Economical and smart: the computer now waters my garden
This summer, we’re implementing «smart» irrigation in our small garden. I’ve installed one Gardena and one Eva Aqua watering computer.
If you want to keep bushes, flowers and hedges green even in summer, you’ll find yourself roaming around evening after evening with garden hose in hand. Although that’s the wrong time of day – the experts recommend watering early in the morning. Very early in the morning (article in German).
To shorten my round, we’ve added the little luxury of drip irrigation in part of our garden. But because it’s a few years old, the irrigation control is now out of date. We also have a small bed with shrubs in front of the front door, which has been watered by hand up to now. This provides the perfect conditions for testing two irrigation systems. I’m installing a new control device for the small bed. I’m replacing the old one for the garden, which is like the C64 of irrigation technology – the older ones among you will remember. It’s basically just a better timer.
My new Gardena and Eve Aqua test devices would smile sympathetically if they had feelings built into their circuit boards. But they don’t. Instead, there are «smart» options for integrating them into an existing home network. In my case, this is Wi-Fi that forms a mesh network for the house with a Netgear router and satellites controlled via Apple HomeKit. Both the Gardena system and the Eve Aqua control computer are compatible.
Assembly and installation
The two test devices differ significantly from one another in one aspect: you can operate the Eve Aqua without a bridge. It can be integrated directly into Apple’s HomeKit environment – provided you’re an Apple user, of course. If you’re an Android user, you’re out of luck. Gardena, on the other hand, supplies a «smart Gateway» that sets up a network for all connected Gardena devices which enables them to communicate.
Gardena: the Gateway that’s not afraid of commitment
This is the brain of the Gardena system. However, before it can work, it has to be connected to the network. So I connect the bridge to my router. I have the Gardena smart app on my iPhone, which guides me through the installation process. I set up the Gardena network in a few simple steps, fortunately without having to use the LAN cable provided, but it’s already bothering me that the Gardena Gateway is now next to my router and can gather dust.
The «smart Gateway» instructions suggest numerous other ways to get it up and running, including the specification with the URL for the direct interface. The Gardena software is also open source. You can request a copy of it from Gardena’s parent company, Husqvarna, but I do without it for my test and only evaluate the system’s built-in options.
After the software, I turn to the hardware. The Gardena watering controller is a neatly finished piece of plastic. It needs power to connect to the bridge. For me, this means I have to put three AA batteries in it, which requires some skill and spatial imagination thanks to the unusual opening mechanism. You pull a piece of plastic out of the housing, click in the batteries and then fumble the package back into the water computer. I hope I don’t have to change the batteries too often.
But then everything is ready – I dismantled the C64 beforehand – and I can screw the «Smart Water Control» unit to the tap. ¾ inch meets ¾ inch, which is pleasing. Although plastic and metal threads are sometimes not friends, I have no problems here. As is typical of Gardena, everything fits right away and can be easily tightened without tools. I can make the existing 15 millimetre hose for the drip irrigation system Gardena-compatible with a hose connector and simply plug it into the controller.
Eve Aqua: the plastic thread shows weakness
I chose the Eve Aqua as the second test device because the design appealed to me and I expected only having to install one device to save me time. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work as expected. An unfortunate combination of the sharp-cut metal thread on the tap, the soft, hard-to-grip plastic thread on the Eve Aqua and my lack of sensitivity spoiled the enjoyment of connecting the components. It took an intermediate thread and a few metres of Teflon tape to ensure the construction is stable and tight. Now I can turn on the tap above the small bed without it constantly dripping.
I connected the Eve Aqua to a Gardena Micro-Drip-System for our small bed, which has never had drip irrigation before. Although this was a bit challenging because of the strong growth of the shrubs and ground cover, it didn’t cause any major problems.
The Eve Aqua got on my nerves during the hardware installation, but the software makes up for it. Once the box has power thanks to the two AA batteries that came with it, I can set it up using the Eve app. I don’t have to create an Eve account for them; I can get started right away. After scanning the QR code, the water computer is added to the system and then also integrated into Apple’s HomeKit.
