Gardening Toolkit HD - A plant encyclopedia to help you with your garden

It's been a year since I first had a look at Gardening Toolkit, the iPhone app that allows you to track the growth and progress of your garden. After a lengthy wait and ready for the summer season, New Zealand studio Applied Objects has released an iPad version for your inner geeky gardener.

For those of you new to the app, Gardening Toolkit HD [iTunes Link] combines a range of solutions to make gardening more pleasant, and why not, more organised.  Divided in four main areas, you can easily remember what’s planted where, set up reminders for activities, find ideas to make the most out of your space and even share your creations with others.

Before you start using the Gardening Toolkit HD, you'll need to set up your region with the correct climate and hardiness--this ensures that all the recommendations make sense for the conditions in your area. 

The starting point for most of the sessions is its huge plant database that you can browse and filter to your convenience. Something like gardening data mining to give you the idea.

A normal scenario for me would be checking which herbs grow at this time of the year that won't be spoiled after August. Having this information with me might be very useful for the next visit to the local gardening shop, where I used to spend way too long reading about every seed they sell!

On top of consulting, you can also contribute to the database including local varieties not listed or perhaps a plant you got from a friend and haven't really identified yet. Considering that iPads now come with a camera, you can even add a picture without the hassle of importing them from somewhere else. 

The other main use for the “Plants” database is to add specific entries to your virtual garden-the place to track and learn about your actual physical one. While adding a plant to the garden is easy and flexible-fields can be edited-I wish there was some sort of size field, since we don't always grow from plants or seeds. 

Combining all these information with your own virtual gardens is what makes this app great and will keep you using it. Although there is some romanticism to waiting for a seed to germinate, Gardening Toolkit will every detail of its progress and will be able to predict a harvest time. There are other functions in the app that are a nice complement, such as a to-do item list and a knowledge base with a glossary, ideas and featured plants for each month.

Just like in the iPhone version, the graphical treatment has a level of care that I'd like to see more often in the App Store. Textures, backgrounds and interactions make Gardening Toolkit HD a pleasure to use, and the carefully chosen pictures that illustrate every entry will be descriptive enough in most cases. 

The biggest disappointment from the UI is the recycling of the layout, which is used in every section and doesn't make much sense at times. I prefer to think this was done for consistency's sake and not laziness, but the true is that the to-do list section doesn't work very well. The lack of a portrait mode is another notable omission, since I imagine some people might want to hold their iPads in this position when they go out to the back garden.

The fact that the app relies on content from external sites (from About.com to BBC) to recommend growing instructions is surprising but nonetheless smart. I would be googling this information myself, so there's nothing wrong with presenting me these tips clearly identifying the source. This approach works for me, and I'm sure you also appreciate that nobody is trying to become the gardening authority here, just using tips from other experts unashamedly.

If you like what I'm describing and are addicted to your garden, I recommend you try it. The developer has taken some time to throw updates in the past, but is committed to its only iOS app. Depending on your needs, some parts of the toolkit will be more valuable than others, but I think the powerful database alone is worth the price being asked.