Inventing The Future with the Viridi Garden App
The directions are simple— nurture a small pot of succulents that you can grow in real time. But here is the twist: this is not on your stoop or fire escape; it’s on your smart phone.
The app, which is surprisingly addicting, is called Viridi (which means “young” or “fresh” in Latin) and it has been designed to help you relax while nurturing tiny, water-saving plants. How, you might ask?
GC recently spoke with the app’s designer, Zoe Vartanian, who works for Ice Water Games (an independent game developer in Seattle), about the role that plants play in her life, her inspiration for this meditative app, about singing to your succulents, and about what it really takes to keep these drought tolerant plants alive. (Hint: It’s harder than you think!)
GC: When did you have the idea for the app and what is the incentive in taking the time to interact with it?
ZV: The idea came to me when I started to help out with Kevin Maxon’s (the founder and owner of Ice Water Games) upcoming project. When I realized that my suggestions and interests weren’t really in line or appropriate for a logic and interface-heavy, turn-based strategy game, I started thinking about my ideal game. It really didn’t turn out to be a game in the sense that you can win or come to an end state, but neither are my two favorite games, Minecraft and Geoguessr. I realize that Minecraft has an end state, but I’m not interested in it. Achievements and high stress situations aren’t really what I’m going for.
“Achievements and high stress situations aren’t really what I’m going for. I wanted to create a little, contained safe haven that had little beautiful things that you could tend to and enjoy.”
I wanted to create a little, contained safe haven that had little beautiful things that you could tend to and enjoy. People are always pulling out their phone to check Facebook, Twitter, etc. and I thought it would be beneficial for them to have a little world to return to in moments of stress and boredom. Viridi is meant to bring out a little bit of a maternal side in everyone. And I think that’s pretty therapeutic.
GC: What role do plants/flowers play in your life? What is your earliest memory of gardening?
ZV: My family has always kept a garden and I bring home kale, swiss chard, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes from time to time. My earliest memory of caring for plants is in my parent’s bathroom with my mother, putting seeds in little wet paper towels for them to germinate. As a four or five year old, I was pretty disappointed with how they didn’t sprout immediately, like in plant time-lapses on Bill Nye.
When I was sixteen I got a job working at a garden store where I learned all the names of all the plants and what made them the most happy. I prided myself on being able to go out and recite the names of various plants, even if it annoyed the people around me.
Granted, I’m not a botanist, nor do I claim to work miracles on plants. Recently, I almost killed my Ficus lyrata, which I had had for years, when it got too hot and sunny in my apartment– but it’s on the mend now. I have my Ficus, a Rubber plant, some Sedums, an Echeveria, and a pot of various succulent seedlings from leaves that I got on a trip to California.
GC: What is the most underrated plant/flower?
ZV: I think one of the most underrated plants are the Pachyphytums. Something about the super smooth, fat leaves triggers something weird in me and I want to eat them. My favorite is probably Pachyphytum oviferum (aka Moonstones). So pearly and delicious looking.
GC: Why did you make the conscious choice of curating your app with succulents? Are you encouraging people to plant more low-maintenance plants? The overwatering feature is likely a nod to the same, yes?
ZV: Succulents are just what I pictured in my head when I closed my eyes and made a tiny garden. In addition, I was thinking about a friend of mine that has very bad luck with them. I knew that returning to a little digital garden once a week will be enough to have happy, healthy plants that can hopefully replace all the dead ones that some players seem to have around.
Some people have given us negative reviews that say “Why would I get this game when I can just grow these in real life?” For those people, that’s the better option. If you can grow these awesome plants in real life and want to do so, please do.
Even though succulents are pretty straightforward to take care of, a lot of people over-water, or they get leggy and gross. They’re not made of steel like some magazines and blogs say they are. I wanted people to know that because they are drought tolerant, that doesn’t mean you can be completely careless.
“Even though succulents are pretty straightforward to take care of, they’re not made of steel like some magazines and blogs say they are. I wanted people to know that because they are drought tolerant, that doesn’t mean you can be completely careless.”
GC: Talk to me about the “singing to your succulents” feature…
ZV: This was a feature we’ve recently put in and are still working on perfecting. We’re always trying to find new ways for the player to engage with their plants because, honestly, there’s not much you can do with succulents. They’re brittle, they often have the farinose powder coating that shouldn’t be disturbed– they just want to be left alone. Singing to succulents is a bonding activity that benefits the player and the plants. Players who spend time on their plants are rewarded with happier, faster-growing plants while feeling proud of their tiny garden and good about themselves.
GC: I love that you included the technical aka Latin names of the plants. Why did you opt to do this?
ZV: Thanks! When I first started making the plant models, I didn’t really know too many of the varieties. I think I knew about Aloes, Aeoniums, Hens & Chicks, and Echeverias. On lifestyle blogs and sites like Pinterest, there was often no more information other than the fact that they were succulents. I wanted to dig deeper and shifted from having a game with a few blobby little plants with no info to a simulation where you can actually learn more about specific plants and get to know the names of them. I wanted to encourage the curiosity and mindfulness of the everyday succulent admirer. With everyone going nuts over succulents and using them as wedding favors, or sticking them in terrariums, I wanted people to know that these plants have been around a lot longer than the past few succulent-crazed years and that they aren’t just throw away objects.
GC: Is the snail that hovers by the edge of the pot a friend or foe to the succulents? Do you have an allegiance to take care of it as well?
ZV: The snail is neither friend nor foe to your plants. It never gets hungry, it never gets thirsty, it never dies. For some people, even simulated plants are too hard, but you never have to try to keep your snail alive. People seem to go crazy for it and I love it. We’re working on adding more critters for the pot edge that will be available in the nursery. Right now, I’m working on a grasshopper and have plans to add at least an anole and a mouse.
“On lifestyle blogs and sites like Pinterest, there was often no more information other than the fact that they were succulents… I wanted to encourage the curiosity and mindfulness of the everyday succulent admirer.”
GC: When will the app be released through the App Store?
ZV: Best case scenario, the game comes out within 3-4 months on Android and iOS. Worst case, within the next year. We want to make Viridi as amazing as possible and luckily we have Steam as our test market. I think there are a lot more improvements to make before it gets released on iOS especially, since we’re predicting that to be our biggest market. [Editor’s Note: …Outside of gardeners, that is.]