Tag: Landscape Design

California Drought Prompts Landscape Redesign

https://pixabay.com/en/cacti-flora-flowers-pot-pot-plants-1846147/California is now in its fourth year of a drought state- one so extreme that Governor Jerry Brown has recently declared a statewide drought emergency which asks all Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. This drought is not solely limited to California, but is happening throughout the nation and worldwide. You know the importance of reduction, but still may be asking the question of how can I cut back?

I recently had the chance to sit down with Julie Bonsack, a Senior Account Executive and vital member of the SmartDraw team for nearly a decade, to discuss her recently implemented plan to reduce water consumption in her own backyard.

Julie Backyard 1

Julie’s backyard remodel

Julie Backyard 2

Spacing is key for this underwater world design!

What prompted your recent landscape renovation?

I had an empty space that needed lots of water and was also decaying. It required some much needed attention. My Homeowners Association (HOA) had specific restrictions and allowances which I needed to abide by- namely, the majority of the landscape was to be drought tolerant.

How did you create your landscape design?

I used lots of layering. I knew that I would need many layers to organize my diagram, so in my first layer, I inserted a PDF of my lot of land. In my next layer, I drew lines over the PDF that represented the specific dimensions of my backyard. I continued with each layer until I had my entire diagram built.

Screenshot of Julie Diagram no underline red marks

SmartDraw Tip: You can insert as many layers as needed into your landscape diagram. Navigate to the Page tab, select Layers, then select New Layer. This adds an additional layer to your diagram.

Screenshot of SmartDraw Layers- Where to find

How long did your project take, from initial idea through to completion?

My renovation took 45 days in total. After a town hall meeting with my HOA in May, I learned about the requirements for my backyard. I immediately began to research. During a recent visit to Quail Gardens in Encinitas, CA, I took photos of a number of drought tolerant plants and environmentally friendly designs. Upon returning home to San Diego, I sorted through the photos and developed a loose idea of how I wanted my backyard to look.

As my expertise is not in landscape, I found a local nursery that assisted in bringing my thoughts to a reality. Once the design had been drawn up by the nursery, I incorporated this into my SmartDraw diagram and presented the final draft to my HOA. Immediately my design was approved, and construction began at the end of June. The project was completely finished by July.

How has this renovation helped your neighborhood in the current California drought?

  • It has dramatically reduced our water cost. Our neighborhood shares a single water meter, and the HOA pays the bill. There have been no complaints by the HOA since our recent renovation, and you know what they say- “no news is good news!”
  • My water usage has reduced dramatically. I use a drip system, which means that I do not have to use any sprinklers!
  • My property borders a common sidewalk and vista point that many of my neighbors use to walk their dogs, jog, etc. Any person passing by can see my renovation. I ultimately designed our backyard to look like an underwater world, so the result has been a more appealing scenery to view.

Were there any symbols within your diagram that you needed to create manually?

One symbol that I created manually was the planter “mounds” that are seen at the top of my drawing. As this is a top-down view of my backyard, I needed to find a way to illustrate that these mounds had different elevations, so I used the symbol called ‘Oval Planter Box’ three times, then grouped them all together. I gave each oval a different color (darker to lighter on top) and different shape (larger to smaller on top) to indicate a change in elevation.

What advice do you have to people who want to use SmartDraw to complete their renovation?

I highly recommend using the Layers feature within SmartDraw. This helped me to organize my diagram and to keep things separate. For example, I have an entire layer that is dedicated to the names of each plant or object within my landscape. This allowed me to space everything within my diagram to scale without worrying about the overlap of plants with text.

For anyone who wishes to conserve water on their own property, what advice would you have for them?

  • Research, research, research. I looked at many plants and designs to find exactly what fits my style and area.
  • I recommend taking photos of yards and meeting with a number of designers.
  • Also, remember that your plants will grow over time, which ultimately reduces the number of plants and other scenery that you need to purchase. Keep this in mind also when drawing up your design- spacing is key!

Do you have ideas on how to combat this extreme drought that California faces? Please comment below.

Turning Vines Into Wines, One Vineyard at a Time


As a wine enthusiast I am excited to share a recent discovery of some amazing work done by a local San Diego business owner, Greg Maness and his investment partner, John Keily, at Maness Vineyards Estate & Casi Cielo Farm.   I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Greg to learn more about a new vineyard design he was able to achieve using SmartDraw.  In this week’s blog post, we’ll see how Maness Vineyards is helping San Diego turn vines into wines, one vineyard at a time.

Can you tell me about Maness Vineyards?

