In this module, we will describe how to start work on a new job - one that that will be completed entirely in the CAD environment. We will design a space for the rear of a courtyard home and in doing so, cover how to take site measurements by marking up a 'mud map' ready for later use in gCADPlus to create an accurate base plan.

Wisteria arbor

Wisteria 2

Making a site surv​ey - some tips for a site visit

Take with you both a short and long measuring tape, notepad ruler, pencils and colored pens. A laser distance measure is handy if you have one.

  • Design ideas will occur to you as you measure the site, so make sure you have a sizeable notebook with you.
  • Start by sketching the footprint of the house on a blank page - a mud map complete with measurements.
  • Measure the outside length of all walls, writing the length of each wall of the house on the outside of the footprint diagram. Remember, you are not drawing to scale, but making a 'mud map' - a rough idea of the site but with accurate dimensions. We will use the measurements you record to draw an accurate plan later using our CAD software.
  • If you are working in the metric system, use mm as a base unit. The length of each wall being recorded to the nearest mm.
  • In the US, do not use measurements to the inch. Work in decimal feet - 3 inches is 0.25 ft, 6 inches 0.5 ft, 9 inches 0.75 ft and so on. A Wall 13 ' 11" long is near enough to 14.0 decimal feet for our purposes. You can of course measure in feet and inches and convert to decimal feet later, but it is not really necessary. We are not making a survey drawing.
  • Once the wall lengths have been recorded, measure the position of all the doors and windows. We recommend writing those values inside the house footprint sketch, leaving the measurements for the wall length on the outside of the footprint. Remember, absolute accuracy is not required - you just want to record where people exit from the house to the garden and assess the importance of views from windows - sight lines.
  • Once the building footprint is dimensioned, measure the distance to and locate the boundaries. Not every site is neatly rectangular. Start by take a convenient point (corner) on the building and measure to a boundary corner, then come back to the next adjacent corner of the building creating a triangle.The figure below (admittedly not a mud map, but taken from a gCADPlus CAD drawing) shows magenta (purple) lines representing these triangles.
  • Each corner of the property boundary should have at least two triangle measurements.


Existing Trees

An aside: Try and complete a site analysis diagram while you work at measuring

You might well take the opportunity on site to develop some sort of bubble diagram showing constraints and opportunities. This diagram can be hand sketched - it does not have to be to scale and is used to capture ideas. Paradoxically, the more constraints the site puts on you as a designer, the easier a design solution often comes. Some examples of site analysis diagrams are shown below. Again, these are computer generated, but they could just as well be pencil diagrams.

Bubble diagram 1

Site analysis

Here is a memory jogger list to use while making a site assessment:

  • Outdoors rooms - which of the following specific zones are required? Adult entertaining, children's play, relaxation or contemplation zones, shelter, vegetable gardens, service areas etc.
  • How do people move around in the area: Consider entrances, paths, changes in level, hierarchy of paths, movement of people in wheelchairs and so on.
  • Can the designer provide a focal point? Perhaps viewed from family rooms in the house. Can children play area be viewed from the kitchen?
  • What screens and barriers are needed? Should they be fixed of would greenery do the trick?
  • How will vehicular movement be controlled?
  • Storage and service areas need careful consideration.
  • Constructed wetlands and reclamation, can they be incorporated?

Once the mud map is complete (and the owner of the property interviewed about their particular requirements and landscape preferences), it is time to return to base and begin CAD work.

Making an accurate CAD drawing

House footprint Movie Here is a small movie showing how to place the footprint of a house 19700 units (mm) wide by 6900 units (mm) deep into the CAD drawing area.

Exercise Making an accurate CAD drawing from a site 'mud map.'

Start gCADPlus

Select File>New

Selecting this option 'pops up' a list of templates that are loaded when you install gCADPlus. These templates are stored in the gCADPlus folder under Program Files and you are encouraged to make you own templates. The idea is that by selecting a suitable template, much of the work is already done.

