View Full Version : Software to map a garden

10-09-2013, 04:15 PM
(hopefully this is in the correct category)

I have no prior experience of Cartography or mapping of any kind - save, maps.google and geocaching (which I accept are nothing alike - but I hope you better understand my starting postion).

I'm after some advice on software suitable to map a substantial garden - about 2 acres (so tiny in the world of maps). I'd like to accurately map this land including contours if possible, but mainly to catalogue the trees and other plants which reside within it.

Ideally I'd like to be able to manage this on-line, and (again) ideally from my own Apache server (and since I have some PHP knowlege that would be my preference) - it would be ace/brill (or "sick" as the youths say) if it could handle chronological changes too.

Since I obviously have no experience of this, any advice would be helpful - especially if somebody could balance my expectations against the task ahead of me.

thanks in advance,

10-09-2013, 04:37 PM
The easiest way to map your garden is by using a GPS device (eg a Leica), assuming you are not in an urban area. For this you need Autocad - you can download a trial version for free I think. Assuming this is out of your comfort zone, you need to go old school: measuring tapes, grid-paper, and a pencil, a line-level and a plumb bob.

Step 1: map your garden on paper. Set up a base-line with wooden stakes running EXACTLY N-S through the middle of the garden, a stake each 50m point. Hammer a nail in each stake getting even more accurately 50m apart. This is your baseline grid. Then set up a couple of grids at right angle, using TRIANGULATION (Pythagoras' theorem) so you have some EW grid stakes, again each 50m apart. You can do all this in one day with three people over 2ha but it is HARD work - you need 2 50m tapes and one 100m tape, lots of string, stakes, nails, a big hammer, and A LEVEL GARDEN WITH FEW OBSTRUCTIONS. (If this is not going to happen hire a bloke to do a land survey with a LEICA GPS device as above.) Grid set up, draw your grid points on a your grid paper (go with a 1:100 scale for 2ha), stretch four 50m tapes across four stakes around one grid square and start drawing square by square. To get your contour levels use a known point, plumb bob and level line (needs two people!) to build up a painstaking picture of your changing levels across the site (& wish you had just invested in the Leica hire for a day!).

Step 2: digitise. There are a number of ways of you can do this, but you are looking for 1) a free programme, 2) an easy to use programme, and 3) a VECTOR-based programme for your contours. Try inkscape (easy) or Google Sketchup free version (better, but more complicated).

Hope it helps. I map stuff like this a lot (archaeologist).

10-09-2013, 05:36 PM

Thanks for the reply..... it's a steady slope throughout the length of the garden and is far from an empty field - containing it's fair share of trees and large bushes as well as two streams and a number of outbuildings - I suspect this is not going to be easy ;(

Either way, thanks for the advise. I've already emailed a surveying company to start that ball rolling, fingers crossed it wont cost the earth; else it'll be tap measures and stakes a-plenty... ;)

Looks like I have some researching to do too - so, many thnks for the info above - with luck I'll be able to show you how I got on.

10-10-2013, 04:47 AM
Good move. Make sure to specify the error margin (a building survey with an error margin of 0.5mm is three times the price of a rough survey with an error margin of 10mm) - ie tell them you want a cheaper rougher survey - make sure to specify the contours, and then ask for the resulting survey files in both Autocad and PDF format. You will be able to look at both and work on them for free so don't buy any fancy programmes.

10-18-2013, 04:34 AM
Another free alternative to Autocad is Draftsight. Draftsight is geared towards your basic computer drafting (equivalent to AutoCAD LT) and it will feel similar to older versions of AutoCAD. AutoCAD comes in many different flavors but now emphasizes its modeling capabilities (despite its 2D drafting roots). Sketchup, in my mind, has always tried to be the 'easy' 3D modeler, and although its capabilities as a drafting program are sometimes disguised by the interface, it can be powerful in its simplicity.

Also, I am not sure where you are at, but if you are in the US (and the survey is too costly) you might be able to get some elevation data on your land from your County. Maybe try their website for GIS maps, and see if they have elevation data. It won't be be exact (2-ft or 5-ft contour lines at best), but it could give you somewhere to start when compiling your own data.

I am also interested in how this will turn out. Good Luck!

10-18-2013, 08:05 AM
RedKettle, does the free version of Draftsight allow you to open and edit all (including the latest 2013 versions) of autocad files?

10-20-2013, 05:38 PM
RedKettle, does the free version of Draftsight allow you to open and edit all (including the latest 2013 versions) of autocad files?

Not sure, and it looks unlikely. The version I have installed is not the latest and greatest, and it only handles 2010 versions and before.

