Saturday 30 March 2019

What is the difference between horticulture and gardening?

Fair weather gardener - not when it is wet, windy or cold
I try in my posts to give definitive answers. I cannot do so today. Each word carries numerous inferences and some are the same.
For myself I regard myself as both horticulturist (what an ugly word) and gardener. Of the latter I am most proud albeit there might be doubt whether I qualify. At work I taught horticultural students about gardening and related sciences - and perhaps some horticulture too?
When I went home I was a gardener and gardened. It was rather different to the day job.

Some might suggest that horticulturist is a pretentious name for a gardener - and it might be. I wonder however if you advertised for a gardener and an applicant said he was a horticulturist would you give him the job?

Lets start at the beginning. Perhaps a gardener is defined as someone who actually gets his hands dirty and tills the soil. That might disqualify me as I am a no dig gardener - although I manage the first part - and farmers till? 

The rhubarb industry - a fine example of Yorkshire horticulture
Perhaps I had better say a gardener is someone who grows plants in the soil. But would a commercial grower be so described? I would tend to describe her or him as a horticulturist but that might not be true either.

Even if we can agree what it is to be a gardener how do we differentiate between a skilled knowledgeable gardener and someone who merely labours in the garden at home? My own parents worked very hard in their garden and it was a chore. They listened to Gardener’s Question time, laughed at the jokes and learned nothing.
Are television gardening programmes made for actual gardeners or just someone who sits on the sofa?
How do we compare a craftsman gardener who might show extraordinary skill in his growing yet has no interest in the wider world of horticulture - there I have used the word!

Some parks are fine examples of quality horticulture and some still employ gardeners
I remember a gifted craftsman gardener - a former dustbin man I worked with one summer. He had extraordinary skill at digging. When he dug the borders (ugh) of Hartlepool Valley gardens every sod was a precisely placed gem and all done at ninety miles an hour. I was tempted to put him forward as far remote from being a horticulturist but then I recall it was he who gave me a wonderful book by that great Japanese guru and pioneer of minimum cultivation Masanobu Fukuoka that influenced my own horticultural thinking. Jim taught me a great deal about life that summer - and I am being euphemistic. He was a philosopher gardener.

Let’s start at the other end and try to define horticulture. I think it suggests professional involvement in an industry associated with growing. Take landscape designers. I think they are horticulturists but many never get their hands dirty. The ones to employ are the ones who are gardeners too.

The height of success for a breeder is to raise a plant that looks good on a dutch tray
Some gardeners work in garden centres but not all employees are gardeners. Many might be horticulturists with a broad knowledge of their trade. Some garden centres don’t seem to want their sales staff to know much about gardening - they might spend too much time answering questions!

I wonder how many acres of brussels sprouts you need to grow to cease to be a gardener and become a farmer. How much produce do you need to sell to become a market gardener? 

Many aspects of horticulture are science based, perhaps those involved in research and teaching gardening and rural science are best described as horticulturists. It is a shame that these days there are few educational opportunities to learn to be gardeners.

I once had a lecturing colleague - a former Parks director whose passion was garden history. His small garden was an overgrown neglected mess. An eminent horticulturist but no way a gardener.

In contrast the long retired director of a local horticultural research station is an eminent national renowned horticulturist. When I myself retired and worked as  ‘an up market’ jobbing gardener I looked over my client’s hedge and found him doing the same! (In his case for a relative)

 Botanist Phil Orton is the one in the pink
Botanists are neither gardeners nor horticulturists by definition but at home often are. I swear I recently saw a picture of soil invaded by (woolly) lettuce root aphid illustrating a botany article on mycorrhiza. No gardener would be so mistaken.

Phil’s science colleague soil scientist and ecologist Stan Ridgeway had a fascinating garden entirely planted with weeds
I think it was a high level of gardening skill - unlike the afore mentioned Park Director. On the subject of Parks Directors I worked under Horticultural Superintendent Mr Grubb - does that make him an entomologist?
Perhaps I might mention my professor of horticulture was an entomologist  - but did many splendid things in horticulture.

Look it up!
All horticulturists, but their passion is gardening
My usual motto is when all fails read the instructions. I looked the words up in the dictionary.

Gardening ….the activity of tending and cultivating a garden, especially as a pastime.

Horticulture…the cultivation, processing, and sale of fruits, nuts, vegetables, ornamental plants, and flowers as well as many additional services.  I goes on to give other examples such as arboriculture
I hope I have covered all these examples today

Commercial horticulture can be a long way from gardening
Horticulture as a profession
May I end on a serious note. Because horticulture is so fragmented and because in so many quarters such as research and education it is so depleted it fails to have a strong voice as a united profession. When Government seeks guidance on horticultural matters who do they turn to? Hopefully not a TV gardener or some pushing entrepreneur or media star. How do we judge or better manage such  projects  as the failed London garden bridge for example?
My former boss educationalist  P. K.Willmot was conscious of this fifty years ago and through his career sought to funnel horticultural expertise through the ‘Horticulture Educational Association’. This evolved into the ‘Institute of Horticulture’ now elevated to  ‘The Charted Institute of Horticulture’
All grist to their mill


PKWilmott 1966

I am grateful to Frances who has sent me a picture of her father the man who taught me to question all things gardening.
She sent me this nice little story
I really liked the blog on the difference between gardening and horticulture. I was once asked to dance at a school hop and boy asked what my father did. I replied, “He is a horticulturist”. Long silence. Then, “Did you say that your father was a gardener?” The relationship went no further because he didn’t appear to understand the subsequent explanation and, I assume, was unable to work out whether I was of the “right” social group.

This takes you to my post about the docu-fiction book about Masanobu Fukuoka


  1. Yes we all need teaching/education!

  2. It's a shame really that schools are forced down the academic route through league tables, the god that is the national curriculum etc. Many life skills are ignored eg feeding your body through growing and cooking food and the soul by growing flowers and creating art. Before the National Curriculum the afternoons in school were non academic and allowed children who excelled at the more practical activities to feel a sense of achievement.

    1. Brenda used to teach domestic science and says working the kitchen taught so many life skills

  3. Very interesting post. I generally think of myself as a gardener but the line with horticulture seems like a blurry one.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...