Horticulture is the art of cultivating plants in gardens to produce food and medicinal ingredients, or for comfort and ornamental purposes. Horticulturists are agriculturists who grow flowers, fruits and nuts, vegetables and herbs, as well as ornamental trees and lawns.
Historically, the study and practice of horticulture have been traced back to thousands of years ago; horticulture is known to have contributed to the transition from nomadic human communities to sedentary, or semi-sedentary, horticultural communities. Horticulture is divided into several categories which focus on the cultivation and processing of different types of plants and food items for specific purposes. In order to conserve the science of horticulture, multiple organizations worldwide educate, encourage, and promote the advancement of horticulture. Some notable horticulturists include Luca Ghini, Luther Burbank, and Tony Avent.
Horticulture involves plant propagation and cultivation to improve plant growth, yields, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. It also includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, soil management, landscape and garden design, construction and maintenance, and arboriculture. The word horticulture is modeled after agriculture; it derives from the Latin words hortus and cultura, which mean “garden” and “cultivation”, respectively. In contrast to agriculture, horticulture does not include large-scale crop production or animal husbandry. Additionally, horticulture focuses on the use of small plots with a wide variety of mixed crops while agriculture focuses on one large primary crop at a time.
There are several major areas of focus within the science of horticulture. They include:
The study and practice of horticulture are traced back to the times of Cyrus the Great of ancient Persia and continues to be a part of today’s society with present-day horticulturists such as Freeman S. Howlett and Luther Burbank. The origins of horticulture lie in the transition of human communities from a nomadic lifestyle as hunter-gatherers to sedentary, or semi-sedentary, horticultural communities. In the Pre-Columbian Amazon Rainforest, natives used biochar to enhance soil productivity by smoldering plant waste. European settlers called this soil Terra Preta de Indio. In forest areas, such horticulture was often carried out in swiddens, or "slash and burn" areas. In pre-contact North America, the semi-sedentary horticultural communities of the Eastern Woodlands, who grew maize, squash, and sunflower, contrasted markedly with the nomadic hunter-gatherer communities of the Plains people. Mesoamerican cultures focused in the cultivating of crops on a small scale, such as the “milpa” or maize field, around their dwellings or in specialized plots which were visited occasionally during migrations from one area to the next. In Central America, Maya horticulture involved augmentation of the forest with useful trees such as papaya, avocado, cacao, ceiba and sapodilla. In the cornfields, multiple crops such as beans, squash, pumpkins and chili peppers were grown, and in some cultures, these crops were tended mainly or exclusively by women.
There are various organization worldwide that focus on promoting and encouraging research and education in all branches of horticultural science; such organizations include the International Society for Horticultural Science and the American Society of Horticultural Science.
In United Kingdom, there are two main horticulture societies. The Ancient Society of York Florists is the oldest horticultural society in the world and was founded in 1768; this organization continues to host four horticultural shows annually in York, UK. Additionally, The Royal Horticultural Society, established in 1804, is a charity in United Kingdom that leads on the encouragement and improvement of the science, art, and practice of horticulture in all its branches. The organization shares the knowledge of horticulture through its community, learning programs, and world-class gardens and shows.
The (CIoH) is the professional body which represents horticulturists in Great Britain and Ireland while also having an international branch for members outside of these islands. The Australian Society of Horticultural Science was established in 1990 as a professional society to promote and enhance Australian horticultural science and industry. Finally, the New Zealand Horticulture Institute is another known horticultural organization.
The National Junior Horticultural Association (NJHA) was established in 1934 and was the first organization in the world dedicated solely to youth and horticulture. NJHA programs are designed to help young people obtain a basic understanding of horticulture and develop skills in this ever-expanding art and science.
The Global Horticulture Initiative (GlobalHort) fosters partnerships and collective action among different stakeholders in horticulture. This organization has a special focus on horticulture for development (H4D), which involves using horticulture to reduce poverty and improve nutrition worldwide. GlobalHort is organized in a consortium of national and international organizations which collaborate in research, training, and technology-generating activities designed to meet mutually-agreed-upon objectives. GlobalHort is a non-profit organization registered in Belgium.