Environmental Design


Content Cover Image

A vertical garden Vertical Garden during Lalbagh Flower show (By Rameshng (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)



Horticulture [L. hortus: garden +cult(us): till] is the cultivation of flowers, fruit, vegetables, or ornamental plants; the science and art of cultivating such plants. In addition to plant cultivation, other elements of horticulture include floral arranging, landscape design, and landscape installation, as well as landscape architecture, landscape management, interiorscaping, golf course management and urban forestry. Botanical gardens and arboreta provide public access to display gardens, and often support research programs as well. Horticultural therapy is the use of horticulture in therapeutical situations, such as in assisted living centers or for disadvantaged children' s programs.

Greenhouse usage ranks high among plant production systems in terms of technological usage. A large majority of greenhouse crops are grown in containers using modified soil, or soilless media. Plants  in nurseries may be grown in containers or in the ground. Greenhouses and cold-frames are often an integral part of nursery production.

Horticulture science


Horticultural science is based on the fields of botany, plant physiology, and plant genetics. Other areas of study that are closely related to plant cultivation include soil science, chemistry and biochemistry, entomology, and plant pathology. Horticultural production relies on diverse technologies, depending on the species of plant being cultivated and its purpose. Specialized knowledge is required in various areas, such as pruning, sexual and asexual propagation techniques, and forcing flowering plants into bloom on schedule.

Horticultural research is conducted in the United States at land grant universities having horiticulture programs. It is also carried out within private companies, at other academic institutions, and within state extension services. Extension services which are affiliated with a land grant university, may also disseminate horticultural information and provide training through the master gardener program.

Scope of horticulture

Horticulture is a major business area, occurring on an international scale. Flowers are grown in many different countries and shipped around the world to their final destination.For example, many flower species and potted plants are sold through the Aalsmeer auction house in The Netherlands on a daily basis.

Seed production for the United States market often occurs in tropical areas to take advantage of the climate, which is mild enough to permit two to three cropping cycles each year. Lower labor costs provide another incentive, especially when hand-pollination is required, such as in production of hand-pollinated hybrid seed. In addition to production, many seed companies operate breeding programs in tropical areas, including Hawaii, Costa Rica and Kenya.

caption Figure 1. Wide spectrum of ornamental plants developed through horticulture representing wide array of angiospermic families. Source: Saikat Basu, own work

In the United States alone, a majority of the fruit, nut, and vegetable production occurs in only two states: California and Florida. Regional differences do exist, however. Some examples include apples from Washington, hazelnuts and turfgrass seeds from Oregon, pineapples from Hawaii, and blueberries from Michigan. In winter, many fruits and vegetables are shipped to the USA from Chile and other South American countries.

As a hobby, horticulture ranks near the top, a testament to its accessibility. Individuals grow vegetables, flowers, shade trees, fruit trees, berries, and, of course, lawns. Many who do not own their own home or have a yard, grow houseplants, have a container on a patio, or grow plants in window boxes. In some neighborhoods, community gardens have been developed in vacant lots.

caption Figure 2. Plants with ornamental foliage generated through horticulture. Source: Saikat Basu, own work

As an academic discipline, horticulture is usually contained within an agriculture curriculum. Program size and scope varies by institution. The larger academic programs offer courses within horticultural disciplines, such as the study of fruit (pomology), grapes (viticulture), flowers (floriculture), trees (arboriculture) or vegetables (olericulture), and greenhouse or nursery management, or turf science. Smaller programs may offer only general courses, or may specialize in an area, such as golf course management or landscaping. Both larger and smaller programs can be found at colleges throughout the U.S., including community colleges. High Schools with an agriculture curriculum may also offer horticulture courses. Arboreta and botanical gardens offer educational courses and seminars.


The history of horticulture dates to at least 3500 years before present. Egyptian tomb paintings from that time suggest gardens with lotus ponds surrounded by date palms and acacia trees. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, in modern-day Iraq, date to about 2600 years ago, and reputedly had a lift system for irrigation water, and many ornamental plants for the pleasure of the wife of King Nebuchadnezzar;  however, in spite of recorded documentation, there is some controversy concerning its actual existence, due to inconclusive archeological evidence. At any rate, the region is cited as the orignin of agriculture, as it is located in the fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Another garden, the Persian garden at Pasargadae, has been identified by archeologists as the earliest garden for which there is evidence. It was built around 2530-2550 years ago, and was a large, walled garden with stone irrigation channels and orchards. In the 18th century, a number of European horticulturalists were active, including James Burnett, Lord Monboddo of Scotland.

Cultivation of food is contrasted with hunting and gathering as a distinguishing factor in the development of civilization. Over the course of the many years of plant cultivation, seeds have been saved, and selection for improved qualities occurred. Such qualities may have been selected deliberately or inadvertently. For example, better yielding plants, those with increased resistance to diseases or pests, and those with better cooking or other qualities would have been deliberately selected. Seed storage ability and seed viability after storage under local conditions, would have been selected inadvertently.

In the United States, many technological advances were made following the establishment of Land Grant Colleges by Abraham Lincoln.  Research and dissemination of research results were facilitated by this institution. Liberty Hyde Bailey, sometimes referred to as "The Father of American Horticulture", conducted research, authored books and scientific papers, and founded the American Society of Horticultural Science. This organization remains the major venue in the United States for disseminating horticultural research through annual conferences, and refereed publication. Three journals are published by the ASHS: HortScience, Hort Technology and The Journal for the American Society for Horticultural Science. In California, Luther Burbank was another noted early horticulturalist.

Further reading:

  • Andersen, Niel O. 2007. Flower breeding and genetics: issues, challenges, and opportunities for the 21st century.
  • Acquaah, George. 2007. Horticulture: principles and practices. Prentice Hall.
  • Loehrlein, Marietta. 2007. Home horticulture: principles and practices. Cengage Learning.
  • Rieger, Mark. Mark's Fruit Crops.  Accessed January 2010.
  • USDA Statistcal Service. Accessed January 2010.


Loehrlein, M. (2014). Horticulture. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbee087896bb431f6959fd


To add a comment, please Log In.