An example of a “front garden”.


 What word do you use for the area surrounding your home?  Do you call it a ‘yard’ or a ‘garden’?  

I looked up the definition of the word ‘yard’ regarding the land surrounding a house and here is what I found:

1. A tract of ground next to, surrounding or surrounded by a building or buildings.

2. A tract of ground, often enclosed, used for a particular business or activity. 

3. An area where railroad trains are made up and cars are switched, stored, and serviced on tracks and sidings.

4.  A winter pasture for deer or other grazing animals, or an enclosed tract of ground in which animals, such as chickens or pigs, are kept.

Now, I don’t have any trains in my yard or deer, chickens or pigs either.  I do have animals in my yard, but my dogs spend most of their time indoors.

Of all these definitions, the first one best describes my ‘yard’.  But it is so much more than a “tract of ground surrounding a building”.
My back ‘garden’ in the summer.
 
So, I looked up the definition of the word, ‘garden’.  Here is what I found:

1. A plot of land used for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, herbs, or fruit.

2. Grounds laid out with flowers, trees, and ornamental shrubs and used for recreation or display.
 
3. A yard or lawn.

Now some people may not feel comfortable referring to their ‘yard’ as a garden.  They may feel that their landscape is inadequate.
 Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny Ireland

Well, I don’t see anything in the definitions of the word, ‘garden’ that means that you have to have beautiful, formal, extravagant landscaping around your home.  You don’t see the word ‘castle’ mentioned in the definition, do you?

I think the definition(s) of the word, ‘garden,’ describe the landscape around my house much more accurately than the word ‘yard.’  I have flowers growing in containers, I have a vegetable garden, I have flowering plants, ornamental shrubs, and trees.

 Winter Annuals

Okay, you may be asking, “What if I only have a single tree and a couple of shrubs in my landscape?  Does that mean that I only have a ‘yard’, or can I call it a ‘garden.’  Well, if you look at the definitions from the dictionary, I think the word, ‘garden’ certainly applies.  But, it certainly couldn’t hurt if you decide to add more trees and plants in my opinion 😉

A few years ago, I stopped referring to the area surrounding my home as a ‘yard’.  I didn’t think that the term ‘yard’  described the landscape surrounding my house.  (When I managed landscapes, we had a ‘maintenance yard’ where all of our equipment was kept and our offices were also located there as well.  The term ‘yard’ did describe what we used that parcel of land for – a specific business or activity.  But it certainly was not a term that I wanted for the area around my home.)

My side vegetable ‘garden’


Now, my landscape is not particularly fancy…it’s rather simple, filled with plants that I love.  And so I decided that I did not have a ‘yard.’  To be more specific, I did not have a ‘front yard’, ‘backyard’ or even a ‘side yard’.  I had a garden.  Today, I refer to them as my ‘front garden’, ‘back garden’ and ‘side garden’. 
 Pink Beauty (Eremophila laanii)
When I meet with clients, I like to refer to their landscape areas as their front garden and back garden.  My hope is that they will see their “yard” as what it really is…..a garden.



So, what do you have?  A ‘garden’ or a ‘yard’?
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

44 replies
  1. Helen
    Helen says:

    Hi, Noelle, I don't have enough of a "yard" to be anything more than a garden, planted with flowers around a place to sit and enjoy them. The front garden, granted, has a sliver of grass — though not much wider than a pathway. So count me in as a "garden"er, literally and spiritually.

    Reply
  2. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    Hi Noelle…Currently, I have a garden in a yard, but in my perfect world the land surrounding my house would be nothing but garden/s.

    Wonderful post that made me ponder.

    Reply
  3. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, Most definitely your lovely borders make up a garden to be proud of. Without a doubt, I have a garden and, as everyone knows, an Englishman's home is his CASTLE!!

    Reply
  4. NellJean
    NellJean says:

    I think of ours as front yard, back yard, Upper Garden, and what MIL used to call 'the Patch' — a small grove of pecan trees. Over the past forty years, boundaries around the house have moved in and out.

    Reply
  5. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    I refer to the land in which I putter as both yard and garden. It's whatever just comes out at the moment. Of course, we know in America, the "yard" is the plot of land surrounding your home, whatever you ultimately do with it. It's a bit of a shock to us Americans when we hear the English refer to some tiny plot of nothin'-but-grass surrounded by a fence as the "garden." I think our minds are expecting a little something more. In the rural area where I live, most people think of a "garden" as rows of vegetables.

