** Update (02/07/11): Chris Brookins, VP of Engineering and Product Management at Acquia sent a note with clarifications to our original article regarding Drupal Gardens' offerings. The most important point is that Drupal Gardens is still in beta, development is under way, and the information in this article isn't final. **
Drupal Gardens is a hosted, self-contained setup of the Drupal 7 content management system. It is an appropriately named walled garden, allowing non-technical people to easily build websites with powerful features.
As Drupal’s answer to other hosted platforms such as Wordpress.com and Blogger, Drupal Gardens boasts an impressive feature set compared to alternative offerings, including hosted Drupal itself. This article will outline Drupal Gardens’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to alternatives.
What Drupal Gardens Can Do
If you’re looking to build a feature rich website fast, Drupal Gardens is the way to go. Many website features not available from traditional self contained hosted solutions can be implemented in Drupal Gardens. Photo and video galleries, contact and survey forms, and configurable user roles are just a sample of what’s available and easy to use on Drupal Gardens.
** Update (02/07/11): Chris Brookins reports that views, event calendar, and meta tags and descriptions modules are being improved and will be available in the next few months. **
In addition, even the free version of Drupal Gardens’ multi tiered pricing system allows custom domain names, making it a suitable option for small businesses. Lots of themes are available, including options for custom graphics.
Another major plus is that Drupal Gardens doesn’t require hosting fees. The basic option requires no risk and is completely free.
** Update (02/07/11): Two additional offerings are the Theme Builder and the ability to export an entire website from Drupal Gardens to self hosted Drupal. Both are valuable options to future proof a website. **
Lacking Power and Flexibility—the Drawbacks
There are downsides to using Drupal Gardens compared to hosted Drupal or other options, however. You can’t simply drop in your own theme or module, which severely limits flexibility. That means no Views, no event calendar, no meta tags or descriptions, or any of the other functionality provided by the thousands of modules available to stand-alone versions of Drupal.
Certain interface and communication items—including registering a new user—mention that the site runs on Drupal Gardens. This isn’t desirable if you require your own custom branding for your site.
Pricing and Conclusion
Drupal Gardens’ pricing structure has 3 tiers—super, superer, and superest. The super—AKA Free—option is quite full featured, and will meet most users needs when starting a new website. Included is 1GB of storage and 50GB of bandwidth / month, plus 5 free support tickets. The biggest downside of the free plan is the included advertisement at the bottom of every page. It isn’t obnoxious, but it also isn’t professional.
If you can tolerate the ad, the free version provides enough resources that it doesn’t make sense to begin a site on any other plan.
** Update (02/07/11): Drupal Gardens' pricing structure has been updated. The pricing can be previewed here. **
Overall, Drupal Gardens is a strong offering sitting in a new niche between self-hosted Drupal and Wordpress.com. If you like Wordpress.com but are looking for more, or want to try Drupal but are turned off by its complexity, Drupal Gardens may be for you.