Apps, everything has an app these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an app that has the sole purpose of complaining there are too many apps. Sadly, there are just too many bad apps that it’s often hard to find one that you really need. As I do tech reviews of things like apps my phone has about 40 apps on it that I don’t really need but, at some point, plan to review or just remove.
Gardening appears to have very few mobile apps available that are worth even downloading, let alone keeping on my phone. I don’t know if this is because there are very few developers who garden, or because the gardeners who can develop just aren’t that good at designing. However, it’s not all doom and gloom because there are some ‘gardening related’ apps out there that align themselves with the interests of gardeners (I’m still waiting for the Blooms for Bees one) and the one I’m about to write about is, well, read and you’ll see what I think about it.
The National Gardens Scheme was founded by the Queen’s Nursing Institute in 1927. In 1980 it was made an independent charity and in 2005 it was made a charitable company. It is governed by a Council of Trustees and managed by a Chief Executive leading a small team of employed staff working at a central office, to support a large team of volunteers operating on a county by county basis to source interesting, beautiful gardens and look after their openings.
Over more than eighty years the NGS has established an unrivalled reputation as the organiser of outstanding gardens being opened to visitors in order to raise funds for charity. The particular area of charitable funding has always been nursing and caring; through regular annual donations the NGS has established itself as one of the most significant charitable funders of this sector.
The NGS has a rare and simple fundraising and grant-making model. Funds are raised annually by visitors paying to attend open gardens and to enjoy home-made teas or buying plants. The totals raised dictate the amounts that are donated annually within a twelve month period.
Currently the NGS’s target is for 80p of every £1 raised at gardens to be donated to the annual beneficiaries. In the great majority of cases the owners of gardens donate the total amounts raised at their open days, only very occasionally are minimal expenses deducted. Their generosity is responsible for the millions of pounds that the charity is able to donate every year.
If you’ve never visited an NGS open garden and are thinking ‘Sure, it sounds like a great idea but is that all’ then I can assure you, I’ve yet to visit a garden that is part of an NGS open weekend that hasn’t been worth the time and effort to get there. In fact, Pinky and I have driven over an hour to get to some of them and in many cases would have driven twice as far!
Until now the only way of finding out about gardens to visit (on the scheme) have been through word-of-mouth (such as social media, or a poster in a garden centre or nursery) or by visiting the NGS website (which can feel a little cluttered as they’ve got so much information to share) and while these are great ways of getting the message out, they aren’t the best ways of finding somewhere if you’re already out and are lost for something to do. Well that’s all changed now!
Name: NGS Find a Garden
Publisher: The National Gardens Scheme
Released: 3rd March 2016
App size: 8.6 MB
Data size: 11.2 MB (at time of review)
Platform: iOS 10 (beta) – There is an Android version.
Tested on: iPhone 6
Requires: iOS 6.0 or later on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
App store rating: 4 (It needs more reviews! I can’t until iOS 10 is properly released)
If it’s true that first impressions are most important, then this app is off to a fantastic start. It does take about 3 seconds for the ‘Splash Screen’ to go away and it’s impossible to tell if that’s just a design mistake or because the app is doing something (splash screens that can be turned off, should be, in my opinion) but three seconds isn’t the end of the world.
Once the splash screen has gone (and it doesn’t re-appear if the app is still running and you switch back to it) you are greeted with an easy to understand, clean, and very functional screen that gets straight to business. As the name says, this app is to ‘Find a Garden’ and being able to do just that from the start is how it should be.
How straightforward is it?
Well, you’ve not only got the option to ‘Use Current Location’ but also specify a postcode or town. Added with the option of being able to use ‘Our suggested dates’ (although there is no clue to what they may be) or from a specific list of Today, This Weekend, Next 7 days, or Next 28 days, means that you can plan a visit somewhere else. Which is exactly what I did, given how Pinky and I are visiting Devon for the next 7 days. So let’s search for a little place we’ve been before and love.
After selecting the option for Postcode/Town and typing in ‘Kings Nympton’ I’m very quickly greeted with a new page. I have the option to go back to search, to sort by Date or Distance, and to see the search results as rich items containing garden name, postcode, distance from my chosen location, and the opening dates and times.
But wait, that’s list mode, there is also..
