Ministry Of ControversyShut Up And Dig

#TBT: Yardening is not a word

Janice Goole4 comments1157 views
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This April 2007 post from me got some interesting comments, including a very nice response from Jeff Ball, who (we think)  invented the phrase. By the way, I entered “yardening” into a Shutterstock (the stock photo servive we use) search and got a bunch of images from yarden, Israel and “Did you mean gardening?”—Elizabeth

Lawn mowing image courtesy of Shutterstock. If yardening is a word, this would be what it defines, I guess.

But then, neither was blog.

This site got some nice publicity from a Detroit News columnist yesterday in a report on gardening blogs.

We’re happy to be characterized as “offer[ing] criticism of national affairs, events or policies that affect gardeners,” but I have to nibble just a bit at the hand that feeds us after clicking over to the dual-purpose website mentioned by the columnist, Jeff Ball, who is the “yardener” of the blog Gardening and Yardening and also maintains another yardening site. Both of these sites seem to offer useful information (albeit with more recommendations of herbicides and pesticides than I usually see).

My question is this: when did the term “yardening” come into use? It seems to me that grass, trees, and shrubs are plants too, so wouldn’t the care of grass and trees count as gardening? Do we need another word? And, if so, why? As a cranky editor and probably one of the last people in the world who cares about serial commas, the improper use of “begging the question,” and unnecessary apostrophes, I had to look into it.

“Yardening” does not appear in any dictionary I own, and it is not recognized by Nonetheless, it has been in use in the industry and gardening press since at least 1993. Jeff Ball, who seems to be largely responsible for popularizing the term, defined yardeners (in a 1993 Columbus Dispatch article), as “homeowners with trees, shrubs and lawns to maintain but no interest in gardening as a hobby. They want convenience, information, low maintenance and foolproof products.”

And according the writers of the newsletter for Black Lake Organic, a Washington State nursery, a new word is necessary because:

When I hear the word “garden”, I think of cabbages, beans, tomatoes, etc. Others think of roses and petunias. Still others think of grass lawns, trees and hedges. We really do need some distinguishing terms for classifying different general subcategories of gardening. We need better-defined terms in order to get us all closer to the same wavelength and discussing the art and science of growing and caring for the myriad kinds of cultivated plants lumped under gardening. To my mind “yardening” fills the bill for non-food producing areas and activities and includes lawn care and decorative landscaping with flowers, shrubs, and trees.

This certainly sounds reasonable, but in the end, I don’t think segregating different types of gardening, and—in particular—separating food growing and ornamental growing does any of us that much good. Good practices should be shared across as broad a spectrum as possible, no matter what we grow. This is especially important if such a segregation creates a situation where vegetable gardeners are advised to learn more about the effect of chemicals, while those who have lawns aren’t supposed to worry about such things, as seems to be the case across much of this country.

As for defining gardeners only as those who have a serious interest in gardening as a hobby, I readily accept that many property owners don’t want to put a lot of time and effort into maintaining their domestic landscape. Others, like us, enthusiastically pour every free daylight hour into our gardens—as well as every spare dollar into the very industry that’s promoting “carefree” gardening. But should the “yardeners” or those who sell them products be exempt from thinking about the consequences of what they’re putting into the ground? An insistence that everything should be easy and convenient seems to imply such an exemption. It’s always easier not to think.

If those who aim at “yardeners” as an audience help them make informed and healthy choices as well as easy ones, I’m all for it. But I’d rather focus on the similarities between those who garden obsessively and those who only want to maintain a reasonably attractive front yard: we’re all interested in beauty, we all realize that growing healthy plants will surround us with beauty, and we’re all living on the same planet.

Finally, this is what Google will ask you when you enter “yardening:”

Did you mean “gardening?”

Works for me.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on April 7, 2016 at 7:34 am, in the category Garden Rant turns 10, Ministry of Controversy, Shut Up and Dig.


  1. Nope. Working class people growing their own veg, for example, are never going to have the same priorities or aesthetics as purely ornamental gardeners, and that’s okay. Cultivating food on a small scale in a residential plot, pace the comparatively privileged and insular Edible Landscapers™movement, is seasonal, not always pretty, and in general neither water- nor resource-efficient. Similarities across the board are neither good nor bad except when made useful, but generalizing from a fussy, gardening elite is no more helpful than doing so from the MowAndBlow set: the lessons aren’t the same because the outcomes are always different. Restricting waste and pollution is distinct from pretending an audience resembles you.

  2. And to my mind, the word “yard” conjures up visions of a large area of concrete surrounded by a very high barbed wire fence and within rifle distance of a look out tower.

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