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British usage of word 'garden'

In the US (also Canada I believe) a 'garden' is an intensely cultivated plot of land where one grows flowers, vegetables, roses, etc. The exterior part of a residential lot is called a 'yard.' A lawn would never be referred to as a 'garden' or as a part of a garden, however a lawn and a garden might be the components of a yard.

What are the British uses here?

  1. Are both an intensively cultivated plot of land and the exterior part of a residential lot properly called 'garden'?

  2. Would the exterior part of a residential lot ever be called a 'yard'?

Translate into Britspeak: "Follow me into the backyard and I'll show you my garden."

Posted by
5654 posts

Oxford dictionary definitions:

Garden

A piece of ground adjoining a house, used for growing flowers, fruit,
or vegetables: [as modifier] ‘a herb garden’

Ornamental grounds laid out for public enjoyment and recreation:
‘botanical gardens’ as in Kew Gardens

A street or square: ‘Burlington Gardens’

Allotment

A plot of land rented by an individual for growing vegetables or
flowers.

Yard

A piece of uncultivated ground adjoining a building, typically one
enclosed by walls or other buildings: ‘tiny houses with the lavatory
in the yard’

Posted by
12387 posts

My friends from the UK I have noted referred to their yard as a garden. But they have the wrong names for a lot of things like elevators and trucks, so I just ignore them.

Posted by
12205 posts

I don't think dictionary definitions are useful here. The question is how are these terms used in the UK by residents.

Our UK friends refer to the area around their house as a "garden" and it is beautifully planted, with flower beds and cultivated trees surrounding a lawn area. I did not ask what they would call a vegetable growing area, as they did not have one.

But then there are " gardens" in the sense of Kensinginton Gardens, Kew Gardens, etc. These are large public parks, which may or may not have beautiful flower beds.

A " yard" can be most anything. Think of Scotland Yard.

Posted by
14326 posts

I once complimented a middle-aged London woman on her front yard. She was offended and explained that a yard was an unkempt, untended plot of land. Calling someone's garden a "yard" was derogatory.

My dad's flower garden in Chicago was a section of our backyard - all of which he tended assiduously, along with the front yard.

Posted by
977 posts

Love these quirky discussions. We, as in our Aussie family and friends call the area, including the trees and garden/lawn as either the front or back yard. The 'garden' area (front or back) consists of shrubs, flowers, trees, lawn etc. Where we grow the spuds beans, tomatoes etc. simply referred to as the 'veggie' garden

Posted by
1849 posts

A backyard in British English conjours up images of terraced houses with a small concrete area hardly big enough to swing a cat. Some pictures

http://www.artisanpm.co.uk/portfolio/small-victorian-terraced-house-garden

http://londontopia.net/london-photos/photo-terraced-backyards-in-islington-in-the-1960s/

Today, a backyard may had a makeover and have decking, a few pot plants, a gazebo or anything else that could fit in. It would hardly be called a garden, except by estate agents.

A garden, front or back, typically comprises of a lawned area, flower beds, trees, and maybe herbs and vegetables.

"Follow me into the backyard and I'll show you my garden." just wouldn't be said in normal English.

Posted by
1063 posts

"A garden, front or back, typically comprises of a lawned area, flower beds, trees, and maybe herbs and vegetables."

Exactly right (even just a lawned area would be a garden), a "yard" would be just concrete or paving slabs.

"Yard" would only be used in British English for a paved area in front of, or behind a house - perhaps a tiny bit of space where someone might put a chair & some plants in pots. But even then one might refer to it as a garden, perhaps with inverted commas. OR a yard is a scrappy paved area at a business - say a car servicing place or a builders' merchants that might store tyres or bricks "out in the yard."

It is never used for a normal sized front or back area of a house that has grass and/or plants in beds - that is always a garden, whether or not it's been cultivated. You wouldn't - in British English - say "come into my backyard and see my garden" because the whole backyard IS called the garden.

BUT within a bigger garden there might be specific smaller areas such as "a kitchen garden" (vegetable plot) or a herb garden.

Posted by
3182 posts

(Awake ridiculously early to take son to airport)

SO: it sounds like the intensively cultivated patch of ground that an American (or Canadian, or Australian) would call simply a 'garden' would in the U.K. require an adjective for clarity: 'Follow me into the back garden to see my vegetable garden'?

Also: perhaps yard (UK) is patio (US) in this sense? Although a patio is for sitting, not parking.