We install turn-key professionally designed vineyards.  We sell vines, consult on vineyard design, oversee installation and provide vineyard maintenance services.  We can also recommend all the proper equipment, tools, and the best organic fertilizers necessary to maintain a worry-free vineyard.  We’ve consulted on vineyards throughout San Diego County.

Why were you looking for a new design tool?

I draw all of our vineyard designs by hand.  I always have.  I recently shared one of my hand drawn vineyard designs to an electrical company for review.  They were surprised at the format and refused to work with us.  I was embarrassed. The embarrassment angered me enough to find a software I could use.  That’s when I found SmartDraw.

Why did you choose SmartDraw?

You guys rock!  I watched a few videos, downloaded the trial, and played with it.  I knew . . . I gotta have it.  It’s flexible, easy to use.  It gave me access to tons of symbols. I have the ability to create layers, apply textures and colors to objects, and I can display dimensions.

What is the “Revolver Vineyard”?

The Revolver Vineyard is the new addition to the expanding Highway 94 Wine Corridor in Jamul, California.  The Revolver Vineyard design is an example of the new design concept that we are exploring at Maness Vineyards.  It’s where vineyards are shaped as objects rather than the traditional square or rectangle shapes.  Overtime the vineyards will mature and when viewed via satellite from Google Earth the vineyards will appear as shapes.  When I shared my SmartDraw diagram of the revolver design with the owners of the vineyard, they flipped out. They absolutely loved it.

Maness Revolver Vineyard

Click to view the Revolver Vineyard design in a pdf.

How did you create the “Revolver Vineyard” design?

You’ve gotta think outside the box.  I wasn’t able to find an existing outline of a revolver in the Symbol Library, so I used the Line tool at the top.  From the straight to curve to freehand, I was able to draw what I needed.  To top it off I did it all to scale since SmartDraw allows you the option to draw with the dimensions displayed.  I also like using the fill-in color choice when adding water lines on the vineyards.

With whom do you share your vineyard designs?

Our team is responsible for design, installation management, consulting, and maintenance education & services.  Yet, we are not alone. We work closely with landscaping and excavation teams as well as companies whose expertise range from soil analysis and Organic Fertilizer recommendations to functional water saving drip irrigation systems with seasonal timer controls.  With SmartDraw, I can easily export my .sdr files into a pdf that I can send via email.  It’s that simple.

What happens when vineyard installation is complete?

We have a big celebration where we present the owners of the new vineyard with a gift.  In the past, I’ve framed my hand drawn vineyard designs.  Now that I have SmartDraw, I’ll be framing our SmartDraw vineyard designs for all of our new vineyard owners.

Greg Maness presenting the Revolver Vineyard design to the new proud owners of the vineyard.
Greg Maness presenting the SmartDraw diagram of the Revolver Vineyard design to the new proud owners of the vineyard.

You’ve had SmartDraw for 90 days now, how would you rate it?

I’m getting a bit more used to the features.  Yet, I would rate the product a 10 out of 10!  I won’t draw another vineyard design without it.

Any advice for new SmartDraw users or potential customers?

To be honest, I am not really good with technology.  So far, I love SmartDraw. The software is easy to use and you get some great results.  There’s lots of cool stuff.  It’s worth every nickel.

Do You Have a Story You’d Like to Share?

How do you use SmartDraw?  I’d love to hear your story. I’m always intrigued to find out how other members of the SmartDraw community are using it.  Send me an email at rjbitner@smartdraw.com.

Landscape Design Basics: 3 Steps for First Time Homeowners


After living in our first home for two years, my boyfriend and I have finally gotten our backyard prepped and ready for landscaping.  We have spent the last two years resloping the entire backyard which was initially sloping towards the house causing water damage to our wood floors inside. At last, we are to a point where we are ready to have sod laid. We are looking forward to looking out to our backyard and seeing green rather than dead boring brown dirt.  I have created a series of diagrams that we plan use to build the backyard of our dreams.

STEP #1: Create a Diagram of Your Current Landscape Design

Before Landscape Design

SmartDraw Tip: You’ll notice that the side of the house has dirt in a unique shape. In SmartDraw you can only “fill” a closed off object with a color. To fill the backyard and side of the house brown I used a combination of shapes. 

SideyardI created the shape of the side yard by using two rectangles.  A wider rectangle at the bottom and a thinner rectangle at the top right.  In order for the shapes to appear “seamless”, I made sure to not only “fill” them with the same color, but I also changed the line color to be the same color as the fill.  As you can see in the below picture there is a gold glow around the perimeter of the rectangle placed on the top right, showing that they are two separate shapes:

Border Glow

But as soon as I deselect the rectangle, they look seamless, as if they were a single object.  Refer to diagram below.

