WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

Gathering votes
Gathering votes

D.I.Y SmartGarden

New Zealand is an incredible country. Pristine golden beaches, grand mountains, and deep forests adorn our land. The beautiful plants and wildlife that can be found all around serve to make New Zealand the gorgeous country it is. But we should never take this for granted - deforestation seems sadly inevitable when profits are there to be made. We need to recognize how special what we have is - and with this knowledge, make strides in protecting what is ours. And what better way to learn about our plants than getting hands-on and growing them? 

With this in mind, I envisioned a smart gardening system that can be used to familiarize youth with our native plants, and ideally grow an appreciation (pun not intended) for them that will last into adulthood. One of the biggest challenges of getting kids into gardening is that they often don't have the attention span to stick with it - constant watering while making sure that you're not going over or under what the plant needs, while maintaining ideal conditions at all times. It becomes less about nurturing, while becoming more of a chore. No doubt, hundreds, if not thousands of plants die every year as a symptom of this!

So what is the solution? Well, if you're anything like me, you'll agree that a SmartGarden is a good contender. Prospective gardeners will be able to plant plants, and then watch them grow without having to worry about watering, temperature, or humidity. The SmartGarden will be provided to primary and secondary schools at the cost of production, and to individuals for as low a price as is reasonable. In schools, it can be used as a hands on activity that teachers can use as a platform to educate students about our native plants, but unlike a traditional garden, when the garden is not being used by students, it will run independently, keeping the precious cargo inside alive and well. At home, it could be used to grow anything from a baby pohutukawa to tomatoes for tonight's meal. 

So what is a SmartGarden exactly? Well simply put, its a microprocessor with software on it that knows the location of plants in the garden, and with this information, will be able to care for them correctly, and individually. This allows many types of plant to be grown at the same time, all while having different preferred watering amounts, etc. Users can connect to the microprocessor via a mobile app for Android and iOS, getting statistics and changing settings from a very simple to use user interface.

One of the major goals of the SmartGarden is to be fully self-sustainable. This would mean it runs off solar power, and the water would come direct from a rainwater reservoir. This would mean that you could run a SmartGarden anywhere in the country with no adverse environmental impact.

About now you may be thinking 'how is this project D.I.Y?'. Well, when you receive a SmartGarden, you are getting the electronics with all software preloaded, but as for how the actual garden is laid out and built, that is entirely up to you. Detailed documentation on how to set everything up will be provided, but ultimately, it is up to you on how the garden is created.

The SmartGarden aims to revolutionize youth involvement in environmental issues by building awareness on the awesome and unique ecosystem we are a part of.

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

With the SmartGarden I am hoping to be part of a solution to two problems. The first problem is a lack of education around our native plants. While on face level, it may not seem like a massive problem comparative to others, it is the implications of this that is the larger problem. With a lack of understanding comes a lack of percieved value, which could potentially lead to less opposition to future deforestation or other such negative possibilities. The other problem is to do with consuming more of the earths resources than what it is able to provide. One of the earths most valuable resources is food, and while now in New Zealand we aren't exactly in a full blown crisis on availability, with growing populations and poor management of what we do have, we need to take action now and fundamentally change how we consume if we are to enjoy a sustainable future.

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

By providing a platform to teach youth about our plants, and by allowing them to interact with nature hands on, we can teach them the value of plant life and help them to develop bonds with the Earth. This way, Kiwis will grow up with a greater appreciation for the beauty of the outdoors and want to protect it.  Also, the SmartGarden aims to encourage growing vegetables at home which will be a huge step towards sustainability. By making it easier than ever to grow plants at home, having a home garden will be immediately more accessible, as full time workers need not do any maintenance apart from pick their crop. 

What makes your idea new and unique?

The SmartGarden is the first of its kind - a medium scale, autonomous garden that is entirely self sustaining. It is the only garden that knows how much water each individual plant should be getting precisely, and is able to then deliver said water. It is an idea able to broaden the understanding of our youth while taking a step towards true sustainability. 

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

Teachers at schools. They will benefit by having a platform to operate their teaching from - practical learning is far easier than simply stating facts when it comes to this type of topic.Students. By learning about plants and watching them grow, students will be able to build a strong appreciation for our native plants, and also gain large insight into how they develop.The general public. By having a SmartGarden system at home, food can be grown with no adverse environmental impact, at a very low cost!

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

There are a lot of steps required to make this dream a reality. Firstly, a prototype of the microprocessor to be used must be developed with basic software enabling it to operate a pump, and measure the amount of water being pumped. All external sensors need to be implemented and tested as well. After creating the base from which to work from, the system must be converted to run from a solar panel/battery, and the software needs to be fleshed out to allow for internet communication with a server. A database of plants needs to be created cataloging all native NZ plants, as well as common edible plants. This may be one of the largest steps in the process due to the amounts of data needed. Mobile apps for both platforms need to get built and tested. The garden itself needs to get built and tested with the best design published.The Setup booklet needs to be designed and printed. A full time employee for development of the product. Hundreds of man hours will be invested into this project.

