Billed as the world's first self-contained indoor garden appliance, Aerogarden promises dirt-free and virtually set-and-forget produce. The makers claim its 'NASA-tested aeroponic technology' produces faster, healthier and more nutritious plants, year-round. But high tech turns out to be high cost as well.

The Aerogarden counter-top unit holds seven special seed pods (why they need to be special and not just any standard pod is anyone's guess) and uses two 'daylight' compact fluorescent "grow bulbs" - or as they say at NASA, "$20 light bulbs with a proprietary connection so you can't just get them from the local hardware store".

The idea is that you just add the pre-seeded pods, organic nutrient tablets and water, then turn it on and watch your plants sprout and grow.

The 'smart' part of the system is how it adjusts nutrient levels and water flow for optimum growth and indicates when to add more. The timed lamps run about 16 hours a day, depending on plant type, but it's claimed the whole system consumes less than a 60 W light bulb. The lamp hood can be raised progressively to accommodate the growing garden.

There's a limited selection of herbs, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, chilli peppers and flowers available in readymade pod packs, or a do-it-yourself kit for other seed types which the makers claim will not perform as impressively as the 'special' pods.

How does your garden grow? With wads of cash thrown at it...

So, what is the cost of 'smart' gardening?

  • Rounded up, the standard Aerogarden (including herb pods, nutrients and grow bulbs) costs $220 and you should be able to find them online to ship to Australia without too much trouble.
  • Extra pod sets are $25, again plus $5 P&H — but the postage cost is the same per set even if you order multiples.
  • Replacing the grow bulb twin-pack at the recommended six months, costs $20 plus $10 P&H.

So, in the first year, that's $220 for the unit and $40 for extra bulbs, plus whatever additional seeds you want at $35 a kit. Somehow, unless money's no object, 'smart' gardening doesn't seem quite so smart anymore.

CHOICE verdict

The Aerogarden makes a trendy talking point and it's convenient, but a run-of-the-mill readymade indoor herb garden kit is about a tenth the cost. But if you want a small, clean, funky, high-tech indoor garden all year round, go for it. Globaldirect sell the light bulbs and seed kits but if you want to buy a unit, you need to order from Amazon.