Posted by
3182 posts

Now I'm wondering about the term 'gardening' which in the US means tending a cultivated plot only (tilling, weeding, sowing, planting) but never generally tending the exterior parts of a property like mowing a lawn or raking leaves off a lawn or sweeping a patio or watering.

Posted by
2880 posts

There is a general sense of pleasure (at least for me) of going outdoors to do some gardening as opposed to doing yard work which usually involves bigger tools, debris bags and sore muscles...

"Gardening" in British English generally means work you do in the garden - we don't use the term "yard work." However we might be more specific - for example you might say "I'm going to mow the lawn," or "I'm going to clear up the dead leaves." They're not exactly gardening but there's not a generic term for that sort of physical work.

Posted by
12 posts

My understanding is that the "garden" is what us yanks would consider the backyard of our house.

Posted by
12205 posts

Oh my, Emma! Very clever.

Tom, are writing a novel set in the UK?

Posted by
8889 posts

Follow me into the backyard and I'll show you my garden.

= Follow me into the back garden, I want to show it to you.
A yard (as well as a unit of length) is an area covered in concrete, or in mud, or paved. Like a farmyard, or factory yard, or a courtyard between buildings. Yard and garden are mutually exclusive terms. The land surrounding a house, no matter how overgrown with weeds, is always a garden if there is earth there. Calling it a yard is definitely an insult.

Posted by
646 posts

For future reference you might wish to note that the colonial versions of any language including English tend to remain antiquated compared to the mother country. Thus American English remains closer to Shakespeare's English British English.

Posted by
3182 posts

No, not writing a novel. It just came up via texting that German uses Garten in the same sense that the British use garden.

It still strikes me as not just different usage but lacking. Is there really no definite word in the U.K. for what I call a garden? Patch or plot doesn't seem adequate.

Posted by
646 posts

So confusing.

We visited friends close Hampton Court who invited us into thier backyard which was exactly what Americans call a backyard. It was partially walled and partially fenced and contained a small low wooden deck, a small, vegetable plot, a sand box, swing set, shrubs, mostly lawn, and a few flowers scattered between the bushes. It was not what we would call a garden as it was primarily lawn and patio. I don't know what they called what we would call the front yard. It had a lawn, shrubs, more flowers and no driveway or parking.

In Greenwich we sitted a house entirely surrounded by a walled in area containing a front stoop, a thin ribbon of perennials and shrubs ringing the wall, a wide loop of lawn, a swing set, a generous flagstone patio, a storage shed, an outdoor grilling area, and a place to park a truck (small lorry) which the barrister owner referred to as the garden.

So the yard had no parking, but the garden did. Neither was primarily a place for flowers or vegetables. By Emma's definition, the yard was possibly a garden, but the garden was most certainly a yard. Perhaps both owners were attempting to talk American to their American guests?

Another one who struggles to understand your confusion.

My grandparents had a very large back garden. It consisted of various elements. To start with, there was a yard with the outside loo - a paved area. Then there was an area with a lawn and flowerbeds. Beyond that was the kitchen garden, where they grew fruit and veg. If I was outside playing in the garden, I might be in any or all of those areas. If my grandmother wanted to show people her veg, she'd say "come and see my kitchen garden." It would be ridiculous to say "come into my garden and see my kitchen garden" even though that's what she meant.

If the kitchen garden had been smaller, she might have called it a veg patch I suppose. The flowers were in flowerbeds - I wonder if a flowerbed is a term Americans use, or would you call that a flower garden?

It's perfectly usual to have Gardens within gardens - most of the great stately homes do. Go to Sissinghurst - the whole thing is one big garden but within the garden are "rooms" which are also called Gardens - the White Garden for example.

The easiest rule is: if there's any sign of cultivation in the land around a house, even if it's a few herbs in a pot, call it a garden. You may find the householder refers to it as a yard themselves but generally that's a slightly insulting dismissive term.

Posted by
12205 posts

That is a clear explanation, Jane.

In the US, most home gardens have the flowers in flower beds, generally around the edges---unless it is what is here called an "English garden" in which case the flowers cover the area ( which is usually a front "yard".)

http://www.ultimatechristoph.com/11704-romantic-english-garden-design/cottage-english-garden-design-with-perennials/

Another term for this style is "wildflower meadow" but that uses wildflowers instead of cultivated ones.

