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EDITOR’S LETTER: Smartphone Gardening - There’s an App for That!

Photo credit: Karen England -

Grinnell's Beardtongue, Penstemon grinnellii, growing on the editor's Vista, CA, property.

By Karen England.

I am never without my smartphone because it is how I communicate with my invalid mother who lives with me. She texts me when she needs something so that I can go do things, like gardening, and not have to be in the house with her constantly when she doesn’t need me. I’m lucky that she texts like a champion because my life as her 24/7 caregiver would be much different, and a lot harder, if she weren’t so good with technology.

So, since I’m constantly with my iPhone anyway, I have embraced its incredible technologies to assist me in my yard and I practically no longer need my computer.

To prove this point, I’m writing this editor’s letter completely on my iPhone while out in my garden “working”.

Photo credit: Karen England
Writing this editor's letter on my iPhone while on my porch bed "working" in my garden.

Here are some of my smartphone gardener tips: what works and doesn’t work for me . . . (Please note- I have no stake in any of these apps. I’m just sharing what I do with my iPhone. It is my understanding that these apps all have Android versions available as well.)


1. Garden Photography:

Although I have two DSLR cameras with a variety of lenses and gear, I don’t always have them with me. Even when I do use the “good” cameras to photograph my garden instead of using my iPhone to take pictures, I upload all my photos from any source to the cloud and use iPhone apps to edit all my photos. My favorite photo editing apps are SNAPSEED and ADOBE PHOTOSHOP EXPRESS.

Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii, with Hummingbird photos. Photo on the left I took with my Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera using EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom lens and, while standing in the same spot, same day and time, I took the photo on the right with my iPhone Xs using 10x zoom. I edited both photos on my iPhone in the Photoshop Express app using the same exact editing options.

2. Plant Identification:

I used to be good at plant ID. Not anymore. These days I use an app called PLANTSNAP to identify plants. There are two versions, free with ads or paid subscription. I loved the free one so much that I now subscribe. I used PLANTSNAP to identify this plant that I found growing wild on my property as Grinnell's Beardtongue, Penstemon grinnellii. It is easy to use. You take a photo of the plant you want to identify and the app gives you possible options with lots of photos for comparison.

photo credit: Karen England.
I used PLANTSNAP to identify this plant that I found growing wild on my property.

3. Plant Cataloging:

For a time, after buying my property in 2000, I kept an excellent, detailed handwritten record of my garden and its plants. But I’m older now and forgetful and life eventually got in the way of that effort. My early garden records were lost and so much has changed since then anyway, that were I to find them, I’m not sure how helpful they would be now beyond nostalgia. Nowadays, the NOTES app is a big help to me in this area! NOTES can contain photos of your plants in their locations, photos of the plant tags, screenshots and links to other info, botanical names, dates planted, etc., making a wonderful garden record, one that can be easily and often updated. Lots of people use PINTEREST for garden inspiration although I do not. I simply make notes on my phone of the plants that I want to buy and include inspirational garden design photos in with the appropriate notes. For me this is a streamlined method and more useful than Pinterest. If you like Pinterest though, the smartphone app is a must have for gardeners.

4. Personal Safety:

I live alone on two rugged acres (currently I live alone with my bedridden mother. I know that sounds like an oxymoron) and having a charged and working smartphone with me at all times on my property, means that if myself or my dogs encounter a rattler, which has happened more times than I care to recall over the last 20 years I can call for help and have done so many times, as well as, still scream bloody murder. Six years ago, while I was outside at dusk without my phone, dressed in flip flops and shorts, my bare leg was spit on by an unseen, unheard rattlesnake. The snake was on the move and not coiled and therefore couldn’t strike me but it wanted to, spraying my calf with its venom. Had the snake been coiled I would have been struck! EEK! That’s just one of my many rattlesnake close call stories since moving to Vista. So, along with having my phone with me for safety, I also suit up in leather gloves, heavy work boots and thick jeans when I go outside these days. That said, if you wish to identify the snakes found in your garden try an app called SNAKESNAP. (Or, not safety related, if it’s birds you want to ID try the AUDUBON BIRD GUIDE app.)

Photo credit: Karen England
A view of some of my rugged, wild, snake infested land.

5. Weather:

What gardener doesn’t love the many weather apps available? Some weather apps allow you to contribute local information. Check out the WEATHER UNDERGROUND app if you haven’t already.


6. Dictation and Siri:

I have tried repeatedly to utilize Siri as my Personal Assistant by voice recording notes or making handsfree text replies so that I don’t have to touch my screen while I’m outside working or driving in my car. I’m supposed to be able to say “Hey Siri” in the direction of my phone and then dictate something when the personal assistant responds to the prompt. When the prompt works, which is hardly ever, the resulting notes and texts are inscrutable. Useless. Laughable.

7. Water Proofing:

Water has ruined many of my iPhones and water is a huge part of gardening. I’ve learned the hard way that “Water Resistant” covers are not the same as “water proofed”. There is no app for this problem that I’ve found, so just remember to keep your phone dry!

8. Charging:

It’s important to have a charged phone for any of these tips to work. I’m working on this issue. To that end I have a pocket-sized backup battery charger for when I’m roaming around my property “just in case.” There are several very helpful BATTERY LIFE apps available if keeping your technology charged and operational is an issue for you as it is for me.

What apps do you utilize to be a better gardener or enjoy your plants more? I’d really love to know! Email me at so that I can get the apps too.


SDHS Newsletter - Let's Talk Plants! Managing editor, Karen England, is also a member-at-large of the International Herb Association and a contributor to the 2020 IHA Herb of the Year TM book -

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