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Horticulture then and now, is a division of agriculture

Questions We're Often Asked: Horticulturalist


By —— Bio and Archives--November 24, 2018

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Questions We're Often Asked: Horticulturalist
Why are some people regarded as horticulturalists and others as gardeners? The smart explanation is that the former is merely a gardener with a panel van. Cute, but . . .

Go back far enough and it is suggested that gardening is the oldest occupation. (Occupation, please note; a pair of professions have been claimed to be the most ancient . . .). As with a surprising amount of the English language, horticulture finds its roots in Latin, the ancient Romans knowing more than a thing or two about the subject. Hortus then is a garden coupled with cultura or cultivation. So here we have, by extension, explanation for both horticulturalist and gardener—and are no further ahead.

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The classic explanation, of course, remains that attributed in the 1920s to the acid-tongues Dorothy Parker: “You can lead a # to culture but you cannot make her think.” Witty perhaps, but again we still lack a distinction.

Millenia or more passed with those engaged in raising vegetables, herbs, fruit, nuts and flowers referred to as ‘gardeners.’ This needn’t have been denigratory: the renowned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was, after all, termed a ‘landscape gardener.’ The rise of the horticulturalist as opposed to gardener, emerged about the same time as Brown in the mid-18th century, with the establishment of agriculture as a science.

Horticulture then and now, is a division of agriculture. It involves the intensive cultivation of food and ornamental crops as opposed to large-scale operations and while eschewing livestock. It may extend as well into ornamental enrichment, involving decorative shrubs, trees, annual and perennial flowers along with garden design, construction and maintenance.

Other aspects of horticulture involve commercial propagation and care of cut flowers and plants for interior decoration. It may extend to such specialities as turf management, water gardening, even therapy and consulting.

Today, gardening is a division of horticulture. Head gardener is still used to describe a professional who manages the grounds of a large estate, but the designation of gardener is more often applied today to a skilled amateur. He, or just as often she, has been defined as a hobbyist caring for plantings, containers, interior plantings, ornamentals, vegetables, fruits, herbs; it tends to be labour-intensive. More recently an unfortunate reversion occurred with municipally employed unskilled labour being referred to as ‘gardeners.’

In the long run, one wonders if the distinction matters. Robert Sellers recorded that the Chinese “Pu Yi, this man who was the Emperor, son of heaven, lord of 10,000 years who died happily as a humble gardener.” There are worse ways to depart for celestial landscapes.


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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.


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