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I grew a little garden on my houseboat. Here's how

Review: The Smart Garden 9 Pro is easy to use and can brighten up any home, on land or at sea.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor

Smart Garden 9 Pro

4.5 / 5
Very good

pros and cons

  • Sleek design
  • Easy app control
  • Fresh veggies!
  • Proprietary grow pods
  • No gasket around lid (an issue on a boat!)

Living on a boat with kiddos is fun, as long as you can deal with giving up some creature comforts. I've pined for a garden for ages, and during the dark days of the pandemic I felt it acutely.

With our new boat (well, 1944 but new to us) we finally have some space to work with, and top of list was an indoor garden setup. (Okay, pizza oven may have been TOP of list, but garden came second.) 

I had my eye on two distinct types of indoor garden: a space-conscious countertop model and a larger hydroponic floor system. There are several options out there for each, but when it comes to the countertop version one of the best regarded is the Smart Garden 9 Pro by Click & Grow.

Amid the frenzy of moving in and selling our old boat and getting Lindy situated in her new berth I jumped in and braced for freshness. How does growing produce on a boat work? Read on to find out.


Model name Smart Garden 9
Plant pod capacity 9
Product width 604 mm (2′)
Product height 396 mm (1′4″)
Product depth 184 mm (7″)
Product weight 2.4 kg (5.29 lb
Power consumption 13 W
Power consumption per month 6.2 kWh
Cable length 2800 mm (9′2″)
Water tank capacity 4 l (1.06 US gal)
Material ABS


Form factor is an important consideration for a product that's meant to live on your counter. The garden is meant as much to be a centerpiece and design element as a functional addition to your diet and routine. 

Click & Grow clearly spent a lot of time refining the Smart Garden 9 Pro. The Estonian company sprouted after founder Mattias Lepp read a NASA report about growing plants in space. What grew out of that experience is what Click & Grow describes as the first indoor garden that took care of plants automatically.

Also: The 5 best indoor gardens

Taking a cue from Apple, Click & Grow opted for a minimalist design in white with no buttons for its Smart Garden 9 Pro. The device looks a little like a futuristic tool box with a row of grow lights instead of a handle. The body of the device holds water, the level of which is indicated by a bobble that floats up when there's sufficient water. There are nine circular openings in a zigzag formation to accommodate the grow pods.  

Conveniently, the garden's cord tucks into a slot on the side of the assembled device, keeping it from throwing off the vibe. All in all, it would make for a great centerpiece if you have a bigger table or some counter real estate. Keep in mind the footprint is fairly big (24" by 7") and plan accordingly.


The kiddos love it! Between this and the indoor composter they're getting a real look at the food life cycle.

Greg Nichols / ZDNet

Getting started

Setup is a breeze. You snap the grow lights into the base, tuck the cord into its dedicated channel, and that's pretty much it for the hardware.

The Smart Garden comes with 9 spaces for pods, which have to be ordered from Click & Grow. Each pod cradle has a little flexible tag to note your veggie type (I failed to do this and it took me a few weeks to realize I'd planted cherry tomatoes!). 

The seed pods are available from Click & Grow in a wide variety of species and types. It would be nice if you could plant your own seeds, but for around a couple bucks each ordering from the company isn't bad. The pods have all the plant food the plants need, which is part of what makes the process almost totally automatic.

Also: The 5 best robot mowers

Once you have your hardware set up, you add water to the base, plop in your seed pods, and plug it in. The light cycle on the device is automatic, so if you're not using the app you should plug it in early in the morning so the cycle mimics the daylight cycle. I consistently forgot to do this on time for the better part of a week. 

Fortunately the app allows you to set a custom schedule, so this was a good kick in the pants to get that set up. Once you have the free app you connect to your device via Bluetooth. The lights cleverly blink to indicate the pairing was successful. You can input your plants on the app to keep track of them, set the light schedule, order new plants, and that's about it. 

I appreciate the simplicity. Like I said, I was in the midst of the moving frenzy when I set the garden up and I found the whole system refreshingly simple to get the hang of.


Makes for a pretty stunning centerpiece once the sprouts get going. Before then it might take some explanation.

Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Plants anywhere 

One of the cool things I learned while doing this review is that I'm not the first boat dweller to use the garden. The Smart Garden 9 was recently taken on a long boat trip to the North pole as well by a crew of the company's fellow countrymen from Estonia. HEre are some photos from their trip. And there are some US navy plane carriers that are using our gardens to grow fresh food on their long journeys.

That makes tons of sense for a couple reasons. First, it's great to have fresh plants around when you're in a marine environment. Marinas tend to be fairly light on greenery and when you're at sea the best you'll get is kelp.

Also: The best plant subscription boxes

But it also makes sense because fresh vegetables and growing plants carry an intrinsic sense of home, something nurturing and comforting. What could be more important when you're on a voyage far from home? Add to that the fact that the garden is mostly hands off and you have a perfect addition to any boating setup, provided of course you have space. We didn't have the space on our old sailboat (at least not without doing some reorganization) but the garden feels just right on Lindy.

Just as plants can help mariners feel a connection to home, growing fresh veggies and flowers in your apartment can help bring life into the space, imbuing it with a bit of magic and earthiness.


Okay, but don't water with Pellegrino.

Greg Nichols / ZDNet


I've had my garden going for about a month. This thing is great.

Everything sprouted, in spite of the garden having been moved fairly frequently during the move to make space (and being unplugged at random during those moves). I've come to look forward to seeing the plants each morning, each time a little bit bigger. The lights staying on when we hit the sack took a bit of getting used to, but now it's like an upstairs nightlight. 

So far we've harvested basil and lettuce. The lettuce I wouldn't do again ... it's just not a big enough event eating it to warrant the garden real estate. More herbs, I think, and maybe mix it up with some flowers for a bright pop of color. The basil has been a great ingredient to reach for and I'm really looking forward to the cherry tomatoes, which must be a very small variety to fit under the grow lights. 

Bottom line 

Highly recommend. It's a no-brainer of a device that brings fresh plants into your living space and takes very little time and relatively little space.

It's also a great addition to non-traditional spaces (boats) or a way to grow stuff in spaces, climates, or seasons that wouldn't normally allow for a fresh garden. The pods are easy to reorder and the device is sleek. All in all, a big fresh thumbs up.

Alternatives to consider 

The adjustable grow height gives lots of headroom for growing.

Handsome wood details and lots of smarts, but for a price.

Notably stylish, the bronze finish is stunning.

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