I have been pondering this question for a long while now. What is a garden? Not “what are gardens for?” the question posed and answered so eloquently by Rory Stuart in his recent book, What Are Gardens For? but much more fundamental. How is a garden defined? or What is the definition of garden?
It is not as simple an answer as one would think, or I would like. Being traditionally educated I, naturally, turned to the dictionary for a definition. Being a contemporary household, I do not have a print dictionary and so turned to Dictionary.com online. For one word, garden, there are a number of definitions:
- a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables, fruits or herbs are cultivated.
- a piece of ground or other space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc, used as a park or other public recreation area
- a fertile and delightful spot or region.
- North American a large public hall: Madison Square Garden
Four definitions, all very different. I was not satisfied. But, since it was Sunday and the library was closed and so I could not seek a second opinion in print, I further pursued my search on the internet. Wikipedia was next. If I could not find a satisfactory definition, perhaps my answer lay within the etymology. It did not.
The etymology of the word gardening refers to enclosure: it is from Middle English gardin, from Anglo-French gardin, jardin, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German gard,gart, an enclosure or compound, as inStuttgart.. The words yard, court, and Latin hortus (meaning “garden,” hence horticulture and orchard), are cognates—all referring to an enclosed space.The term “garden” in British English refers to a small enclosed area of land, usually adjoining a building. This would be referred to as a yard in American English.
I now know a little more about the etymology of gardening, but am no closer to a definition of garden. Is there no definitive definition? Is a garden an enclosed space near a house where plants are cultivated, and a public recreation area, and a whole region and Madison Square? Can it be all these things? I am asking for your help on this question. Please help me ponder. Have a think and then tell me: how do you define garden?