“Plants are kind of like people. You either think they’re good looking — or not.”
That’s the crux of a conversation had between horticulture aficionados Mason Day and Seth Reed as they traveled between gardening shows in Chicago and Kansas City. To kill time, the duo brainstormed ways to integrate technology and gardening — an intersection, Day said, that hasn’t quite taken root.
“The industry itself is not very technology proficient,” Day said. “How do you get young folks interested in plants?"
Although they initially only joked about a sort of “Tinder for plants,” the more they thought about it, the more they realized there might actually be some real opportunity there.
Out of that conversation grew GrowIt!, a mobile app that acts as a social network to connect novice growers with seasoned gardeners to answer questions about plant identification, ideal environmental conditions, and growing tips on everything from flowers and vegetables to your living room fern.
Here’s an example of GrowIt! in use: Say you just moved into your first house, and it came with an unruly, overgrown yard full of unfamiliar greenery. With GrowIt, you can make a profile and upload pictures of plants to find out which ones are weeds, which ones are poisonous, and which ones just need a good pruning. From there, you can also ask what plants other local homeowners think grow best in their yards or browse by category to discover new landscaping options for your new home.
This week, Day and Reed have taken center stage at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, an annual convention that features 20 gardens full of different flora to get Chicagoland yards ready for the summer. This year, every plant featured at the show is on GrowIt!, meaning attendees who download the app know exactly how to grow any plants they consider buying ahead of time.
The app (which was built by developers at Eight Bit Studios) launched in beta in July of 2014 and went live for the public in March of last year. Since then, Day said they’ve amassed about 100,000 users in total.
Day said he hopes the app can help people change the way they think about gardening and encourage a new generation to get interested in horticulture. Growing plants, he said, isn’t just about digging dirt in the yard on Sunday afternoons. For instance, there are about 16 different herbs you can grow directly on your countertop to spice up your cooking and cocktails to impress friends at parties.
And once your thumb starts to stain green, it’s hard to clean it off.
“There’s some kind of subliminal effect there. You’re raising something and creating something that’s alive,” he said. “There aren't too many aspects of our lives — besides having children or a pet — where we get to experience the joy of life and the beauty of nature.”