Gardening is an activity, the art and craft of growing plants, most often in and about one's residence, in a space referred to as a garden. A garden which is in close proximity to one's residence is also known as a residential garden. Although the garden typically is located on the surface areas within, surrounding or adjacent to the residence, it may also be located in less traditional areas such as on the roof, in an atrium, on the balcony, in windowboxes or on the patio.
"Indoor gardening" is concerned with the growing of household plants within the residence, in a conservatory or a greenhouse. The plants grown in a conservatory or greenhouse may or may not require more exacting care and conditions than ordinary household plants. Indoor gardens are sometimes incorporated as part of air conditioning or heating systems.
"Water gardening" is concerned with the growing of plants suitable for pools and ponds. Bog gardens are also considered as a type of water garden. These require special conditions and considerations.
Gardening also takes place in non-residential green areas, such as parks, public or semi-public gardens such as botanical gardens or zoological gardens, amusement and theme parks, along transportation corridors and around tourist attractions.
The purpose for gardening
Plants are grown for a variety of utilitarian and non-utilitarian purposes. Among these are:
raw materials for the production of clothing and crafts
communion with nature
Vegetables, fruits, herbs, shade trees, shrubs, grasses, herbaceous perennials and flowers are all grown in gardens— sometimes they are grown together in the same garden, but not always.
Fruit and nut trees are more commonly considered to form an orchard, though they are sometimes an adjunct to a garden.
When a variety of plant types are grown together with native species, the combination is sometimes called a wild garden. These are embedded in some pre-existing natural ecology that is not damaged but rather enhanced by the process of cultivation. As in other forms of gardening, aesthetics plays a central role in deciding what is 'right', but constraints apply. Wild gardens are by definition examples of water-wise gardening, as the natural species of any ecoregion or micro-climate are those optimal for local water supplies.
Gardening vs. farming
In respect to its food producing purpose, gardening is distinguished from farming chiefly by scale and intent. Farming occurs on a larger scale, and with the production of saleable goods as a major motivation. Gardening is done on a smaller scale, primarily for pleasure and to produce goods for the gardener's own family or community. There is some overlap between the terms, particularly in that some moderate sized vegetable growing concerns can fit in either category.
The key distinction between fruit and vegetable gardening and farming is essentially one of scale: gardening can be a hobby or an income supplement, but farming is generally understood as a full-time or commercial activity, usually involving more land and quite different practices. The key distinction is that gardening is labor-intensive and employs very little infrastructural capital, typically no more than a few tools, e.g. a spade, hoe, basket and watering can. By contrast, larger-scale farming often involves irrigation systems, chemical fertilizers and harvesters or at least ladders, e.g. to reach up into fruit trees.
In part because of labor intensivity and aesthetic motivations, gardening is very often much more productive per unit of land than farming. In the Soviet Union, half the food supply came from small peasants' garden plots on the huge government-run collective farms, although they were tiny patches of land. Some argue this as evidence of superiority of capitalism, since the peasants were generally able to sell their produce. Others consider it to be evidence of a tragedy of the commons, since the large collective plots were often neglected, or fertilizers or water redirected to the private gardens.
The term precision agriculture is sometimes used to describe such economically viable forms of gardening using intermediate technology (more than tools, less than harvesters), especially of organic varieties. Gardening is effectively scaled up to feed entire villages of over 100 people from specialized plots. A variant is the community garden which offers plots to urban dwellers. See also allotment (gardening).
In China, for instance, farmers regularly set up outhouses on the roads to attract tourists to use them, furnishing the farmers with "night soil" (biosolids) and food for pigs, who are fed primarily on human sewage. These methods make excellent use of calories and minerals and water, but of course violate the aesthetics of most Westerners, who would balk at using stranger's human wastes on their own gardens or feeding them to domestic animals. There is thus some conflict between gardening for personal or aesthetic reasons, and for practical food-raising, even for one household.
The living wall is an unusual variant of a living machine and is effectively a vertical garden: water dripping down feeds a surface growing with moss and vines, other plants, some insects and bacteria, and captured at the bottom in a pool or pond to be recirculated to the top. One is sometimes built indoors to help cure sick building syndrome or otherwise increase the oxygen levels in recirculated air.
Gardening as an art
Gardening is considered to be an absolutely essential art in most cultures. In Japan, for instance, Samurai and Zen monks were often required to build decorative gardens or practice related skills like flower arrangement (Ikebana).
In modern Europe and North America, people often express their political or social views in gardens, intentionally or not. The Green parties and Greenpeace often advise their campaigners to call first on homeowners who have lush chaotic wild gardens, as these are deemed to be more likely than those with Astro-turf or bluegrass lawns to respond to the Greens' political message. No reliable statistics support such claims, but for many years, in the United States, there was a widespread belief that there was such a thing as a Republican lawn and Democratic lawn.
The lawn vs. garden issue is played out in urban planning as the debate over the "land ethic" that is to determine urban land use and whether hyperhygienist, e.g. weed control, bylaws should apply, or whether land should generally be allowed to exist in its natural wild state. In a famous Canadian Charter of Rights case, "Sandra Bell vs. City of Toronto", 1997, the right to cultivate all native species, even most varieties deemed noxious or allergenic, was upheld as part of the right of free expression, at least in Canada.
Gardening is thus not only an essential food source and art, but also - a right. The Slow Food movement has sought in some countries to add an edible schoolyard and garden classrooms to schools, e.g. in Fergus, Ontario, where these were added to a public school to augment the kitchen classroom.
In U.S. usage the care, installation, and maintenance of ornamental plantings in and around commercial and institutional buildings is called landscaping, landscape maintenance or groundskeeping, while international usage uses the term gardening for these same activities.
Gardening for food extends far back into prehistory. Ornamental gardens are known in ancient times (the Hanging Gardens of Babylon), and ancient Rome had dozens of gardens.