The Eve app is the highlight of my product test. Not that it’s particularly challenging to automatically irrigate a nearly 2.5 metre long bed with a few bushes, but Eve manages to give me a nice overview of all the devices that are active in my HomeKit. For me, it’s even better than Apple’s own Home app.
Operation and functionality
Once screwed on and installed, the devices have to show what they can do in the test, because I want to leave the garden to the two of them with a clear conscience while I can’t look after it for two weeks. Eve Aqua is in charge of the small bed by the front door, while Gardena takes care of the garden.
Gardena: the sensor makes all the difference
The «smart Gateway» now sets the pace in the garden – and I trust it completely. The reason for this is a gadget that Gardena also made available to me for my test: a sensor. It’s the secret star of this test report.
It measures how warm and moist the soil is. And because I told it beforehand via the app, it also knows what type of soil and plants are being watered. From this, the smart watering computer calculates how often to water and for how long. The programme then runs fully automatically, even adjusting the start times to the sunrise and pausing when it has rained and the ground is moist enough.
You can also override all of this in the Gardena app if you think you’re a better gardener. Or you can look at your irrigation history if you’re a statistics nerd. After a few days full of curiosity and professional control, I just let things take their course.
Gardena is also compatible with Apple HomeKit – in addition to Amazon Alexa, IFTTT and some other systems. I integrated the system into my HomeKit in order to have all the information in one place, i.e. in Apple's «Home» app, instead of having to click through multiple apps.
Eve: the app provides a complete overview
More and more often I find myself calling up Eve’s app instead of the «Home» app to get an overview of what my various little digital helpers in and around the house are reporting. Three Netatmo measuring cylinders, which are also in my HomeKit, report temperatures and air quality from the living room, bedroom and seating area. The two garden systems have now been added to this, which comes pretty close to Orwellian surveillance.
I also let the Eve Aqua do some work. In the Eve app, I created a «scene» that turns on watering for 20 minutes. This «scene» starts automatically at a time in the evening that I have set in the timer, but only if the Gardena sensor measures a soil moisture content of 60 per cent or less in the other part of the garden. Yes, I’ve arrived in Rule Kingdom. The setup could only be improved by having another Gardena sensor for the small bed that the Eve Aqua waters. The soil might be different there. It’ll probably be my next purchase, as Eve doesn’t make this kind of sensor.
Verdict: I’m hooked
Both of the systems I have installed and tested make targeted watering easier. They save you time and help you to use only as much water as you need – after all, climate change calls for responsible use of this resource.
If you opt for Gardena’s «smart system», you can control a variety of devices such as lawn sprinklers and robot lawn mowers in the Gardena app, in addition to drip watering systems and sensors. Alternatively, you can transfer the data to Apple’s HomeKit and define the rules there. In the Android world, there’s a whole range of apps that are at least similar to what Apple offers, but, as a seasoned Apple user, I’m not qualified to give a specific recommendation.
Eve has a smaller range of garden devices. The company is better known for heating control and monitoring, but the Eve Aqua is still a good choice for gardeners if you rely fully on Apple’s HomeKit and want to save yourself an additional bridge, which you’ll need for Gardena.
In any case, I’m hooked and will probably buy another sensor or two in the next few weeks and plant them in the garden for even more data and even better watering control. There’s just one thing I probably won't get used to: the fact that I could also start watering by voice command to Siri. A garden should still be a bit of work, even if it’s just on your smartphone.
*Are you keen to enter the world of watering computers too? Do you have any questions about the two products I tested? Or are you already an expert on the subject? I look forward to your comments and questions.
Journalist since 1997. Stopovers in Franconia (or the Franken region), Lake Constance, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Zurich. Father since 2014. Expert in editorial organisation and motivation. Focus on sustainability, home office tools, beautiful things for the home, creative toys and sports equipment.
These articles might also interest you