Do you call it a yard or a garden?

How to refer to the land around your house varies by region.

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What's the name for that piece of land around your house? The one with a few trees, shrubs, flowers, and maybe some grass. A number of garden writers on a listserv bandied about this question a while back, and I was reminded of it by David Martin's comment on the blog post about the best nurseries, "In Florida, we tend to have 'landscaping' rather than gardening."

The discussion started when someone asked the writers' group, "Do people in the South say they have a garden or a yard?"

Well, as a native Southerner, I knew the answer to that one: A garden typically refers to a plot of vegetables (with maybe a few flowers and herbs planted among the tomatoes and squash).

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A yard is everything else beyond the borders of the vegetable garden. Below the Mason-Dixon line, it can also be shorthand for "the lawn" or for "grass," as in "I'm going out to mow the yard."

I'm not saying that's true for everyone. But it's what you'll hear most on the South. According to the garden writers' discussion, that's true for Midwesterners, too.

On the Web, there are a number of sites with "yard and garden" in their names, which says to me that many people make the distinction. Yard and garden design, University of Minnesota Yard and Garden News ... and the term is used over and over in articles.

Of course, in garden-crazy Britain, the correct word is garden. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary includes as part of its definition of yard: "N. Amer. the garden of a house."

Many writers tend to refer to gardens and landscapes, ignoring the word yard. (After all, we're garden writers, not yard writers.)

I just looked up the origin of the word yard in Webster's New World College Dictionary, and it turns out that garden and yard are related and have original meanings of "enclose" (and "enclosure") and "surround."

So, while we may think that garden is more high-class (especially when it's spoken in a posh British accent) and "yard" is more down-home, they're essentially the same thing – except when you've grown up making a distinction.

What do you call it, your garden or your yard?

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