Letter: Broadening the bounds of horticulture

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am not sure whether Catherine Gillan's tongue was in her cheek in suggesting that the title Royal Horticultural Society was no longer appropriate when awards were given to natural gardens (letter, 2 June). However, she highlights a very real problem that stems from limitations in the use of the word horticulture, especially when applied to the management of urban open spaces. For it is perfectly true that horticulture is defined as the cultivation of gardens and this implies the use of non-native plants and garden varieties.

For some time now it has been recognised that, in an age of greater ecological awareness, this is a very limited use of plants. It is important to use the widest possible spectrum, including native plants and their communities, for the purposes of conservation, public enjoyment and cost- effective management.

Unfortunately, the word horticulture fails to convey this wider scope and its negative influence on the urban environment is compounded when associated with the 'garden city', the principal planning concept of the 20th century. At the recent 'Green Umbrella' seminar organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, I suggested that a new image was necessary not just to convey the wider scope of horticulture but to underline its greater relevance to the management of the human habitat. It was Lewis Mumford who suggested that this should extend from the wild and the spontaneous to the planned and formal, which is certainly true of the urban open space.

Perhaps a competition should be held to find a more appropriate word. After all, the popular use of the word horticulture is comparatively recent.

Yours sincerely,


Director of Landscape Studies

University of Manchester


4 June