Seamless Border

STEP #2: Determine the Gas Line, Sprinklers, and Drip System Design

We have had quite some time to think about what our ideal backyard would be. Initially, we wanted it all . . . a pool, a spa, a fire pit, and the list goes on.  But of course, we needed to take in to account not only the financial implications, but our space restrictions.  Could we fit a pool, spa, and fire pit? Yes, but would we have room for anything else?  So, we downsized our initial plans and decided to go with the fire pit with a gazebo.

With a variety of fire pits to choose from: portable, built-in, wood burning, or gas, we decided to go with a built in gas fire pit with glass rocks. In turn, we would need to determine the location of our gas lines, sprinklers, and drip system before any of the landscaping can begin.  I used the current backyard landscape design diagram to display where the gas line, sprinklers and drip system will need to go.

Sprinkler & Gas Line Drawing

SmartDraw Tip: I used the Layers feature to create the sprinkler layout. The Layers feature allows me to create the design elements in a single layer.  They can be that is to be display or viewed when needed.   To create a layer navigate to the Page Ribbon’s Layers drop-down menu.  Select New Layer.


When you select this option a small dialog box will appear that allows you to name your layer and apply properties.  Click OK.

Add New Layer

Note: The term “Visible” means that regardless of which layer you are on you will be able to see any objects placed on that layer.  The term “Clickable” means that regardless of which layer you are on, you will be able to select and move any objects placed on that layer.  You can change the properties of the layers at any time. In fact, I continuously toggle them on and off depending on what I want to display or do with my diagram.  You can toggle the properties of the layer on and off by right clicking the tab associated with that layer that appears at the bottom of your work area.  You can see below my two layers for my landscape visual (Gas, Sprinklers and Drip & Landscape Design):

Layer Tab

STEP #3: Finalize Your Dream Backyard Landscape Design

After the gas line, sprinklers and drip system are all in place, it will be time to pour cement. Once the cement is poured we are going to have some stone work done. We are choosing to do this prior to laying the sod because there will be a lot of traffic coming in and out of the yard. Once the flag stone is set, we can start in on the rest of the yard.

After Landscape Design

SmartDraw Tip: In addition to the wide variety of color options, SmartDraw also provides you with the option to fill objects with “texture”. The textures range from grass and wood grain to fabric and stone.


SmartDraw Tip: You can also import your own custom images if you cannot find the correct texture or symbol already existing in SmartDraw.  I did this with the flag stone used in my final landscape design.  First, save the image to your computer. In the Insert Ribbon, select Picture.   You can then browse your machine for the image you want to insert.  Once the image has been inserted into the work area you can then resize it. 

Insert Picture

SmartDraw Tip: You can save an imported image into your Symbol Library. To do this, drag and drop the symbol into the library. The SmartDraw dialogue box appears.  Click OK. In the Edit Symbol dialog box (see below) enter the appropriate value in the Symbol Name field. Change settings as you see fit. Click OK.  That newly saved symbol will now live at the bottom of your Symbol Library.

Edit Symbol

Where We Are Today

That’s where our landscape design ends for now. I’m sure we will be continuously adding, rearranging and upgrading.  We have learned that owning a home is expensive, time consuming, yet very rewarding.

To learn more about landscape designs, read a few of our other blog posts Save Water with These 5 Landscape Planning Tips,  Cut Through Landscape Planning Red Tape with SmartDraw, and Can a Good Landscape Design Increase Home Value?

Can a Good Landscape Design Increase Home Value?


According to landscape economist, John A. Harris, good landscaping can add up to 28% to the overall value of a home and it can cut the home’s time on the market 10% to 15%.  In addition, if you take your landscaping to the next level, upgrading it from a “good” to “excellent,” in terms of design, condition and placement, you can add 6% to 7% to the value of a home, according to a Clemson University study that was funded by the Horticulture Research Institute.

Whether you’re planning on enhancing your curb appeal, creating an outdoor living space, seeking the approval of your homeowners association (HOA), or are simply wanting to put your ideas down on paper, SmartDraw has what you need to get started.

Landscape Design Category

The Landscape Design Category contains a number of sub-categories that range from residential to commercial landscaping templates and sample diagrams.  Depending on the type of landscape project, you can easily begin by leveraging an existing template or a blank work area or import existing blue prints of your property.

Landscape Design Category’s Sub-Category List*

  • Residential
  • Office Building
  • Deck Plans
  • Patios
  • Parks
  • Picnic Areas
  • Pools
  • Yard

*Note: Each sub-category contains a folder of templates and sample diagrams.


