Modelling Components for Landscape and Garden Design in SketchUp

Modelling Components for Landscape and Garden Design in SketchUp

Paul Hensey is a regular Cadsoft Solutions features contributor, and we recently caught up with Paul after seeing some intriguing SketchUp models on his Instagram account for a new project, an extensive library of custom components for landscape and garden design. You can view all his latest designs and 3D models using the links at the end of this feature.

Modelling Components for Landscape and Garden Design in SketchUp

Landscape and garden design, similar with many creative industries, has many facets to the work and required skill sets: from a 3D record of a site to concept designs, planting and ecological schemes through to full construction details of the proposed features. The workflow is perfectly achievable using just SketchUp, but far too often the more technical aspects of a design are neglected, perhaps out of fear of using the software in unfamiliar ways or when the detailing involves novel features and techniques which the designer is unfamiliar with.

Ask anyone, I happen to like detailing. I have always sought to understand how things are assembled. I also love using SketchUp and from the early days of using it to develop landscapes, I have developed assemblies and explored how to communicate my intent as a designer to those who would build, assemble and fabricate the proposed scheme.


Rope bridge

In wanting to bring the knowledge base together into an accessible format I revisited my archive. What was fit for purpose at the time, however, now seems to lack finesse and often models were created with speed rather than quality.
I also wondered if others would be interested in having access to a landscape library of preconfigured details and thinking that this might have merit, I decided to rebuild the details, using the opportunity to apply better modelling techniques and reflect changes to building practices.

An assembly comprises of a kit of parts and knowing the most common details encountered within a garden and landscape I developed component families that could be subsequently used across multiple assemblies and configurations: a retaining wall, elevated patio, water features, decks or a roof garden.

The 3Dwarehouse is an invaluable resource, however for this application specific products and textures have been required. I also wanted components that gave me flexibility, geometry that was constructed correctly, built around components and preferably solid.

Why is SOLID geometry important?? This gives me and anybody subsequently using my models the ability to resize & rework the parts, sometimes using extensions that will only work with solid geometry; solid geometry is predicable rather than frustrating.

Modelling a new set of landscape components has been like going to school. Learning techniques and approaches to realising the simple objects that surround us. Most objects within construction are fortunately rectangular or simple extruded forms; a timber fence, bricks and blocks, paving units and layered loose fill materials, if simplified. But there are also organic and complex 3-dimensional forms: cast iron grates, geowebs, ground screws and hanging fabric panels to support living planted walls.


Cast iron grate

"I also love using SketchUp and from the early days of using it to develop landscapes, I have developed assemblies and explored how to communicate my intent as a designer to those who would build, assemble and fabricate the proposed scheme." Paul Hensey



Fabric panel for vertical planting

I have stepped back from full on digital reproduction but sought to extend the detailing far enough that an object is recognisable and appears functional. No rounded corners, curves and circles made with a low facet count, usually 24. Bevels & threads are sometimes needed to impart functionality.

Aluminium deck subframe with pedestals

Deck pedestal detail

You might argue that there is too much detail, after all these are objects that are part of a larger assembly and it is the assembly that is important, we are not manufacturing individual objects. But such details are not designed to work within the context of a site wide model. They are to be brought into a separate session of Sketchup where a digital maquette, a detail of only one thing is being described and elevations saved for the drawings that follow. It is not necessary to detail a whole wall, fence, foundation or deck, just a foot or two, illustrating the layers, interfaces & connections between materials.




Permutations of timber fence panels


Stepoc wall elements


Slot drains and covers

File size is always important, but I also like a detailed drawing to convey confidence & authority. It’s trying to describe something that, when built, might be beautiful and even life enhancing, so why not start with a drawing that conveys the same passion as the overall vision.

Over the summer the individual components will be assembled into constructed elements, typically found in gardens and landscapes. These are then used, within Layout to create detailed plans and sections with full specification and annotation. The advantage being that when a detail is altered in 3D in SketchUp, the drawing automatically reflects any changes.


Reinforced wall corner

Wall construction detail


Layout patterns for types of clay pavers

It is hoped to launch the library at the end of this year. Access will be by subscription and the library will be extended in response to designer requests as well as capturing new products and building practices.

What extensions did I use?
Where practical, all elements have been created as solid components.
Thomthom’s Solid inspector2 was used to check and fix any issues.
For threads I used Drawwhorl Fredo6’s Bevel softened edges where required and Joint Pushpull was used to thicken closed shapes to create wall thicknesses.

Complex shapes can be created by adding or subtracting solid geometry. The native solid tools work well but Eneroth’s Solid tools sometimes give a better result.

About Paul Hensey

Paul Hensey is an experienced and award-winning garden designer, in practice for over 20yrs. He lectures and writes extensively on materials, construction and CAD related issues.  He has a background in Industrial Design and worked for one of the largest building materials manufacturers in the world for many years, before moving into landscape design. Paul undertakes landscape engineering for many other designers, advising and supporting them on all aspects of construction as well realising their visions in 3D and in particular SketchUp.

He has taught SketchUp for over 10 years at Colleges, Universities and professional institutes. Whilst a specialist in Landscape Design, Paul frequently instructs other professions inc. Architects, Engineers and artists. 
Recently Paul was appointed a "Visiting Professional" by SketchUp and he will also be one of the instructing professionals at the 2020 SketchUp Basecamp, Vancouver

Instagram: @greenzonedesign
Eventbrite SketchUp courses on construction:

Attendees of Paul's SketchUp training courses can access an exclusive 10% discount on new SketchUp Pro subscriptions when they register and complete one of his programmes.

To view our SketchUp collection, click here.

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