Until I read questions such as Square meter gardening Soil Mix, I thought of compost being composted organic material; however, there compost is composed of 50% peat moss, which generally doesn't fall under that definition. Suspecting a difference between American and British English, my question is:

What are common (subtle) differences in gardening terms between languages? Either differing names for the same thing, or the same word meaning different things. This doesn't have to be limited to variants of the English language only; to add to the example above, Kompost in German also means the stuff directly resulting from a composting process.

  • This question is a result of this discussion: meta.gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/683/…
    – anderas
    Nov 27, 2015 at 10:10
  • To summarize the discussion: This question is intended to collect a list of terms in a single long CW answer, as such a list was deemed useful, but would be hard to collect in a traditional Q&A format.
    – anderas
    Nov 27, 2015 at 12:57
  • 1
    So I read the question, and I also read bamboo's answer. I think think the question you ask is really too difficult to navigate. As bamboo's answer indicates, there are some differences. However, I don't agree with bamboo on many of those items. I being American don't use half of what he said we use, and never heard Americans use some of the terms he's produced. This isn't about bamboo's answer though, I am just citing it as a reason why this question can't really be answered. What you need is a gardening thesaurus, which can give you synonyms when you aren't sure about something.
    – Escoce
    Nov 30, 2015 at 16:59
  • @Escoce Hm, I couldn't find a specific gardening thesaurus when I searched for one (maybe gave up too quickly, though). The point of the question was to actually get a somewhat reasonable overview of such terms, so that one could hopefully vaguely remember that there potentially was something odd about some terms when reading them again. Feel free to disagree/downvote if you think otherwise! :-)
    – anderas
    Dec 2, 2015 at 12:38

2 Answers 2


Even in the UK, there's confusion regarding the term 'compost'. It can mean an anaerobic or aerobic heap in your garden of vegetable peelings and foliage from plants and the like, the end result of that heap, a potting medium, or something created to add to your borders (animal manure compost). The proper way to refer to compost is by putting an adjective in front of it, as in 'potting compost', 'seed and cutting compost', 'garden compost' 'animal manure compost' and so on, which helps to clarify the purposes to which you can put the various forms of compost. Compost is a big subject which I won't go into here.

However, as a Brit, I can make the following observations regarding the different use of language between the UK and the States:

UK Garden: USA yard (yard in the UK means a small, enclosed paved or concreted area)

UK soil: USA dirt

UK potting compost: USA dirt

UK turf or turves: USA sod (sod in the UK is rarely used, but is a non specific term and refers to soil in general, in particular, cloddy, lumpy soil, rarely, turf, but only by much older people)

UK spade: USA shovel (Note 'shovel' is used in UK, but the tool is different from a spade, not intended for digging the ground, but shaped for shovelling things like sand, concrete and the like)

UK plant/seed trays or boxes: USA flats (I think, not fully worked that one out yet, but that's what it seems to be)

UK coriander leaves: USA cilantro (also other parts of the world use that term for the leaves, restricting 'coriander' to the seeds)

Then there's plant names, the one area where there is a really massive difference, the USA tending to use names which are not necessarily commonly used elsewhere, and seeming to prefer 'common' names rather than the Latin or botanical names. For instance, 'Rose of Sharon' - in the UK it means Hypericum, in particular, Hypericum calycinum, but in the States, it seems to mean Hibiscus, though I've never yet seen any American person refer to this plant as Hibiscus, its always 'Rose of Sharon'. Sycamore is another one - in the UK it means Acer psuedoplatanus, but in the States, it refers to Platanus occidentalis, or American sycamore. I'm reliably informed via this site that 'sycamore' in the States may also refer to other types of tree. 'Rose paeony' in the States is actually Paeony, and that's what we call it here, just plain Paeony (or Peony), never 'Rose paeony'. It can be confusing when answering questions, there's a need to establish quite which plant people are talking about, or seeing a photograph.

There's another one I've not quite worked out yet - in the UK, we refer to 'garden centres', meaning usually a large commercial outlet selling plants, pots, various composts, paving and often garden and interior furniture and scented candles and other detritus, or we refer to 'nursery' which means a much smaller commercial outlet which primarily sells plants, most raised by the people at the nursery, and pots. I'm not at all sure what the American terms are for these two different places... though 'Home Depot' seems to refer to an outlet not dissimilar to places like Homebase and B & Q here - they sell plants outside, but inside is mostly DIY stuff.

  • The term garden is still used in the USA frequently, to refer to fruit/vegetable/flower/plant gardens, but lawns with or without trees are not regarded as gardens—nor are plantless areas (unless they're rock gardens, in which case you'd likely always call them rock gardens instead of gardens). Soil is also a term used in the USA. Dirt is informal, even in the USA, unless you're unconventional (which some people probably are with that word), or unless you're talking about dirt that you don't particularly plant plants in. Soil is more dedicated for plants and soil scientists, usually, it seems. Nov 28, 2015 at 6:24
  • A garden center in the USA is probably most commonly the garden section of a store like Home Depot or Walmart. However, it could be a dedicated store with the same sort of stuff. You'd call a place a nursery if they primarily sold trees or plants (and typically weren't part of a larger store). Nurseries can still sell seeds, supplies and stuff, though, but they generally have a different feel about them, and don't give the impression of specializing in garden stuff generally. E.g. I got some Allsweet watermelon seeds and Garlic Chives seeds, as well as seed starting mix, at a tree nursery. Nov 28, 2015 at 6:37
  • I guess the difference between a nursery and a garden center in the USA is that nursery's specialize in one or more kinds of classes of plants (rather than everything), usually. Or, that's how it seems to me. Also, garden centers don't have to sell plants (although they generally have some). It seems that nurseries would have to sell them. Tell me if I'm wrong. I'm actually not the world's foremost expert on USA garden centers and nurseries, but I do live in Idaho, in the USA. :) Nov 28, 2015 at 6:41
  • Regarding the use of the word compost... I read old gardening texts and it seems that 'compost' in the past (UK) meant something you made from organic material, then added other ingredients for a potting mix. But eventually the usage changed and compost came to mean the soil mix itself. Here in the US it never got that meaning. But the word is also used for material out of a compost pile, and as a verb too by my UK friends. Nov 28, 2015 at 19:51
  • Oh they use the phrase "Garden Center" here in Utah. It's for larger places. Nov 28, 2015 at 20:09

Here is a list of terms with multiple meanings, or different names for the same meaning:

General Gardening

Compost: Usually the result of a composting process. However, compost (as in potting compost) can also mean potting soil.


Corn(AE)/Maize (BE)

Eggplant (AE)/Aubergine (BE)

Zucchini (AE, other languages)/Courgette, when small, and Marrow when large (BE)

  • If you know any other examples, please add them!
    – anderas
    Nov 27, 2015 at 11:15
  • 1
    Eggplant - always Aubergine in UK
    – Bamboo
    Nov 27, 2015 at 13:09
  • @Bamboo, do they ever say zucchini in the UK, or is it always courgette? Also, what's a marrow in the UK? In the USA, we have such as White Lebanese Bush Marrow squash, but I don't believe we just call them marrows. What are some examples of marrows? Nov 28, 2015 at 6:54
  • 1
    @Shule generally, no, courgettes are sold as courgettes and that's what we call them, although we all probably know that zucchini is what other nationalities call them. Marrow is a marrow is a courgette - many marrows are just courgettes left to grow large on the plant, when they're then called marrows. Varieties of Marrow include Green Bush, Early Gem, Long White or Long Green Trailing. Horrible things anyway, can't stand 'em...
    – Bamboo
    Nov 28, 2015 at 12:20

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