SmartDraw Tip:  In the Left Panel of the Category Screen, select Landscape Design.  The Landscape Design Template sub-categories will appear in the body of the screen, known as the Category Preview.  You have option to leverage an existing template or select the “Blank” template, highlighted by the blue box in the diagram above.

Landscape Symbol Libraries

When you select any of the Landscape Design sub-categories, the Symbol Library defaults to a library that is relevant to the category you have selected.  If you require a symbol that does not already exist in the library displayed, you can access more than 24,000 symbols in the Symbol Library using the Add Symbols feature (as shown below).

landscape library

SmartDraw Tip:  To access the Symbol Library, navigate to the Library tab located to the right of the SmartPanel.  Select the Add Symbols drop-down arrow, select More.  Enter the appropriate criteria in the Search field. Click Search.  Once you’ve located the appropriate set of symbols, click OK.  The Symbol Library will display in the Library to the left of the Work Area and the More Symbols window will close.

Residential Front Yard Landscape Diagram

front yard

SmartDraw Tip:  Before you begin your design, it is a best practice to determine the functionality of the space.  This will aide in determining the design elements that are to be included.  Keep in mind that the labels assigned to each of the symbols found in the Symbol Library may not be intuitive to your audience.  With that said, you will see that each species of plant is labeled accordingly.  

Adding Texture

The more detail you include in your landscape design, the better sense you will have in ensuring the cohesiveness of the space.  With SmartDraw, you can go beyond a simple drawing you can enhance your designs with texture.


SmartDraw Tip:  To add texture to your landscape design, select the object you wish to add texture.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon, select Fill.  In the Fill menu, select Texture then More Textures.  The Select a Texture window appears (as shown above).   Navigate to the appropriate texture, click OK.  The texture will be added to the object that was selected and the Select a Texture window will close.

Residential Backyard Landscape Diagram


SmartDraw Tip: When designing your landscape diagram, it is important to determine your audience.  This will guide you to the level of detail you will need to include.  

Making Objects Transparent

By making large design elements, such as trees, transparent you are able to reveal smaller elements below.  For example, have an extra large magnolia tree (as shown above) that has been made transparent in order to display the greenery below.


SmartDraw Tip:  Before an object can be made transparent it must first have a color applied to it.  Select the object you wish to make transparent.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon, select Fill.   Located below the Standard Colors bar you will find the Transparency menu.  Select the appropriate level of transparency. 

Residential Landscape Diagram and Plant List

In addition to the landscape design diagram, we have included a plant list table.  Not only does this table function as a key to all the greenery it also indicates the greenery botanical names, common name, quantity, and size.  This level of detail would be relevant when determining your budget, placing your nursery order, and collaborating with a professional landscaper.


Displaying Dimensions

The landscape design (as shown above) does not display the dimensions of the space.  Since the focus of the landscape diagram is to identify the elements of the design, it would be distracting to include them.  However, including dimensions may prove valuable especially when calculating costs and placing final orders.


SmartDraw Tip: Select the object you wish to display the dimensions.  Navigate to the Design Ribbon, select Dimensions.  In the Show Dimensions section, you will discover that you have three options.   Select “Never to never display the dimension of the object even if you select it.  Select “Only When Selected” if you wish to display the dimensions only when you select the object while in the Work Area.   Select “Always” to display the dimensions of the object at all times.  

Cut Through Landscape Planning Red Tape with SmartDraw

Original SmartDraw Image

HOA Roadblocks

I bought a home where the backyard was a disaster and the front would need some work as well. I went in knowing I had a project ahead, but then I found out the Homeowners Association (HOA) rules looked as complicated as the U.S. Tax Code. My first road block was reading the rules.  Sure, I should have read all 184 pages of the CC&Rs but the first few paragraphs resulted in a coma inducing face-plant. In short, the HOA requires the submission of landscape planning diagrams prior to any changes made to the landscape of homes in the neighborhood.  The next road block was having to create a packet that would include the design and it’s relation to the house, elevation, plant mapping, detailed identification, cement plans, and other external structure documentation.  In addition, the packet would have to be reviewed and signed off by each of my surrounding neighbors.

The final road block, to be able to improve my own yard, was the submission of the packet of landscape planning diagrams to the HOA Board and Architectural Review. For an average homeowner in the modern day, the pomp and circumstance of an HOA board meeting is probably the closest thing to a King’s court that I have experienced. First, I had to sign-in before the meeting in order to be able to speak. Then I sat quietly and listened to procedural minutia.  Finally, I got a chance to plead my case before the “honorable” chairman and the other board members.