Not content with what is already a clean and good looking list of gardens, the app has embedded a Google maps functionality that fits well with the app design. Not only does it support zooming (with both + and – buttons but also pinch zoom) you’ve also got the Map and Hybrid options, so you can see the overhead satellite images that Google maps are famous for. You can even click on the Google logo and open the current map location and zoom in the Google Maps app (I don’t know what happens if you don’t have maps installed.)
If you click on one of the map pins that show your results you get the garden name, opening dates (and times per date) and a ‘View’ link to take you to the garden detail. A nice design thought happens here are you can go ‘Back’ from viewing the garden details and get back to the map, exactly as it was before you clicked through.
It would have been nice to have a ‘Return to your search area’ button for those times you’ve made a mistake in screen swiping or over-zealous zooming. It would also be nice if clicking the Google logo brought up maps with the currently select pins imported into it but that may not even be possible on iOS.
The first ‘page’ of the details give you the garden name and location (including postcode) and a featured image. One thing I’ve loved on the website was being able to see the various pictures of a garden but, at least at the moment, we only get one. Let’s hope there are plans for more pictures later, especially if there is an option to download more, for those of us with phones already full of other app data.
Again there is the garden name and postcode (nice if taking a screenshot to send to someone else but these details appear on every page of the garden details) at the top of the page. You’ve then got a list of icons that explain the facilities (wheelchair accessible, dog friendly, café, etc) but while these are fairly straight forward to understand, there doesn’t appear to be a key or ‘click for details’ feature that would be nice.
Naturally, there are the opening dates and times, together with admission price. You can also, in some cases, find contact details including clickable links for websites and telephone numbers.
A great feature used here is that if the listing is for a ‘group’ then you’ll have links available for ‘The gardens in this group’ and those then allow you to view the details for each individual garden. As with maps you can come back to the group listing after visiting the details.
This one is fairly obvious and really doesn’t need anything writing about it. Of the 30 or so gardens I have taken a look at I have yet to see anything other than just text, which is nice and clean.
Here we have another, well implemented, Google maps screen. This time we have the option for extra ‘local knowledge’ details that often do help you to find a location (trust me, even with the best satnav, you can’t beat local resident 1.0 for finding your way somewhere.) You also get a link that can open up Google maps, this time with the pin already dropped, and you can then use the satnav feature of maps to take you there.
Are there bugs?
As a developer I’d certainly hope so. However, I’ve yet to find any! Well, there is this thing that sometimes happens with maps where the map sort of breaks but that could be because I’m running a beta, developer version of iOS 10. This was easily fixed by rotating my phone from portrait to landscape, however.
- Well more photographs, as I mentioned earlier, especially if there is an option to turn more photographs on (and clear them out if you wish to clean up your phone.)
- I’ve also mentioned how it could be handy to open up Google maps with all current pins showing.
- A few design features I would like to see are
- Being able to save a garden/gardens to a list for visiting, especially if there was a route optimisation feature based on location/distance/opening times. That would make it an AMAZINGLY powerful day/weekend/week feature for those of us who are NGS obsessed.
- There is also no way (that I’ve found) to get back to search if you have clicked through many links, you just have to click back until you are at search again.
- You appear to get limited to 20 items for a search result and I don’t know if these are changed when you switch between distance and date sorting. It would be nice in a future version to have more control over this, especially during big NGS weekend events. Now it could be that all my test results have only 20 gardens open but that’s a bit of a coincidence really.
- Finally, there are no sharing features inside the app, which is a major oversight, given how shareable this application and the details it provides are. This needs to be added before anything else as I can’t see why people wouldn’t wish to share what’s here.
Well if you haven’t already guessed, I adore this application. On a scale of 1 to 10, it should get a clear 10 but I’m going to give a 9.5 but only because I’m getting old and my memory is terrible, so the inability to save, or at least share in an email to myself, is very limiting. Also, I still want to visit the main NGS site for more photographs if the featured one isn’t quite calling out to me. But to put this into context, I’ve yet to give any software a 10 and I’ve been doing this for over a decade.
So please, do visit some NGS gardens and use this app to find them. Also leave them a review on whichever app store you use to get the app as this is important for others to know about the app but also for the developers to know what they are getting right and what they may be getting wrong.