A Garden of Earthly Gadgets
by Yvonne Seng for Digital Living Today

Summer's approaching full steam now and that idyllic green patch outside your window has likely morphed into an urban jungle. Whether your idea of gardening runs to feng shui or full contact sport, it's not too late to bring order to the encroaching chaos. This weekend, Digital Living got down and dirty with some of the latest hi-tech garden gadgetry that is sure to inspire everyone from the virtual desktop gardener to the serious lawn and garden fanatic.

The Sierra Complete LandDesigner 3D Design Collection 6.0 is an excellent place to start your garden planning. This CD package with supporting videos and tutorials lets you test plants (watch their seasonal change, for instance), compare deck styles, garden layouts and even pathways before you ever break ground in the real world. The PhotoGarden Designer included in the collection lets you get hands-on without leaving your AC. Scan in a photo of your own yard and go wild with sample landscaping designs from xericulture, low maintenance and ornamental ponds, to more traditional Euro styles. If you’re into reading Rumi or doing yoga by the fountain, there’s even a mystical garden plan to contemplate (along with your navel).

The Sierra package is chock full of reference works that help you distinguish blight from bug, and a customized desktop calendar to remind you when that first juicy tomato is scheduled to roll off the vine. The collection requires a Windows 95/98/00 PC with a Pentium 233 or higher processor (list $69.95).

Enough R&D. If you’re ready for some instant gratification, put on your shades, slop on the 30-weight sunscreen, and unpack Plow and Hearth’s 12 volt solar panel and fountain kit ($129.95). Add a palm tree and you’ve got instant Casa Blanca. (DLT had to settle for testing ours in a disappointingly low-tech bucket of water.) This low-care combo frees you from the electrical umbilical cord and fits as comfortably into the corner of any high-rise balcony.

If your philodendron’s in a state of perpetual wilt, check out Brookstone’s PlantSmart. Think of this sensor probe as an indoor/outdoor plant thermometer ($30). You just compare the pH, light and moisture levels on the LCD display against an easy-read chart to see if your patient needs an infusion. It’s also perfect for shut-in gardeners and house sitters with the black thumbs.

For those of you who’ve gone X-10, you can hook up your computer to the Water Walker, also from Brookstone ($99.95). This plastic critter inches along a hose you lay out beforehand and sprays your lawn, automatically shutting off at the end of its run.

Some of you may think of gardening as a blood sport rather than a retreat. Damn the songbirds, you can get out some of your pent up aggression with Black & Decker’s EdgeHog ($90 Black & Decker), a 2-in-1 landscape edger and trencher that allows you to rip into the overgrowth with a powerful hurt (without hurting yourself). It’s well balanced, light, easy to assemble, and with a 2 1/4 HP engine, you still get a monster machine buzz without having to don a motorcycle helmet.

Admittedly worms, spades and dirty fingernails may not be for everyone. If cyber-gardening is more your speed, try the Telegarden. With this tele-robotic installation, Web users select, water and care for a remote garden tended by a robotic arm, proving definitively that Eden is where you find it.

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