The e-garden revolution

Technology is slowly, but surely, creeping in to the gardening and the outdoor sphere. Just as in other sectors, the power of new gadgets and software applications, is bringing about new ways of doing things that are accessible to both amateurs and professionals alike. While botanical pursuits might seem like the last place an iPhone or tablet device might be useful, a number of applications are now specifically targeting garden enthusiasts.

While these are small in number, they could well become vital sales generators for hardware and outdoor retailers that stock them. As in other retail sectors, it’s possible to bring in large amounts of foot traffic with a single unique and “buzz-generating” product. And while margins on that one item may not be earth-shattering, that extra traffic can help to reinvigorate the wider department, boosting sales of all the usual consumables that go along with it. For gardening, that means increased profits on fertiliser, gloves, pest control, and outdoor tools.

The following products, some technological innovations and others sleek redesigns on old themes, show just how much gardening departments are changing in the internet age.

Watching gardens grow

Ask any green thumb what they love about life among the plants and one of their first answers is bound to be the enjoyment of watching their garden grow. For a faster impression, Brinno Incorporated has launched the GardenWatchCam.

This unique automatic camera offers a time-lapse function that can capture the growth of a garden, or building, or even just a single plant, at regular intervals. This leads to a unique representation of change over time. The GardenWatchCam is easy to use. Weather-proof and with a high quality lens, it can be positioned anywhere on a simple mount in the ground and focused on both wide and short ranges. It offers seven different time settings, leaving it ready to take a picture every second, minute, five minutes, 30 minutes, hour, four hours, daily, or according to set directions from the user. The camera sleeps between photos, giving it an incredibly long battery life. Brinno provides an easy viewing application for Windows, or the resultant stop-gap animation can be seen on any AVI video player or JPEG picture display application.

BBQ on the iPhone
iDevices, A US application developer specialising in the iPhone platform, has created the iGrill barbecue thermometer, its flagship product. The package, consisting of a small temperature gauge and clock, connected to a user’s iPhone, iPad, or iPod via Bluetooth technology. Chefs can constantly monitor the temperature and time of the meal from up to 60 metres away, confident they can serve up at precisely the most optimum time.

The iGrill has dual probe capability and also works as a stand alone thermometer. iDevices says it is currently also working on a similar app for Android phone users.

Better watering cans

Even the humble watering can is getting a makeover these days, with the US-made and designed U-Can proving a popular variant among gardeners and outdoor retailers there. This handy dual-compartment tool doesn’t have any computer-driven elements, but its intuitive design and ability to save gardeners time and effort have made it an award-winning piece of equipment for anyone looking for a better way to do things.

The U-Can is around the same size as a typical watering can, but as two compartments: one for water, and the second for either liquid or dry fertiliser. It is made of a translucent, recycled plastic, with clear level indicators on the main water compartment. A removable sprinkler head provides a second watering nozzle, while a simple clasp has been placed by the spout as a “glove jam” so gardeners can keep everything with them when they water. The U-Can even has a reminder dial, so that users can keep track of when they last fertilised their garden. “By self containing the management of just about everything we need, more of our attention and time is focused on the joy of gardening and the miraculous moments that come with it,” U-Can inventor Jim Ugone says. “With this system we don’t have to manage the fertiliser and necessary measuring tools, the feeding calendar, our gloves (when were not wearing them), the sprinkler head (when were not using it) and we know exactly how much water is in the can.”

Plant care
Good gardening is all about balance: getting the right levels of light, water, and nutrients to the places your plants need them most. That traditionally involved a lot of trial and error, since it could be near impossible to measure those vital inputs with any accuracy.

But tradition is not part of Koubachi’s vocabulary, at least not where its new Wi-Fi Plant Sensor is concerned. This small, sleekly designed unit, about the size of a golf club head, can be nestled within a plant bed to derive accurate measures of soil moisture, temperature, and light. It then connects, via Wi-Fi, to the Koubachi Plant Care Engine which analyses the data. It then provides plant-specific diagnosis and care instructions to the user via their iPhone or email inbox.

Using the Wi-Fi connection, the sensor can alert gardeners in real time when specific care is required. At the heart of the system is a series of plant care models, developed in consultation with leading biologists. These provide advice and instructions that have already been scientifically proven to succeed in a series of greenhouse experiments.

Koubachi is able to determine the exact needs, considering the current season and the user’s specific climate zone. And while the system needs only one sensor to monitor several plants in the same bed, it can provide specific instructions for each individual plant type within that group.

Back to lawn-cutting

Lawn cutting technology is something that took off in the 1980s and 90s, with once simple contraptions overtaken by bigger, more powerful ride-on machines that were closer to golf carts or go-carts in technology than the original rotary and reel mowers they replaced in many back yards. But in an age where being “green” is not just for lawns, the traditional mowers are making a comeback.

That’s particularly true where manufacturers have eliminated some of the issues that consumers have with the push-powered tools. The Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower, for example, has addressed many of these issues, including complaints about cutting power, ease of pushing, and overall longevity. Reel mowers cut with a scissor-like action, with a cleaner cut than the more common rotary mowers. The Fiskars StaySharp’s blades are made from a stronger steel. They last longer without sharpening, and won’t be dulled by the occasional pebble or twig. More importantly, the reel assembly never comes in contact with the blades, when stationary or in motion, making them last longer again, and also making life easier on the pusher.

The Fiskars StaySharp comes with a more comfortable handle, with multiple grip positions and adjustable heights. The blade can be set at anywhere from one-inch high to four inches. And the environmental benefits – with no oil, fuel, or exhaust – also translate to real financial savings for the user.

Retail opportunities

Whether it’s a newly designed lawn mower, or an interactive soil and light analyser, the range of gardening and outdoor products is always expanding. That’s both bringing new customers – those who previously thought they’d never be a gardener – in to the sector and further inspiring previously old hands. It means plenty of opportunities for hardware retailers close to the pulse of this fast-evolving sector.

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