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What is a garden?

Obvious, you might say: the place where you mow the lawn, grow flowers, shrubs and vegetables and protect them from weeds and pests. Is that it?

Curiously, the origin of the word ‘garden’ defines it by what is around it, not what is in it. It has the same origin as the words ‘yard’ and ‘garth’: an enclosed piece of ground. Even more curiously, the word ‘paradise’ has a similar origin. ‘Para’ means ‘around’ and ‘dis’ is a shape or form. So paradise also first meant an enclosed space.

The description of the biblical garden of Eden has both the enclosing and planting senses of the word:

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food …” (Genesis chapter 2, verses 8-9)

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A garden, then, is an intervention by humans, a construct in a defined space, a manipulation of what planet Earth does naturally by selection, arrangement and alteration of plants and landscape in that enclosed area. There was also a trend from the earliest times of bringing plants and even animals from far away to cultivate and display in the garden.

All of which leads to further questions, such as:

– Why do we do it?

And, related:

– What is the difference between gardening and farming?

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