A Beginning Along a River
Imagine yourself nomadically wandering a desert, constantly searching for your next meal and freshwater, when you suddenly come upon a vibrant river teeming with life. The river’s seasonal ebbs-and-flows formed a landscape prime for agriculture, trade, and communication. Shortly after, your nomadic group becomes stationary, begins farming, and slowly builds a civilization. Of course, I am referring to the early Egyptian settlements along the Nile River, which became the foundations for the gardens of the world.
The Nile River played a critical role in the settlement of Egypt by providing all materials necessary to create a massive civilization surrounded by a hostile landscape. With an evolving civilization, faith became a cornerstone of civilization. Homes became places for bodies at rest and temples became places for bodies and spirit. Concurrently, from the homes and temples, a gardening tradition emerged, which became one of the most influential gardening moments in history and spurring design patterns for gardens of the world. Ancient Egyptian gardens are classified into four major categories: productive gardens, domestic gardens, palace gardens, and temple gardens.
Productive gardens were the earliest gardens within Egypt, consisting of fruits and vegetables. Walls surrounding these gardens protected them against animals and the harsh weather. Egyptians channeled water into the gardens through early irrigation ducts or carried water from the river and maintained the garden with similar practices to today’s gardens. Therefore, these productive gardens had an important role in providing adequate food to a growing society.
Domestic gardens soon emerged from the productive gardens. Individual homes had outdoor rooms, or forecourts, consisting of productive and ornamental plant material. Similarly walled-in like productive gardens, domestic gardens had small ponds that helped irrigate plant material and provide cooling effects for the residents. These spaces provided ranged in sizes, with smaller homes being more utilitarian and larger homes having more extensive landscapes.
Palace gardens are similar to domestic gardens, but at a larger scale and sometimes a representative of Egyptian Gods. As an example, Akhenaten worshipped the Sun God, Aten, and he oriented his Northern Palace along an east-west axis and it consisted of sunken gardens, courts, and temples. Sennefer Garden is a painting of an Egyptian palace garden believed to be owned by Sennefer, an Egyptian noble. Sennefer’s garden illustration indicates a walled-in landscape along the Nile River filled with ponds, buildings, vineyards, and different productive plant material.
Temple Gardens are the most notable and well-known gardens because the majority of ancient Egyptian gardens are studied via hieroglyphs. Temples still exist and have better records. Most notably and regarded as landscape architecture masterpiece, Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, Deir el-Bahri, or Monastery of the North outside modern-day Luxor, Egypt. This temple is surrounded by a large limestone wall and consists of three large, rectangular courts and was once filled with sacred groves and large T-shaped ponds. Additionally, other notable temple gardens include Temple of Metuhotep, Karnak, and Temple of Rameses II and III.
Egyptian Garden Influences
Although ancient Egyptian gardens are studied through text, hieroglyphs, and other archeological evidence, their influence is seen throughout history. Some of the most notable influences from Egyptian gardens still present today include sacred lakes/groves, peristyle courtyards, columns, terracing, rectangular pools, walled enclosures, vine pergolas, terracotta pots, and plant/animal gardens. Jumping forward in history, we begin to see strong Egyptian influences in ancient Greek and Roman gardens.
Gardens of the World – A New Series
Throughout history, gardens have evolved and changed. Despite changes in aesthetic styles and cultures, many gardening traditions have persisted through millennia. The next gardening column series we will explore together is “Gardens of the World”. Throughout this series, we will explore notable gardens, their traditions, and their influence on today’s gardens. Next in the series, we will discover the important gardens and design elements Greco Roman gardens. In the meantime, which gardens have you explored? Have you noticed any of these important Egyptian influences in the gardens you have visited? Let us know!
Gardens of the World Series, Additional Articles
Interested in more gardening-related blogs or following Alachua County’s MGVs on Social Media? Check out the additional links from Dr. Clem.