A Garden Designer’s Favorite Tool Isn’t a Spade

Posted by Samantha Hyatt on 12/14/18 10:55 AM  |  5 min read time

I think when clients or suppliers walk into our studio at Ann-Marie Powell Gardens, they’re surprised to see so many screens. I can understand why people don’t consider garden design to be an IT-focused profession, but there is no denying that my colleagues and myself are working in Vectorworks most of the time. It’s always open on our Macs. In fact, to ensure accuracy we keep all our schedules, plans, and drawings in Vectorworks files for as long as we can and only export them when the time comes to share information.


Katarina Ollikainen designing in Vectorworks.

At Ann-Marie Powell Gardens, we’re always trying to find new ways to ease our client’s journey through the design and build process. One of our most important jobs is to illustrate our design in order to accurately relay our ideas to the client and, of course, to manage expectations. By using Vectorworks, we can illustrate several different solutions as well as test and show how levels and spaces work together. When a person works in landscape all day long, it’s easy to read a flat plan and imagine what it will look like on a 20-degree slope, but this is very difficult if you’re not used to it. 

One of my favorite things in Vectorworks is the ability to build up the site model. This very powerful tool allows for developing and testing your design as soon as you have a project site with 3D levels. At Ann-Marie Powell Gardens, we put substantial hours of work into making sure our designs actually deliver in real life and are ‘buildable.’ As part of this process, we create drawings, schedules, and specifications of all the components in the garden. Without Vectorworks this would be a very time-consuming affair. Being able to package our production drawings also helps us cross reference all the different aspects of a build, making it easier to avoid costly problems before they appear.

Another thing I should mention is the plant tool. At Ann-Marie Powell Gardens we have developed our own library of favorite plants, which is starting to approach 1,000 at the moment. This database really is the best tool of all, enabling us to produce beautiful and accurate planting schemes together with schedules of all the planting borders of our gardens. This in-house resource allows us to play around with plant combinations, move trees and shrubs easily to see what effect they will give, and have a handle on the costs for planting at every stage of the project, all of which adds value for our end user, our client.

One of the biggest misconceptions about working in an environment like Vectorworks is that it’s restricting. If you learn even the basics of this amazing software, it stops being an obstacle and instead becomes a fabulous way to play with all the tools in a designer’s toolbox — from space and void, light and shadow, restraint and opulence, to vistas and hidden surprises.

I feel like I’m creating a whole world when I build something in Vectorworks. To me, it has all the excitement and opportunity of a grown-up’s Minecraft! Within the program, we can create landscapes with amazing buildings, lakes, and nestled walkways. We can make small city gardens come to life — sparkling jewels in a theoretical world — or create imagined country gardens with sweeping lawns, pergolas, seating areas, and hammocks to spend lazy afternoons.

Considered the ‘Vectorworks techie’ by my colleagues, I was thrilled to attend the Vectorworks’ annual meeting in London recently so I could bring the highlights back to the studio. Adrian and Tamsin Slatter, the directors of sales and customer success of Vectorworks UK, had put together a fascinating day filled with speakers from an array of interesting firms with different disciplines in design. It was fascinating to hear these companies share their different experiences on how they are using Vectorworks to create workflows that service their clients in the best way possible. Representatives from the Vectorworks headquarters in the U.S. also showcased some of the new tools available in the new release of Vectorworks 2019. My favorite features are the ability to search classes and layers (I know, it sounds nerdy, but it is such a useful tool in my daily workflow!) and the improved clip cube and 2D components for hybrid objects.

Back at the studio we are already putting these new features into practice. It enhances my day to be able to use a program I trust and enjoy when delivering our gardens to our suppliers, architects, and of course our clients.

Learn More About Vectorworks 2019

*This content was originally published by Katarina Ollikainen, senior designer, Ann-Marie Powell Gardens Ltd. on Ann-Marie Powell Gardens’ blog.

Topics: Adrian Slatter, Site Modeling, Tamsin Slatter, Vectorworks, Clip Cube, Vectorworks UK, vectorworks 2019, 2D components for hybrid objects, Ann-Marie Powell Gardens, plant tool, Katarina Ollikainen

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