The RHS Chelsea Flower show is in full swing so we take a look at the etymology behind the word ‘horticulture’


The week of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show seems like a suitable time to look into the origin of the word ‘horticulture’. This is formed out of two Latin words: hortus means ‘a garden’, and cultura means ‘cultivation’ or ‘tilling’. So horticulture is simply ‘the cultivation of gardens’.

Almost all English words that describe a process of tending and growing a crop are formed in a similar way: ‘agriculture’ is the tilling of fields (from Latin ager); ‘viticulture’ is the tending of vines (from Latin vitis); ‘silviculture’ refers to looking after woodlands (from Latin silva); and so on. The same process of word-formation accounts for words that describe farming specific animals, so ‘apiculture’ refers to bee-keeping (from Latin apis), while ‘pisciculture’ refers to the rearing of fish (from Latin piscis).

Of course, we usually think of ‘culture’ in a slightly different way, as referring to highly valued artistic pursuits. This sense of the word comes from the same origin, however, and arises from the idea that artistic achievement is the product of continuous practice and study. So great music and literature are the result of a process of cultivation in much the same way that a prize-winning rose is.

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