Template list

For example, selecting the 21 x 30 meter default drawing option brings up a space suitable for a 'portrait' orientation design for a rear yard approximately 21 X 30 meters showing a conventional house footprint and a pre-loaded set of symbols suitable for building a landscape plan.

Navigate to and open that 21 X 30 meter template.

Delete the existing house footprint by clicking on the lines that make up the house to select it.

Choose Erase from the right click 'pop up' menu to delete entities.

Tip: Note that the space available here is not restricted, you can make the new design as large as you want. The house footprint is simply for orientation, that's why we delete it once we start drafting.

As shown in the movie, draw the first line 19700 long making sure that polar is turned on.

The next line is 6900 in the vertical direction, followed by two more lines to complete the rectangle making the house footprint.

House footprint

If this were a real job, you would next locate the boundaries of the site and the location of any outbuildings, and existing vegetation.

Existing Trees

You would the be ready to begin designing. Hopefully this exercise has given you some confidence in drawing accurate lines using some different coordinate systems.

A further example of creating an accurate site map

Let's do a real job - a complete design for the rear of a courtyard house featuring a Wisteria arbor shown above.

Mud map and base drawing  MovieClick on the movie camera icon to watch a movie showing how to create a GardenCAD Plus base drawing shown below from a different mud map. 

Exercise Courtyard rear design base plan

The figure below shows on the left the house footprint (drawn in white), while the boundaries are colored red. The scanned mud map with dimensions is shown at the right. This would normally lie of the desk while drafting, not scanned and put into the drawing editor - that been done for the purposes of instruction.

Base plan

Here are the steps to take to create an accurate base plan for this garden.

Ensure that polar is on.

Select Draw>Line place a vertical line of arbitrary length as shown at bottom left (just click, then move up and click again).

Now head off to the right 4800

Draw a line vertically up 1500.

Another line up 1350.

Across to the right 4360.

A line down 2850 vertically down. (Use snap if needed)

Line across 1750

Line down 5500.

Zoom extents.

Setting an arc.

Draw>Arc>3 point

Draw the arc into position.

Remove the two construction lines.

Adjust the radius of the arc 8300.

Boundary point location.

Circle center radius

Snap to corner of house, radius 7600

Right click to repeat the Circle command.

Snap to a new point. Enter another circle radius 8485

Use point command.

Point>Snap to intersection of the two circles.

Erase circles.

Repeat for the other circle.

and set another point at the other back corner.

Draw the left and right boundaries.

Now that an accurate base plan has ben created as a CAD drawing, it is time to begin the design process. 

Design process

There are some basic guidelines you can follow to achieve an harmonious landscape design and we have set these out below. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and rules are meant to be broken, so nothing we say here should be taken as set in stone.

Guidelines and ideas for landscape designers

  • Because landscape designers work with living materials, it is axiomatic that every design will be unique. This occurs because even though two designs might have exactly the same layout and the same plant palette, over time they will diverge. The soil and water conditions of the sites will differ, micro climates will be different, plants will grow at different rates, plants will express the variation inherent in their DNA and that leads to considerable variation in the landscaped spaces. The variation becomes more apparent as a garden ages.

  • It is important to recognize that you are designing in a three dimensional environment. The spaces you deal with in a design not only have depth and breadth, but also height.

  • Unlike many other design disciplines, you must take into account aspects of the site. The site already 'sits' in the landscape. You will need to assess the landscape on adjoining properties to see if they can be 'borrowed' to enhance your design. A borrowed landscape might contain tall trees and these may well give your site a sense of the vertical.

  • Time is of critical importance. A garden not only changes over time within the seasons, but also over the years. Small tube plants may initially appear insignificant and out of scale, but they will grow rapidly and add their own character to any constructed landscape.

  • Think about reflecting some part of the building (a curving window, an unusual piece of building decoration) in the 2-D landscape plan. This can help tie the design to the building.

