Although I am by no means someone whose skill with plants is particularly great–and I come by that honestly, I must admit–I have long been fascinated by gardens. Among the first gardens I can remember seeing is the very practical garden that my grandfather had behind his grill, a garden that he tended to with considerable skill and which provided vegetables that our family ate, including large amounts of carrots and collard greens, as well as the okra that my grandfather loved but which I cannot stand, as well as a few vegetables like turnips that I happen to be indifferent towards. At any rate, the garden was densely tended and full of edibles, and was a reminder to me that there is something of great worth in being able to tend to a small plot of land and to grow tasty food from it that one can share with family and friends. This observation has informed my own fondness for those gardens that have a strong practical bent towards them. Perhaps this may spring from my own background among farmers, but I have always appreciated a good edible garden where spices and vegetables and other useful plants were grown for consumption.
Yet it should be admitted that it takes more than plants to make a garden. Throughout human history the vast majority of humankind has worked in the land, something that contemporary generations of people in the West, who have long lost their ancestral connection to family farms and communal fields, has long forgotten. Yet with all of the work that has been done in fields and with crops and animals, these did not make gardens. There are at least a few qualities that separate the field of hard agricultural labor from the garden that people like my grandfather and other people I have known take care of. One of those, and a key one, is the question of money and class. My grandfather tended his edibles garden as a hobby and as a pastime, and did not earn his living from his labor. On the contrary, he earned his living through other means as a sewing machine repairman who happened to have a passion for cooking tasty steaks, working on cars, and cultivating a variety of plants, including a grapevine, a lemon tree, numerous mulberry trees, a kumquat tree, as well as an efficiently organized garden of vegetables, including tomato plants. His gardening was a labor of love, not his job, which is one of the main elements that makes something a garden rather than a field.
There are also aesthetic concerns that make something a garden. There is, of course, a wide variety of possible ways that one can make a garden. Some people prefer a wild-looking garden that appears–although appearances are deceptive–as if little work has been done to improve upon creation. At the other extreme are very formal gardens where it is plainly obvious that a great deal of arrangement has taken place, not only of the plants involved, but also walkways, and watercourses, and bridges, and other structures that make it plain that a heavy-handed element of deliberate design and arrangement went into the garden. Other gardens are somewhere in the middle, where it is obvious that the garden and its arrangement was inspired largely by what existed in creation, but where that creation has been enhanced with skill and delicacy. People in different times and with different interests may strongly favor some types of gardens over others. I myself have very ecumenical tastes towards gardens, finding pleasure in a wide variety of different sorts of arrangements without being quick to find fault where the tastes of others differs from mine. I even find enjoyment in Japanese rock gardens with raked waves of sand, as different from my own ideals as such gardens are, because of the obvious beauty and arrangement of water, sand, rock, and trees, that one can find in such gardens.
We can gather from these two things that while it is possible to have edible gardens, that farms are lacking in a great deal of what makes something into a garden. Gardens are planned spaces, often near houses, designed for the cultivation of plants, flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Often gardens are associated with at least local aristocracy, to whom much of the credit of a garden is given. It is striking that the owner and the architect of a garden are those who are given the most honor, not necessarily the people who work in gardens. I can speak from some personal experience that working in gardens can be pretty tough, and as is the case with agricultural labor in general, I would much prefer to labor with my mind than with my body, much prefer to labor over the arrangement of words than fuss with weeds or tend animals. Other people, of course, may differ in this. Still, it is easy to see why there is an appeal in gardening, in that one can cultivate fragile plants which, if one is blessed with enough sunshine and rain and an avoidance of predators, can lead to the beautiful blossoming of beloved plants. And there is properly a sense of accomplishment in that.