I love growing plants — which doesn’t mean I’m good at it. I have one aloe vera named Bob that has survived my horrible gardening skills for four years now, but has been on the brink of dying multiple times. I’ve killed lots of other plants — orchids, a dieffenbachia named Celeste, and even cacti. So as much as I love growing plants, I find it frustrating and a little bit heartbreaking whenever a new plant dies on me. That’s where the Click & Grow smart garden supposedly comes in.
The smart garden allows you to grow plants with minimal effort. You just need to add water to the garden when it tells you to and your plants grow healthy and undisturbed — without suddenly dying on you. I tried the starter kit, which comes with three basil plants, for over a month. And I watched the plants grow from seeds to sprouts to full-blown basil I can enjoy for dinner. It was beyond easy — but it also took away the pleasure of caring for a plant and reduced gardening to yet another electronic gadget that, of course, comes with an app. At times, the garden was also annoying, and that’s because of the way it’s designed.
The Click & Grow smart garden comes with a plastic tank you fill with water and a cover where you place the plant capsules, which contain the seeds and "smart soil." The smart soil is filled with nutrients and designed to keep the soil pH balanced, the company says. The garden needs to be plugged in to power the adjustable LED lamp that shines 16 hours a day, helping your plants grow faster. That light is extremely bright. I placed my smart garden on a windowsill in the living room and I often had to cover it with a towel when it turned on at 10PM, because the light was so bright it made it hard to watch TV. (I have a hard time believing it only consumes 6 watts and $3 of electricity a year, as the company says.)
But the worse thing is that the LED lamp flashes whenever the water level is down. And those flashes are so powerful that the gadget instructions warn you it could cause seizures. The lamp in my garden started flashing in the middle of the night once and, believe me, there’s nothing more disorienting than being woken up by your boyfriend who says: "Your garden is flashing." It took me a while to understand what the hell he was talking about. Half-asleep, I tried to add water to the tank, to make the flashing stop, but it didn’t work. And that’s because the Click & Grow smart garden is a flimsy device.
The garden comes with "specialized sensors" that "constantly monitor garden vitals [to] attend to plants’ need for light, water, and nutrients," the company says. For what I understand, that sensor is a piece of styrofoam that floats in the water tank and has a small magnet that somehow tells the LED light to flash when the water level is down. I really don’t understand how it works and when I asked a Click & Grow spokesperson, she didn’t really know either. When I saw that adding water to the tank didn’t stop my garden from flashing uncontrollably, I just unplugged it. The day after, I added more water, messed around with the light, and it magically stopped. I don’t know how and I don’t care. I’m just glad it stopped flashing.
The device comes with an app for iOS (the Android version is in development), but there’s not much you can do with it. The app allows you to keep track of when you planted the seeds, gives you gardening tips, and allows you to set watering reminders. Every two weeks I received a notification on my phone that I needed to add water to the tank, but somehow that notification didn’t match the flashing hysteria of the LED light. So I don’t know if the app was off or if the built-in sensors in my garden were going crazy. I didn’t end up using the app at all.
All in all, the Click & Grow smart garden made it very easy to grow healthy basil. I ate it and it was sweet and tasty. The garden also makes for good conversation starters: all my friends were intrigued when they saw it. But I don’t think I’d be willing to spend $60 for a smart garden that’s made of cheap-looking plastic and needs to be constantly plugged in. The plant capsules also last for four to six months, after which you either move the plant to another pot or you throw it away. To buy three refills of whatever plant you want (oregano, cherry tomatoes, sage, wild strawberries), you have to spend an extra $20. That gets pricey, if you consider I can just walk down the block to the closest supermarket and buy the herbs and produce for cheaper. Of course, the basil I buy at the store is not as fresh. I also didn’t grow it myself. But with Click & Grow, I almost get the same feeling. The smart garden did everything by itself.