How to design your garden - without getting your hands dirty

CD-Rom review
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I doubt that many exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show used a CD-Rom to plan their displays. Had they not been such stick-in-the-muds, they could have done the whole thing on their PCs and barely bothered with a trowel. Or that was my thinking as I loaded Geoff Hamilton's Garden Designer into my CD-Rom drive.

Mr Hamilton is known for his common sense, and his introduction in the instructions was comforting. "I was, until a few years ago, a bit of a computer duffer. I'm still no whizzkid but now I wonder how I ever managed without one."

Playing with the program, though, I soon noticed strange things about it. First you lay out your garden on the screen, then you fill it with items that include a palace, a log chair (complete with roots), an articulated lorry and a hexagonal arbour. But it was the shed that gave it away - there was no way this peculiar structure came from Geoff Hamilton's garden. I looked back in the guide and discovered the secret. "Authorised translation from the Russian edition," it said.

GSP, it transpires, is a "republisher", anglicising foreign computer programs. It assured me that even if the ancillaries are a bit odd, the horticulture itself is thoroughly British. The disk certainly has an impressive amount of information: 1,100 plants and shrubs, with details about their preferred soil, watering needs, position, size and colour at any time of year. If you create a list of plants, you are given a useful calendar telling when to sow, prune, feed etc. The program is helpful in helping to identify plants with particular characteristics. You can, for example, ask it to list those that tolerate shade, and have blue flowers in June and July. There is also a section on disease (the picture of a lupin with leafspot is heart-rending).

As a source of information, Garden Designer is useful. As a garden designer, less so. I could not recreate my original garden, because although I could put in several kinds of tennis court, the program did not know about forsythias, and was vague on fruit trees. At first I thought it did not have hydrangeas, either, until I discovered they were listed under lacecap hydrangea: there was no searching system to help me find the word. I also found it difficult to place plants accurately and, although you can see what is in flower in any month, the view is strictly aerial: it would be nice to see a bed from a human, rather than avian, viewpoint.

Still, Garden Designer is probably worth pounds 19.95 for a lot of information and a bit of fun. It has also made me determined to look out for log chairs and hexagonal arbours if I am ever in Russia.

Geoff Hamilton's Garden Designer, pounds 19.95. GSP: 01480 496575.