Posted by
1849 posts

ahh yes the cottage garden - just don't confuse gardening with cottaging....

Posted by
12205 posts

Yet another example of the differences in our language! And I do not recall ever seeing a cottage garden like that in the UK-- all the gardens I have seen, whether public or private ( home gardens) had the flowers in proper beds.

And speaking of that, when I was studying horticulture in Alaska, I worked in a Demonstration Garden where we displayed many varieties of annual flowers that could be grown in home gardens ( Alaskans are avid home gardeners and the flowers grown there are beautiful). The previous manager simply displayed the plants in boring rows with labels. I changed that to flower beds laid out along curving paths, with 2-3 compatible varieties in each bed. We had great fun deciding which ones to put in the beds together, especially when the cultivars had names like Madame Such and Sir So-and So.

Posted by
2880 posts

@ramblin'on, what's cottaging? Is is a real estate term like "the housing market is down for the month of November"? British equivalent of the "the cottaging market is down for the month of November" for those seeking information on how the sales of cottages is going?

EDIT: for the British example I probably should have said Estate Agent?

Posted by
2880 posts

Oh, never mind. I looked up this British term. You learn something new everyday!

Posted by
1063 posts

The meaning of "Cottaging":
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Cottaging

So called because it mainly took place in public toilets in parks, which (surprisingly) looked a lot like cottages............So I'm reliably informed.:-)

http://www.grayshott-archive.org.uk/uploads/image/Articles/Old%20Grayshott%20Toilets%202007%202%207x5.jpg

Sorry Mona, we were posting at the same time....At least it'll save anyone else having to Google it.

Posted by
1063 posts

"George Michael is also a well known fan I believe."

I thought he was more partial to "dogging".

Posted by
135 posts

'woof woof' - or was that a 'shaggy dog' story? ;-)

Posted by
8293 posts

OK, boys and girls ..... time for bed.

Posted by
991 posts

IMHO a "garden" as a place to grow things, flowers, veg, even a lawn, in the earth, not in a container. A Yard is where prisoners exercise or an otherwise paved space where one keeps the bins. You see a lot of houses in England where the owner has paved or bricked over the front garden to turn it into a carpark. Now is no longer a garden.

Posted by
2624 posts

My English family and Welsh family always call their front and back gardens.

Posted by
1976 posts

To piggyback on the garden discussion, I've heard the British phrase "at the bottom of the garden" several times and wonder exactly what it means. Does it mean the same thing as the American English phrase "at the back of the garden", meaning farthest away from the house? Is there such a phrase as "at the top of the garden" in British English? Would that mean closest to the house?

Posted by
3182 posts

at the back of the garden

To me this means at the back of the (veggie, rose, flower) garden, and not specifically any distance from the house. For example, my rose garden abuts the front of my house, so the back of the garden in this case is the front face of my house.

What I alluded to earlier is that "gardening" is the US is an elite activity entirely distinct from "doing yard work" and shows a dedication to understanding the environment, a commitment to intensively tending plants, and gardener is a rare thing to call oneself. This distinction seems to not exist in the UK (or France, or Germany) where the word garden/Garten/jardin has a broader meaning.

Posted by
1976 posts

Emma, thank you!

Tom, as an American used to American English, I agree with your interpretation of the phrase "at the back of the garden." It sounds weird in American English. I could see using it if someone asked, "Where's the trowel?" and I would say, "It's at the back of the garden next to the cucumbers" or something.

Posted by
415 posts

I would also like to throw the term "landscaping" into the mix. In my area if your neighbors are working in their yard or doing garden work they're really working on their "landscaping."

Posted by
12205 posts

Ah, but landscaping is a different level entirely.

"Gardening" suggests a routine, or maintenance of established plantings, or repetition of a pattern repeated year after year, as planting a vegetable garden, or pruning a rose garden, or setting out new perennials in a flower bed.

"Landscaping" has elements of architecture and design. It is not the work of planting the flowers or shrubs or vegetables, but the creative process of designing and shaping the places where the plants will be placed.

Posted by
871 posts

I enjoyed reading this discussion.

What about even more regional terms?

In Akron, Ohio we call the strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street (I think generally referred to as the tree lawn), the DEVILSTRIP. This term was used because even though this area was "owned" by the municipality, the homeowner was required to maintain the area and pay taxes on it. I believe we are the only area of the country that uses the term devilstrip.