    Reply
  6. Christine B.
    Christine B. says:

    Great minds think alike. I've been mulling this topic (it's in draft form) for awhile now. Just when does a yard become a garden?

    Well, I do know this much. I tell the kids to go play in the back yard, not the back garden. I can't even imagine the havoc (and probably the confused looks) if I uttered those words "go play in the garden". They know the "yard" is for them and the "garden" is not to be trodden on unless you step from rock to rock or on the stepping stones. Gotta preserve those pore spaces in the soil;)

    No castles here (unless you count the minature golf "castle"), just a garden with a grassy play yard for the kids.

    Christine in Alaska

    Reply
  7. Martha Z
    Martha Z says:

    I don't think of it as a yard, imperfect it may be, the garden is a place I wander. Pull a weed, pick a berry, graze on some veggies. If it is not too hot I can always find something to do in the garden.

    Reply
  8. Town Mouse
    Town Mouse says:

    Ha! One of my pet peeves.

    I have a garden. I even say "the front garden" or the "back garden." As for the Backyard Bird Count, I'm trying to get that changed ;->

    Reply
  9. Evelyn
    Evelyn says:

    My space is above ground level i.e. a balcony. Have never thought of it as a yard! When I use the word "garden", sometimes people get confused. I don't care, it's a space for my plants and for me to relax in…

    Reply
  10. The Violet Fern
    The Violet Fern says:

    I definitely moved into a "tract of land" surrounding a building … but now I am creating gardens or better yet, a retreat or refuge! I, too, refer to my designated areas as different gardens – the butterfly garden, the pollinator garden, the woodland edge garden … really great post!

    Reply
  11. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    Maybe a garden is a state of mind?

    A thought-provoking post, Noelle. I enjoyed it very much. I typically refer to the plots where I grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers as my garden (trying to get in the habit of calling it a "potager" has failed, it was too fancy, I think, LOL), and the rest of it that the landlord takes care of is the yard and forest.

    If only it were my yard and forest… I was telling F. the other day that I'd start by clearing this one whole area and doing x, y, and z to it, and he was shocked at how big my vision was. Woe betide the "tract of land" that I one day own and can influence my way. 😉

    Reply
  12. Sharon Lovejoy
    Sharon Lovejoy says:

    I'm happy to report that I have a garden!! And I'm not a checkbook gardener, I do it myself.

    Your GARDEN is lovely, front, side, back etc.

    All joys,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

    Reply
  13. LC
    LC says:

    I may live a relatively humble existence in terms of the finer things of life, but I've always believed that my "gardens" can keep up with anyone's… after all, my lovely (pick any plant that I grow well) can easily keep up with any other of the same persuasion, whether grown in the gardens of a castle or the gardens of the rich and famous… all it takes is a love for gardening and hard work! Don't you think that gardening is a great equalizer among mankind?! Larry

    Reply
  14. danger garden
    danger garden says:

    Great question! Only after blogging for a few months did I realize I had a front garden. I spend too much time and money out there to call it a yard. The back on the other hand was always a garden.

    Reply
  15. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Hahaha Noelle, this is a lovely post! We have a yard and a garden but they extend to the fruits garden, animal garden, unattended garden, biodiversity garden and forest garden! I can even extend this further but i have to stop, or i might also include the other's properties, hehe. BTW, those pansies, my favorite flower which do not grow here, are awesomely composed. How beautiful! thanks.

    Reply
  16. Kathleen Scott
    Kathleen Scott says:

    We're on the garden side–wildflower patch, butterfly hummingbird gardens, bird gardens, east garden, side garden, etc. Although I'll admit that some seasons our place looks more like a plant riot than a garden.

    Reply
  17. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Most certainly a "garden" ~ I don't even think I use the work "yard!" I wonder if only gardeners refer to their property as "gardens" and non-gardeners are the ones that call it the "yard??" That would be interesting to find out…

    Reply
  18. Rose
    Rose says:

    Very thought-provoking, Noelle. Because we have so much grass or lawn, I always refer to it as my "yard" and the areas planted with flowers and shrubs as my "garden." After visiting the gardens of several local Master Gardeners recently, I've been feeling rather humbled and now call my areas my "little gardens":)

    Reply
  19. Gloria, Dakota Garden
    Gloria, Dakota Garden says:

    Hi Noelle, I love this post – I am giving it 5 "hearts"! Your back garden is lovely. That picture could be a postcard. I have a garden. Though sometimes I think of my front garden as a yard with flowers. The back garden is a secret garden that always surprizes visitors. I like that.