  • If possible, work with a grid. Grids do not constrain the designer; they help unify a design. Experiment with grids with sizes an differing aspect ratios. Try expanding the size of the grid as you move further away from a building.

Placing the hard elements

We have an accurate base plan as a CAD drawing. Now, using the information gained on site and with the result of a discussion with the client (and our own inspiration) it is time to start designing. The figure below shows the base plan with one or two new features included from a site visit. The most important was a rendered garage wall on the back boundary and our own response to the fact that the curving dining room dominated the scene. We almost felt compelled to reflect that shape out in the garden (shown in red below).

Base plan

After discussions with the client and a site appraisal, the following design elements were proposed:

  • Shading must be provided for the window walls as the walls face east. The client favours some type of pergola, but is open to our suggestion for a living arbor rather than a fixed wooden structure.
  • Some screening is required on the eastern and northern boundaries to provide privacy.
  • From a sample palette, the client chose 'slate honed', pavers 400 mm square. This type of paving is durable and easily maintained
  • Summer and winter entertaining areas are needed.
  • A water feature from an artist has been commissioned and needs to be installed.
  • A mirror to create the illusion of space
  • A gate on eastern boundary


We find it useful to add notes regarding the above to the drawing at this stage and place those notes on their own layer. They serve as a reminder of the client's requests and can be turned off at a later stage. We use the leader option (the indicator lines with arrowheads were formed by the leader tool that is found under the Dimensions drop down menu) for that purpose.


We find it useful to add notes regarding the above to the drawing at this stage but do place those notes on their own layer. They serve as a reminder of the client's requests and can be turned off at a later stage. Click here if you would like some more information on layers.

A reminder: When designing, you should take into account the needs of the construction team - the builders of the design. Aim to make their job as straightforward as possible. Get into the habit of providing enough well-documented setout points.

Move the plan to a defined base point

Help construction team  Make easy for design teamHere is a movie that shows how to move a drawing to a convenient base point. If you do that, it will allows the placement of convenient markers for a construction team to work with.

Exercise Move the drawing

Select the whole drawing and move the drawing to a a new base point as shown in the movie.

Add the first design element - a sweeping arc.

First steps  Make easy for design team Here is a movie in which we show some of the first steps that might be taken in creating a design.


Exercise Create and locate an arc to reflect the curve of the windows into the garden space.

Create an arc as shown in the movie.

Add screens as other design elements as you see fit.

Fine tune the design

We mentioned earlier that it is a good idea to keep the needs of the construction team in mind. Here we show how to add some setout points to the plan.

First steps  Make easy for design team This movie shows how a little more fine tuning can make life much easier for the construction team.


Exercise Fine tune the design

The client has chosen 400 mm pavers to cover the hard surfaces.

Move as many lines as possible so they lock onto a 400 mm grid.

Once paths paving and garden areas have been defines, we turn our attention to special features such as a design for a Wisteria arbor.

Design the Wisteria arbor

Arbor  Make easy for design teamThis movie shows how we added a design for a Wisteria arbor to our base plan.


Exercise Wisteria arbor

Add the arbor as shown in the movie.

Use 4 circles of diameter 300 mm to indicate the support poles.

Draw cross members using rectangles.

Uses lines to represent stainless steel support wires

Remember that your drawing is not meant to be a working drawing for the steel fabricator. He will take your drawing and develop accurate working plans from it.

The figure below shows the finished structure 18 months after planting.

Arbor 2

Wat​er feature

The client has specified a water feature. After much discussion, a design by a local artist was chosen - shown in the figure below.


The artist has designed the fountain to be placed over a sump hidden by pebbles as shown below. Details of how the fountain and pumping system are to be installed will form part of the final presentation.

That completes this first 'real job' design example. We have by no means finished - all we have is an accurate base plan, the planting needs to be added, a plant schedule prepared, mulching, some images showing plants specified and other details are required. and will return to this example in a later module where we will endeavor to put it all together as a presentation for a client.
Please move on to the next design exercise.

Design # 2: Courtyard with Wisteria arbor