Gardening apps—I’m over them. Really.


Don't laugh. You're looking at the future of garden design.

Remember when we first got our iPhones?  It was all about the apps. Mine is still loaded up with six screens worth, only 4-5 of which I use on a regular basis—a weather app, whatever will find restaurants and stores, Hootsuite, Facebook, and the Public Radio station finder/player. (I’m not counting email, pictures, music, GPS, and other basic iPhone functions.)

Back in those days, we blithely demanded more gardening iphone apps, specifically searchable perennial databases, weed finders, a Farmer’s Almanac, and some that now exist, like Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder.  There are now plenty of plant-list-type apps on iTunes now. I would download them, except I suspect they would sit untapped with all the rest while I use google.

The Audubon guides are great—although these would not work in the wild if you need to be connected—and if I’m home I’d as soon grab a book. There are also ID type apps like Leafsnap. Unfortunately, with Leafsnap, you have to place the leaf against a white piece of paper. Well, if you’re home doing that, you could also use a book—any good tree book will have leaf close-ups. Another fun nature app is Chirp, which helps you ID birds by their calls. (Actually I like to just play the bird sounds; it makes my garden sound way more diverse than it really is.)

Here’s what I don’t need or want, even to sit ignored on a screen along with RouteShout, PocketFlicks, and GroceryZen—any of the “design your garden” apps out there. These are silly by definition, because nobody would ever put together a garden using  templates (like the one above) and plant lists. That’s not how a gardener does it, anyway. 

There are many of these, each as ridiculous—and usually strangely awkward to navigate—as the next. We get emails about them regularly, and I usually ignore them, but I will single one out from Holland Bulb Farms called iMyGarden. This is actually supposed to get you to order bulbs through the app; the design part is—charitably put—incidental.  It gives you 3 templates—a mailbox, a tree well, and a front yard, and then a list of plants you can fill them up with. And—guess what!—all these plants are bulbs that can be ordered from Holland Bulb Farms! In fact, you can do it right then and there, through the app.

I love my iPhone, but if this is the future of gardening apps, like I said—I’m over it. 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m with you – very much over the garden apps. Books are better usually – bigger pictures, bigger type, less likely to be a marketing ploy. When venturing into wilderness areas, I’ve never grumbled about taking my various ID books. I have grumbled about not being able to use an app where it was most useful. And the design apps could never hold a candle to a piece of graph paper, a set of colored pencils, & my mind’s eye.

    And Elizabeth – you can whittle those six screens of hardly-used apps by moving them into groups together. Tap and hold on one as if you were simply moving it to another spot. When it turns ‘wiggly’ place it on top of another app you think it should be grouped with to make a set. I have sets for tools (calculator, converters, level, etc), listening (Pandora, NPR, etc), reference, games, and my son’s astronomy obsession. Makes for a much cleaner iPhone & less time spent figuring out which page you dropped that app into.

  2. Hear, hear! The day the world figures out what is (and isn’t) actually useful and important to have on a cell phone is the day that I’ll consider buying a “smart” phone. As it is, I don’t use probably 98% of the functions on my current ancient-but-reliable Nokia (although I once was actually called upon to use the stop-watch function at my kid’s speech tournament, so I guess you never know).
    One comment about the books-vs-apps though; I wonder how many 20-somethings out there actually consider buying a book over an app. Us 50-somethings and older have accumulated libraries of reference books over the years, but (judging by my kids’ choices) I think younger people think of reference guides as being on their computer, not on a shelf.

    I would love to hear what “under 40’s” people think about this. My 25-year-old son is working and living as a forest ranger this Summer in an area that has almost no signal reception; I can’t wait to have this discussion with him in a few months (especially since he just bought an iPhone prior to moving out to the woods)!

  3. Hi Elizabeth,

    I appreciate your comments, but would like to point out the main feature of the app is that you can take a picture of your own landscape or empty garden and use your personal background to design and create a flower bulb garden. We included 3 standard templates for people to play around with, if you “Add” a garden you are able to take a picture or use an existing image in your camera roll and design a garden!
    Thanks again for taking the time to review the app and give your feedback.
    Here is the link to explain how to use your own background:

  4. @ Cynthia Drummond – you think that’s bad? Where I work, they neighborhood HOA seems to think it’s ok to let the “landscaping” company dump mulch up to a foot up the trunk. It’s ridiculous.

    I’m happy to announce that I never bought a single app, much less a gardening one, for my ipod. I hear too much about how they collect data, and while i’m far from the tinfoil hat, I don’t need ONE MORE electronic source keeping tabs on me.

  5. I agree with you on the relative uselessness of garden apps; however, I’ve found a non-garden app to be extremely useful: Bento, the database app. I’m a lousy record-keeper, but records are very important to know how the ongoing experiment of the garden works.

    In just a few minutes, I set up a Garden Record database that lets me quickly note planting and germination dates, planting location (lights/greenhouse/main garden), amendments or other notes, give it a rating, AND best of all, snap a photo of the seed pack so I have the exact brand, variety, etc. I can enter either on the iPhone or Mac (sorry about that, PC users).

    It’s as flexible, comprehensive, or simple as you want it to be. Two green thumbs up!


  6. Hi –

    I appreciate your article. As a developer of a couple of landscaping apps for iPhone and Android, I hear your sentiments. The mobile app market is new and is still being explored to “get it right.” On the other hand, books have been around for hundreds of years 🙂

    So don’t give up on apps just yet. The best thing you can do is contact the developers of the apps and let them know what is working and what isn’t. We need your constructive criticisms and, more importantly, your ideas.


  7. I agree with Dave. This is early on in the game. To say you are done with mobile apps now is like saying back in 1910 you are done with automobiles and back to horses because the roads are too bumpy. Or, a real life example, I once heard a person at a conference declare that we are at least 10 years away from the Internet being a force in retail sales due to it being too slow.

    This was in 1997.

    I think mobile apps for gardening can get better. I agree with Roger, Bento is awesome for garden records.

    The thing I am looking forward to is a rumored plant ID app that may or may not work with Google Goggles. Point your device at the plant, and you find out what it is.

    I work at Penn State in Teaching and Learning with Technology, and these mobile devices have great potential for teaching, including plants. I am currently working on a podcast about this:

    I can’t wait, given I am a gardener. This is a cool project. Check it out.

  8. Unfortunately, the information most useful to me is seldom mentioned in books or apps. Living in the Pacific NW, I need to know if the plants I am considering is appetizing to slugs or susceptable to ‘drowning’ in the winter. Trial and error can get expensive.

  9. Well, I’m an under 40 but I’m also very close to the tin foil hat! I don’t have a smart phone and I’m not on facebook because far worse than the government tracking you is the advertisers tracking you. Anyway, Julie Moir Messervy has a garden design app that includes a lot of different options. It seems like it would be good for idea generating or for someone who is new at design. Has anyone tried it? Worth coming out of my tin foil hut??

  10. Jon,

    It’s good that users can add their own backgrounds, but let’s face it. The app in question is about getting people to buy bulbs, not design their gardens. Not needed for me–you had me at Prinses Irene! I spend way, way more on bulbs than I would ever admit to in a public forum my husband might access. Without benefit of app.

    Roger, Jamie, and Dave,

    I’m fickle. Who knows,next year I may be posting “Garden apps—I love them. Really” And there really are some good ones. I just don’t know if I’d take the time to use them.


    Thanks for the tips. My apps are due for a clean-up, for sure.

  11. good to hear about those design apps. I won’t be leaving the landscape design profession any time soon.
    Apps … can you say job security ?!

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