    Reply
  20. Kate
    Kate says:

    I guess I have both. More gardens than yard but we can't give up all of the grass. We need a croquet spot. 😉

    PS: I've been to this castle!

    Reply
  21. Meredehuit
    Meredehuit says:

    "Gardens" most definitely and I feel so blessed. I rarely use the word yard, but when I do it means the collective of the grounds that surround my house. What a great post. Thank you!

    Reply
  22. Terra
    Terra says:

    We xeriscaped the front of our house so I think of it as my front yard, and the back with all its flowers, shrubs, vegetables and trees is our garden.
    You posed a nice question.
    BTW, the xeriscaping has plenty of plants that don't need water including a New Zealand ti tree, and prostrate rosemary and 5 ornamental tall grasses.

    Reply
  23. debsgarden
    debsgarden says:

    Wonderful post. You definitely have a lovely garden!

    I had always simply called mine a yard, until a friend's small son came to visit. He ran around the place, and when he came inside, he said , "Wow, you have a garden house!" I think a lot of people who know us define our place by its garden.

    Our pastor once complimented my "grounds". I thought only castles and wealthy estates had grounds, so that made me a take a second look!

    So, definitely a garden!

    Reply
  24. Adrian Ayres Fisher
    Adrian Ayres Fisher says:

    I have a backyard in which there is a garden. So when I say "I'm going out to the garden," my husband knows to look for me in the garden in the backyard. Another time, Midwesterner that I am, I might say, "I'm going out back," which means the same thing.

    Where I live it might be considered a tad pretentious to call the front yard the front garden, even if it is mostly, or all garden, vegetable or otherwise. Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy looking at those grand English castles with their grand front yards, er, gardens. 🙂

    Reply
  25. Helen at summerhouse
    Helen at summerhouse says:

    Interesting that you should bring up this question. I remember referring, as I usually do, to my garden when talking to a British mosaic student one day and she was surprised that I, as a Canadian, called it a garden and not a yard. She though all Canadians called our bits of garden, yards and that gardens was a British term. Personally, I just prefer the word garden, it's more about the growing of nice things.

    Reply
  26. Ginny
    Ginny says:

    The part my husband mows is the yard (and there isn't much of it) and the part I tend is the garden – front, back and side. That's the way I think of it. But if I'm speaking to someone I might say that I have flower beds in the yard.
    Loved your post – I think you hit on something that many of us have been thinking of.

    Reply
  27. Jim Groble
    Jim Groble says:

    The back is a garden. There is on;y enopugh grass left to ack as a palette. The front is still a yard. It has yoo much grass to ga a garde, But Pat and I are working on that. How's your son? jim

    Reply
  28. Rebecca @ In The Garden
    Rebecca @ In The Garden says:

    Very interesting question! I refer to it both ways, depending who I'm talking to. Regarding kids, I'll say 'why don't you bring the kids over to play in the yard', to my friends (esp gardening ones), I'll say 'do you want to come over for tea in the garden'. When I talk about the garden I refer to the beds/plants/flowers. The yard refers to the grass areas with slides & swingsets. 🙂

    Reply
  29. Pam/Digging
    Pam/Digging says:

    I mostly refer to mine as "the garden," but I'm not above using "the yard" as well. Your fellow Arizonian Scott Calhoun titled his book about his desert garden "Yard Full of Sun," after all. It's a very American, down-to-earth word that makes some people more comfortable. Whatever you call it, I really enjoyed your post, Noelle. And judging by the number of comments, it obviously resonated with a lot of people!

    Reply
  30. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    I'm glad I didn't miss this post. A really good question and I have thought about that before. When I refer to them to my family I usually say "I'll be in the front yard" but I do think of them as my gardens.
    Your gardens are beautiful! I love the shot of your "back garden."

    Reply
  31. Helen
    Helen says:

    I love that you’ve grappled with the definitions and have chosen the vocabulary word purposefully. I love that yours is a garden. Sadly, I think mine is a yard. It’s ok though. I have 5 chickens that peck around in it, deer that wonder across it, and lots of birds in the trees. I’m fine with “yard.”

    Reply
  32. Helen
    Helen says:

    I love that you’ve grappled with the definitions and have chosen the vocabulary word purposefully. I love that yours is a garden. Sadly, I think mine is a yard. It’s ok though. I have 5 chickens that peck around in it, deer that wander across it, and lots of birds in the trees. I’m fine with “yard.”

    Reply

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