Plugged in to outdoor living

Plugged in to outdoor living

Abode’s Landscape architecture expert Tony Milne looks at how technology is creeping into our landscape and garden space.

I was chatting with a colleague the other day about a former client who chastised us both for not considering the physical limitations of Trevor - his robot lawnmower (name has been changed to protect his identity). Surely Trevor, for whom we had designed a glorious hutch, could do more than mow in a well-prescribed pattern, we ventured. How churlish of us.

The thing was, Trevor required a robotic lawnmower mobility ramp. We really should have done our research. As I now know, Trevor could have handled a 25-degree slope, interestingly steeper than that deemed ‘mowable’ by local council guidelines.

Trevor was no entry-level tool confined to slopes of a lesser gradient or even the back of the tool shed. He really was smart, his motor power automatically adapting to the condition of the grass during mowing. He just couldn’t climb steps, and I’m pretty sure he did not pick up ‘dog poo’.

Since the robotic lawnmower incident of 2007, we have had many requests from clients for device operated outdoor living. Technological advances make us reconsider the way we integrate with our outdoor environment. We are increasingly plugged in, just without the constraints of a cord, or in the case of Trevor, a perimeter wire.

Consider this for a moment. Guests are coming for tea. Your outdoor teppanyaki plate is hot by the time you get home, ignited via the app on your phone. You also remotely set the mood; music and lighting await your arrival. While in transit, you feed Ruby the cat and your app provides a visual confirmation with a camera linked to the cat’s remote food dispenser.

As you pick the bok choy from your potager, which used to be your vegetable patch until you heard someone at coffee group call it a potager, you notice it has leaf blight. Time to get advice from the plant doctor. This app has you geo-referenced, and help is given based on your location, climate and soil type.

At the same time, you remember having taken a photo of a lovely little succulent you couldn’t identify earlier in the day. You quickly hit the plant net app for instant identification and, as thought, it was from the Bromeliaceae family. The teppanyaki plate is smoking now, so you ask your guests to google ‘bromeliads’ and ‘biomimicry’, nature informing technology, you say.

Time to eat, where are the children? No longer content with swing ball, they are out geocaching or perhaps it is Pokémon Go. Or possibly the Electric Garden app they have on their phones, thanks to Digital Future Aotearoa, a charitable trust, which has alerted them that the courgettes in the school garden need watering.

Your guests have gone, you activate the automatic pool cover and cleaner, and let the ‘Dolphin’ or its equivalent go to work. You used to tell all and sundry how therapeutic vacuuming the pool was, that didn’t last long. You fall asleep to the sound of rain falling, in the knowledge that the rain sensor will override the automatic start of your irrigation system.

Trevor is a little scratchy in his hutch, he has received an alert that he won’t have to work in the morning. Rain may be the least of his concerns, before too long his daily staple of grass may well be artificial, and Trevor will be redundant.

Funny thing is, I was writing this as I was on a flight and as I exited the terminal at Christchurch airport who should I bump into? No, not our former client, but possibly one of Trevor’s relations going about their work on a little piece of lawn, under the watchful eye of the maintenance company’s employee leaning against his ute. Odd.

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