From the web:

Draftsight FAQ -
DWG and DXF files are versioned, which versions can DraftSight read and write?
Via the ODA libraries noted above as of October 2011, DraftSight can read .dwg and .dxf file versions as early as 2.5 and can save to any version from R12 to 2010.

Wikipedia -
DraftSight allows users to access DWG/DXF files, regardless of which CAD software was originally used to create them, except AutoCAD 2013 and later... ...As stated on its home page, DraftSight uses Teigha Classic for .dwg files and Teigha for .dwg files specifications from the Open Design Alliance to interpret the dwg-file format.

Based on that I would say it is unlikely the 2013 version is supported. I have been meaning to install the latest Draftsight but probably won't for another few months. I can report back when I do. Also, if you actually go to the ODA website it looks like they have info available for the 2013 version, so if it is not yet supported in the latest version of Draftsight it could be eventually.

Finally, I stumbled across a list of the different drafting programs on Wikipedia, and that has other free alternatives to AutoCAD. LibreCAD (QCAD?), FreeCAD, and SolveSpace are what I saw when quickly perusing the list, and it may be worth the time to look into some of those as well.


10-21-2013, 02:39 PM
Well I don't use CAD, rather vector drawing software called Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9 which is $89 software, but I use it for all my maps (for real and imagined locations) and I'm convinced it would be a great tool for landscape artists. If you access to photo images of trees and such from various CAD applications they should be able to import fine, otherwise there are various sources for plant objects to place in your map. I actually use the Pro version, but you won't need that for doing just maps. You can look at all my various photo-realistic maps to get a feel for what you can do.

Here's a link to the free 30 day trial software: Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9 (http://site.xara.com/affiliate/code.asp?id=859297&prod=PhotoGraphicDesigner&type=text) (note this is a link to a affiliate link).

10-21-2013, 05:42 PM
As I see it, you've got three main kinds of software you could look at.

CAD, GIS, and Graphics software.

CAD has been addressed, and Gameprinter has pointed out one Graphics tool you could use. Inkscape is another one, and has the advantage of being free and multiplatform.

GIS tools are what are used for real world maps and managing geographic information. Roughly speaking, CAD tools are focused on things that are self contained, while GIS tools are concerned with things that have a specific location on the surface of the Earth. (Obviously there's a bit of blurring together in the middle.) Free GIS software is available (I work for a company that supports and develops Open Source GIS Software). QuantumGIS is the big name in FOSS Desktop GIS. Adding the geospatial component does add complexity, but on the other hand, Web based GIS is well established so if you want to make this thing web accessible as you've described, then GIS has an edge there. Handling changes over time is also something GIS toolsets often support.

If you got professionals to survey your existing garden and want to use GIS, then you'd probably want to get the results in the form of "shapefiles" which are the de facto standard for vector GIS data. You can also often get GIS data (Vector shapefiles, raster DEMs and orthophotos, etc) from various levels of government, though it varies from place to place what's available.

Practically speaking, a vector graphics editor is probably more than enough, and GIS or CAD is overkill. But sometimes overkill is fun.

05-08-2014, 06:57 PM
Following this thread with interest. I'd love to hear more about how JackTannery does his archaeological maps!

05-09-2014, 08:55 AM
Yes, I always thought it would make for a good monthly challenge to map something local and real and as yet unmapped. Something like a large garden or a park or something like that so as to get familiar with real world mapping techniques. Of course having an access to a commercial grade / Leica type GPS would be a huge advantage so maybe that may have to be rules out but handheld GPS's and laser pointers should be ok. I always found it interesting when I downloaded the tracks from my little GPS and overlaid them on real maps to see how far out some of the maps were. With OS maps the old red ones were ok but a little out occasionally, the new orange ones are dead on perfect every time. Shows how technology has improved the process no end. I think a Jack Tut on the archaeology process would be fascinating !

05-09-2014, 10:23 AM
Lol. Here's an archaeological plan I drew last week at St. James' Gate in Dublin, showing a series of mid-18th foundations and a watercourse.



05-09-2014, 10:26 AM
And here's an early medieval farmstead I excavated a few years back.






05-09-2014, 12:15 PM
That is just so cool! How was the farmstead discovered?

05-09-2014, 12:56 PM
I excavated some test-trenches on the site, found some ditches seeming to make a circle and decided (correctly, for once) that it was a farmstead c. 700 AD. Then I got a team of archaeologists and excavated it - very fun!

05-10-2014, 09:12 PM
I am not worthy! You do realise you have one of the coolest jobs on earth?

05-11-2014, 08:52 AM
It's only cool until it rains!