The History of Garden Design - Egypt

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 Egypt (Time Period 1500 -1100BC) 

We know more about Egyptian gardens than any others in the ancient world because they were pictured in the tombs, in both sculptural relief and in paintings, and also because there are many references to garden trees and flowers in the hieroglyphics carved on the walls. None of these ancient homes and palaces exists today as their bricks and timbers have not survived, however, the stone temples, and the tombs built as eternal dwellings for the dead, reveal much of life in ancient Egypt. 

Egypt’s culture developed beside the river Nile where the two factors of water and plentiful sunshine allowed a particular style of garden design. The Nile has always overflowed with predictable regularity and gentleness, gradually depositing a broad layer of dark, fertile soil over the land, which is easy to work and full of nutrients. Its flooding, from mid-July to mid-October, has ensured dependable plant growth for centuries. 

The most complete plan of a home or villa and its garden design was discovered in a Theban tomb during the 19th century. The estate is thought to have belonged to a high official of the reign of Amenhotep III, circa 1411-

1375BC. Its mile-long canal, imposing entrance gate, numerous trees and large vineyard all suggest royal wealth. 

One can imagine arriving there by boat, stepping straight into the cool protection of the gate and then walking to the villa under the shelter of the grape arbour. The roof of the villa was shaded by awnings and small garden pavilions overlooked the storage area. b2ap3_thumbnail_Ancient_Egyptian_Gardens.jpg

The orderly symmetry and usefulness of the whole plan is apparent. The shade-giving trees with their dense, almost evergreen foliage such as date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), all bore fruit. The smaller fruiting trees beneath the palms were probably the common fig (Ficus) or pomegranate (Punica). 

The vineyard of long, trellised arbours provided a wine harvest and the rectangular, papyrus-bordered pools containing lotus flower and waterfowl also became storage tanks for fish, which were fed and kept for eating. 

Almost all Egyptian gardens were places of relaxation. A combination of poolside shaded areas to sit in summer, along with sunny areas in winter, surrounded by flowering woody/herbaceous plants, with vines and edible fruits in abundance. 

Flowers and herbs were cultivated in these gardens. According to Homer the following medicinal/herbal plants were in common use: acacia, aloe, anise, caraway, castor beans, cassia, coriander, cumin, cucumber, dill, elderberry, gentian, lotus, mint, myrrh, pomegranate, poppy, squill, saffron and wormwood. It also seems possible that acacia and tamarisk trees were sometimes planted as their blossoms attract bees and honey was the only known sweetener at that time. 

The flowers and herb beds needed irrigation to sustain themselves as well as vines and fruiting orchards. To achieve this, canals were dug from the river 

some deep enough for riverboats, others designed as ditches from which water could be carried to the crops or to storage wells and pools. These ditches, either T-shaped or rectangular, often became decorative elements in the garden. 

Some paintings show trees surrounded with rims built of earth to conserve the moisture. All plans and pictures of the kitchen gardens indicate that they were formal and geometric, almost checkerboard. In design, they were the prototype of all gardens throughout Europe and the Near East for over three thousand years. 

The legacy that the Egyptian garden leaves to us is irrigation, water ditches, pavilions, arbours, formal and geometric layouts. Special note goes to the union of flowering, fruiting and herbal plants together (decoration and usefulness)


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Guest Monday, 10 December 2018