DIY: Designing with Powerpoint

by Eric Johnson

If you’re a visual person, capturing your garden design ideas on paper helps you make the most of a space. You can plot the right number of plants for an area, play around with colors and establish the function and feel of your garden. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

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You can even create a garden plan in Microsoft Powerpoint, an accessible and versatile software program. It works well for creating a ground plan for new or existing garden projects. Here’s how I do it:

Create a blank canvas. Begin by opening a new document in Powerpoint. Name it what you wish and save it. Once you’ve determined the garden space you plan on designing (entry garden, sunny border, mailbox garden), take measurements of its length and width, any existing hardscape features (sidewalks, retaining walls, landscape boulders), and adjacent doors and windows. It’s also helpful to have a good idea of how much sunlight the space gets to help you pick plantings. To create a blank canvas for your design, go to the Design tab in the toolbar at the top of the Powerpoint window, then Slide Size, then Custom Slide Size and enter your basic length and width dimensions and click OK. I go with a simple 1 inch equals 1 foot ratio in my designs. Go to View and check Ruler and Gridlines to display both items to help you with your layout. Checking Guides will insert lines that divide your canvas in half.

Add the hardscapes. Begin by adding the hardscapes, both existing and imagined, to create a framework. Adding adjacent windows, if applicable, will help you plot shrubs or trees that could block views and any vertical elements that might go on a wall.

Use the Shapes tool to create the elements of your design. Go to Insert in the Toolbar, then Shapes, and explore the myriad of shapes to choose from. Locate a shape that most closely mimics your hardscape feature and select it. This will create a crosshairs icon controlled by your mouse that, when you click on the canvas, will create the shape. When you select the shape, you can move the shape around and small white circles will appear on the sides and corners that you can drag to change the dimensions. In the Format Shape tab, you can also enter the height and width of the shape. Using the gridlines and rulers as guides, position the hardscape element in the correct place on the canvas. Repeat with additional hardscape elements.

Filling shapes with photos is what brings the ground plan to life. Select a shape, then go to Shape Format, then Shape Fill, then Picture, and options to Insert Pictures will come up. If you have photos of your own to use, you can navigate to them on your computer. There is also the option to use stock images that come with Powerpoint. The Online Pictures option offers the most choices and will bring up options that have Creative Commons licenses and are free for personal use. I have always been able to find any plant variety I was searching for with this option. You can also search copyright-free websites for photos. After you have filled the shape with the photo, click on the shape and go to Picture Format. Click on the down arrow on the Crop icon, select the Fill option, then click the main Crop icon. This will keep the photo from not distorting in the shape.

Add the plants. Use the same process as adding hardscapes. Select shapes (I use the circle shape), size them to the plant’s mature dimensions, fill with a photo and begin playing with placing them in your landscape plan. You can label your elements by clicking on a shape and typing. You can also insert a text box and type. Then format the text to a size and color that contrasts the background. Adding a shadow often helps with this.

As you add hardscape elements and plants, you can layer them by selecting the shape, then selecting Format Shape, then Bring Forward and Bring to Front or select Send Backward and Send to Back. Add additional depth and a professional look to your elements by going to Picture Format and Shadow and applying a Drop Shadow. Play with increasing the size of the shadow to create a dramatic effect.

Designing this way promotes creativity as you can try things endlessly. Unfortunately, Powerpoint will not print out the gridlines on your plan, but you can add your own at the top of the plan by “tracing” the gridlines on screen by inserting the line shape and drawing lines over the grid.

 

Minneapolis-based Eric Johnson is a garden designer and writer.

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