors, floors, ceilings and roofs.

1. We initially begin by creating the ground floor of the building.

2. We then add the second floor and the roof.

3. Finally, we add the house boundary using the wall, fence tools or hedging objects.

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Designing with a grid

Linking the house and garden?

There is a distinct link between a house and a garden. The house is realistically the largest element in any garden and therefore should have the most influence on the design.

Failure to connect the house and garden often leads to a disjointed and unsatisfying garden space.

Implementing a grid on the plan

A professional garden designer will use a grid to structure the garden. The size of the grid is based on the most noticeable aspects of the house, perhaps the porch or a conservatory.

This is then laid over the garden plan and is used to help generate the final design.

Grid-based solutions

Here are a few garden designs we have created that successfully use this grid-based system. They range from small courtyard gardens to larger country estates.

Compact courtyard with a precise grid
The width of the rear door to the garden is used as the dimensions of the grid. The garden is then bought alive by strict adherence to this grid pattern.
Medium garden with an offset grid
This garden uses a grid based on the size of the downstairs windows. This is then offset by 45° to make the best use of the irregularly shaped plot. In so doing it makes the garden look much longer than it is.
Large estate with increasing grid sizes

With a large garden, there are different zones of influence for the house.

  • Closer to the house, features such as doors, windows, or porches are prominent.
  • Further away from the house, the building as a whole becomes the influence of the design.
  • At greater distances, the house loses all influence and the garden then becomes more natural in its look.

Different-sized grids are used at periodic intervals to reflect this.

Construction Drawings and Planting Plans

Construction and Cascade Drawings

Construction drawings are cross-sections and isometric diagrams of garden elements whilst Cascade drawings detail the garden measurements, slope gradients and drainage features.

We have already covered these in this blog: Construction and Cascade Drawings 

Plant plans

Vectorworks drawings can also contain detailed plant plans and plant data info sheets.  

We have detailed how this works in this blog: Plant Plans

Contour maps, levels and drainage

Contour maps and levels

Depending on the size of the site and the work being done, it may be necessary to create a contour map showing changes in elevation (or levels) between the existing site and the proposed design.

Vectorworks has built-in tools to create these changes.


Drainage is of utmost importance to any garden design.

  • Water needs to flow away from the house and be siphoned off large patio areas.
  • Vectorworks also comes with a series of drainage tools.

A design example

In the set of following examples  – we use a very simple back garden design to show how the 2D/3D process works step by step.

1. The Base Plan

The image to the right shows a site model, a simple house, and a fenced garden shown in both 2D plan and 3D view.

2. The Design in 2D

Initially, we create your garden in 2D.  We start with a hand-drawn sketch as the fluidity of pencil on paper helps to visualise the design.

We then transfer this design into Vectorworks, initially as a series of coloured shapes.  This allows us to see if the design is still viable from our original pencil sketch.

3. Use of hybrid symbols

Now we are satisfied with the plan, we convert our base shapes into 2D/3D hybrid symbols and at this point, the garden begins to come alive.

In the image on the right, we see two views of the proposed garden. The paving has been created along with grass, stepping stones, a pergola and flower beds. The hole in the ground is where a pool will go.  For the moment it appears empty but will fill with water once we show the garden in a higher quality render.

4. Adding plants, trees and furniture

With this basic garden view, we can then complete the overall design by adding plants and trees as well as furniture such as tables and sofas. 

Note:  The plants and trees in this design are simply there as placeholders and will be refined to specific varieties in a later design phase.

At this point we can now create full 3D renders of your garden so you can get an idea of how it will look.

Videos and VR

As you have seen, Vectorworks landscape is a very powerful design tool. This helps us create accurate 2D and 3D views of your garden, plant plans as well as construction and cascade drawings.

However to help you truly visualise a design, Vectorworks can create fly-through movies of your garden. A short (slightly low quality) demonstration video of a fly-through is shown below.

In addition to this, you can download an app for your mobile phone which will allow you to view a 3D model as an in-situ virtual reality experience.

Chat to us about your dream garden project

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