Gadgets for gardeners

I love nice gardens but do not have the patience for gardening. I know lots of people who love the whole cathartic side of gardening, and friends who are professional garden designers, and a sister-in-law who is a certified master gardener.

Computer-assisted Gardening

For me, I tend to give too much “love” to my garden in the form of over-watering and over-feeding. Which is the most frustrating side of gardening for me. I have a small garden and on one side, I have a narrow border that is 12–15ft long. If I check the soil moisture near those plants, the ones at both ends of this border need watering often but the plants in the middle hardly ever get dry. Some individual plants in a raised border that I have never seem to need watering yet the ones next to them do.

If you water your garden in the way that I would (and that I think most non-gardeners would), you would water all the plants equally every few days or weeks. But in doing so, you over-water some, under-water others, and so on.

A couple of years back, I as saved by a gadget from Parrot called Flower Power that costs around $50/£33 from Amazon.

Flower Power by Parrot

Four in one sensor

This device monitors the light, moisture, fertiliser levels and temperature levels around your plant – but it does this in a very intelligent way.

You communicate with these little sensors using Parrot’s app for iPhone over Bluetooth. The app polls every so often and stores all the data in the cloud.

When you set up a Flower Power sensor to monitor a particular plant, you tell it what type of plant it is, where it is located in the world and if it is inside or outside and in a container or planted in the ground. Here’s the clever thing – this is not a dumb sensor that lets you know if the plant is dry or wet etc – it customises the water and fertiliser levels specifically for the plant that you are monitoring.

Flower Power - water levels

Information on all of your plants

Parrot has a database of over 7,000 of the most popular plants. It knows what the optimal water levels are for each plant (some like dry conditions, etc). It also knows where you are in the world and of course the time of year, which also means that it can allow for seasonality. If your particular plant is dormant in the winter, then your Flower Power device won’t tell you to water it. It knows if it likes higher levels of fertiliser in the Spring. It also knows the temperature ranges that would affect your plant (especially in a green house).

Flower Power Plant DB

My whole [tiny] garden is now covered with these devices – I think I have about fifteen to twenty of them – and it has never looked better. Flower Power tells me when I need to water a specific plant – just the one. It tells me when I should feed a plant, etc. It really does take all of the analysis out of gardening for me – something that I have no knowledge about, no interest in, and basically no skills.

Flower Power task list

Not all roses

As much as I love these devices and recommend then to people often, they have some flaws.

The build quality is not brilliant. I have had to send two back because they failed within the first few months. Parrot replaced them quickly, but that is a 10% error rate which is shocking.

Also, the design seems a bit flawed – the cap for the battery has a seal, but I have had one that allows the water in. I am always surprised that considering that this device will be around water (rain, hose, watering can) that more effort was not put in to make it more water tight.

It’s strange that in the software, there is no notification for battery levels. Yes, you can check the battery level yourself in the app – but you would have thought that it would be simple to add a task amongst adding water and fertiliser to replace the battery?

Lastly, they are not as durable as they should be. The sensor that contacts the soil has been problematic in 20% of the devices that I have. They start to report the need for fertiliser every few days and at that point – it needs to be replaced.

Flower Power Starting to Fail

Summary

My garden is ten times healthier as a result of these devices – I love them. If you are not really all that interested in constantly monitoring your different plants, then you really should get these little gadgets. However, they are not as good as they could be and I would really hope that Parrot works to improve their design and build quality over the coming years.

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