Thankfully, I started my project using SmartDraw.  Before getting started, I watched a video that made the task of creating landscape plans look easy.  I began by measuring my lot and the space in which my home occupies. Certain areas of the property are maintained by the HOA, so I didn’t need to modify those. However, it’s best to show the property and landscape in relation to those areas. The idea is to detail the outside of the home, so it is almost the opposite of a floor plan.

Backyard Landscape Plan


SmartDraw Tip: With SmartDraw’s symbol library, I was able to choose from hundreds landscape symbols such as trees, plants, and ground covering. Each landscape symbol can easily be re-sized perfectly to fit whatever dimensions you require.  In addition, you can determine whether you want to display or hide the dimensions of objects within any landscape or floor plan diagram.

Front Yard Landscape Plan


SmartDraw Tip:  Inserting a table with plant identification is easy.  Simply navigate to the Table Ribbon, determine the number of rows and columns, then click Tables.

Elevation Landscape Plan

The requirements also include elevation plans. This is basically looking at the property from the side instead of from above as you do with a floor plan. The nice thing is that SmartDraw makes it easy to fill shapes and modify them. I especially like the option to fill with brick, stone, or grass textures which makes the drawing look realistic. You can look at some examples online here.


Armed with my packet of landscape plans I got to know my neighbors a little better. Each of my neighbors wanted to know how I created such impressive diagrams.  I told them about SmartDraw. They were glad to know such a product existed since they knew they would have to go through the same process when they want to make changes to their yard some day. The architectural approval came quickly since the landscape diagrams I made were so detailed and accurate.   This was not the case with the HOA Board.  The HOA Board insisted on a minor change just to make sure I knew who was in charge.   In the end, they said these were the best drawings they had ever seen submitted by a homeowner.

‘Before’ Photograph of Backyard Landscaping


‘After’ Photographs of Backyard and Front Yard Landscaping


I’m pleased with the way the project turned out and I’m enjoying the garden, grass, extended patio, and shade. I can’t say that I’m too excited to do another project just yet. But when I do, SmartDraw will be right there with me from the designing and planning to the final prints for review. Whenever I need to create landscape planning diagrams, I know SmartDraw will help me cut through the red tape and get my project finished with style.


Save Water with These 5 Landscape Planning Tips

https://pixabay.com/en/drops-of-water-water-nature-liquid-578897/The hot, dry summer season is rapidly approaching. In many parts of the world, including here in California, drought conditions are wreaking havoc on water supplies. Many jurisdictions are asking residents to voluntarily cut back on water usage. Mandatory rationing is possible.

But wherever you live, landscape planning that uses native and drought-tolerant plants can conserve water, save money, and look attractive, as well.

How to Create a Water-Saving Landscape Plan

  1. Start with a base map. This is a plot of the design area. It will include static elements such as property lines, buildings, driveways, and other features that will not change. It’s also a good idea to mark public utility lines on the base map.
  2. Survey the characteristics of the property. Observe natural features of the property, such as areas of sun and shade. You should also note the site’s natural drainage pattern. Landscape planning that follows natural contours, such as placing water-loving plants in naturally low-lying areas or areas of moisture-retaining clayey soil, will give you better long-term results. You should also note other needs, such as privacy screening or planting to block an objectionable view.
  3. Determine the functions of yard areas. Will your rear yard be used for outdoor entertaining or a kickball field? Is the side yard going to be an herb garden or used for extra parking? Design around how you intend to use the various components of the property.
  4. Create planting zones by water needs. Taking all of the above factors into account, create zones in your landscape that are defined by water requirements. Try and keep plants needing more water to lower, shadier areas, for example.
  5. Select appropriate plants. This will be determined by the climate zone you live in and the characteristics specific to your property. Use plants that are native to your area or are suitable to your climate zone. If you’re in a dry zone, but want to use some plants that need extra irrigation, plant them in as small a zone as possible and limit them to areas where they can be seen and enjoyed.

Mind map of the data that follows, with a background photo of a water-saving landscape

Xeriscape: The Economical, Functional and Beautiful Solution

Your front yard doesn’t have to look like a gravel pit to drastically reduce water usage. A concept known as xeriscape (translated from Greek, it means “dry scene”) has gained in popularity in recent years. The main reason, of course, is to save water. But there are other benefits, too. Xeriscapes require much less time and effort to maintain, further saving money for the homeowner.

Xeriscaping can also be functional. For example, you may want to include some trees, plants and herbs that provide food for your family.

With a little planning and creativity, a xeriscape can also be extremely beautiful.

Landscape plan created with SmartDraw


Click here to see our video, “Creating Landscapes with SmartDraw.”