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?


I have read and agree to the Crowdicity Terms of Use, the Conservation Innovation Awards 2017 Supplemental Terms and Conditions, and the Crowdicity Privacy Policy


List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

In no particular order:

  • Pavel Plotinnov's 'Ultimate Domestic Growing Machine'. 
    This invention seems like a great idea going forward, allowing people living in homes with little outside space the option of growing fresh, sustainable food at home. And if the energy efficiency is as stated, it will have a very minimal impact in regards to power.
    If what is being suggested could be safely and widely used, eliminating weeds without harmful chemicals - it will be a very useful asset in protecting the environment.
  • Leigh Nicholson's 'Hanging Gardens of New Zealand'.
    Vertical gardens are awesome - they clean our air, strengthen biodeversity, and they make our cities look a lot more beautiful too!
  • Chris Muller's 'Drone Ranger'
    Unlike other drones of its type, it is capable of tracking multiple VHF transmitters at once, and has already been field tested with efficiency gains over competitors. It is an upgrade over existing technology which has already proven its worth.
  • Jeremy Stead's 'Baleen Filter'
    If all washing machines in NZ were to have such a filter, the equivalent of thousands (if not millions) of plastic bags would be prevented from entering the ocean. It is a simple idea with a very large potential impact.

How could you improve your idea?

One way this project could be expanded upon (without taking anything away from the original vision of use in schools to promote awareness of native plants) would be to add a software feature that allows for cooperation of several SmartGarden units, so that implementation on a larger level can be achieved. If this were to be done, large scale autonomous gardens could be produced that create no emissions and are fully self sustaining. Therefore the same technology could be used to run small, medium, and large scale gardens, increasing potential use cases vastly.

edited on Oct 8, 2017 by Daniel Cutmore

William Seagar Oct 6, 2017

I would love to see this being put into primary schools. My question is what is your level of familiarity with micro controller programming and mobile app development?


Daniel Cutmore Oct 6, 2017

I am glad to see your enthusiasm! I would consider myself to be very familiar with both - I have coded for micro controllers using both Assembly and C, and I have a comprehensive knowledge of programming mobile applications as I am a software engineer by trade. I am hoping my knowledge and the fact that I wont have to source outside help will keep costs down, enabling me to use the given budget to maximum effect.


Pavel Plotinnov Oct 7, 2017

H Daniel!

I really like your idea! You got my vote!


Daniel Cutmore Oct 7, 2017

Cheers mate! Love your idea too!


Becky Wilson Oct 8, 2017

The idea has been progressed to the next milestone


Fiona Edwards Oct 9, 2017

Kia ora
Could you please clarify how this project will solve the problem you identified ie a lack of education about native plants? How does a watering system encourage people to learn about plants?
Many thanks


Daniel Cutmore Oct 9, 2017

Hey Fiona!

Sorry, I should have been more clear in my description. The original inspiration for the project was a low maintenance system that could be used as a learning aid in schools. Schools across Aotearoa would be provided a SmartGarden system at a low cost, which could then be run without external input - teachers at the school wouldn't have provide ongoing maintenance, making it a lot more attractive than a traditional garden. From there, children would be encouraged to plant their own native trees or other flora, and be able to watch them grow. Unlike a traditional garden system, students wont need to be constantly taking care of their plants - maybe visiting once a week or so, with teachers being able to teach about our environment during this time. Over the course of a year, students will be able to watch their plants grow and have their knowledge of these plants grow as well. One idea I had which I felt would be cool to see, would be to plant the trees that the students grew throughout the year around the school grounds, so in the years to come students could revisit their own slice of the school and remember the time they spent nurturing their plant.

In summary, the SmartGarden provides a engaging platform that teachers can utilise to educate about enviromental issues, and students will be provided with a physical memory of what they have learnt, and their native plant will be a sentimental reminder of their time spent out of the classroom.

Appreciate the question,


Fiona Edwards Oct 9, 2017

Thanks for the clarification Daniel. Good luck with your proposal


View all replies (2)

Jennifer Mcguire Oct 10, 2017

I like this - you are so right with the over and under watering experiences with kids! But you are onto it completely - our future conservationists will only care about what they have experienced and know. I love this project as a means of developing empathy for the environment and fostering the environmental leaders of the future. Awesome work!


Daniel Cutmore Oct 11, 2017

Thanks heaps for your support!! Its awesome to hear positive feedback from the community. I am super excited for the potential this project has!