Ancient Egypt V – A Gardener’s Lament

Water from above, don’t get water on the leaves, flood irrigation only, use a light mist, water only in the evening, water only in the morning, don’t water much at all, soak it daily, and this is for only one courtyard in the palace garden.

Since Egypt has become an international power, the import of exotics has made the gardener’s life hectic, to say the least.

I should have stayed and worked on the vinyard. Great grandfather Amenhotep had turned it into a vast enterprise producing wine, raisins, edible grape leaves and more when he came home after fighting the Hyksos and Nubians.

But no, I had to go out on my own and raise flowers. Now here I am, chief of the royal gardeners, and the king, bless her name, has ships coming back from Punt loaded with even more exotic plant life for her mortuary temple. It would seem as though Hatshepsut can’t decide between a mortuary temple or an arboretum.

But I really do have what I want, complaints or not. Here I am surrounded in this single courtyard with iris, chrysanthemums, lilies and delphiniums. Blue lotus, white lotus, safflower, calanchoe, poppies, hollyhocks, mandrake, and those still difficult to grow roses.

Then the little pool barely visable through the pomegranates with its tiny beds of buttercups, clover, white daisies and cornflowers.

I wonder if the gardens of any other country in the world equal those of Egypt? I somehow doubt it.

Then to keep Her Majesty shaded, I have planted trees, tamarisk, olive, acacia, willows, date palms, doum palms with their strange branching trunks, sycamore, carob, myrtle and some whose names I do not know. And in the center of the garden there is a large covered grape arbor for even more shade.

Doum Palm Branching Egyptian Doum Palm – image courtesy

I have placed all these gardens on the north side of the palace so that the prevailing winds can carry the scent of the flowers inside to Her Majesty.

Grapes seem so simple.

I, Djbouti, did all this for Her Majesty, the King. But it is never enough. She wants the avenues leading to the major temples replanted with new shade trees. I think we have enough sycamore seedlings to do most of that.

And she wants Myrrh trees planted along the avenue leading to her temple. They are on the ships coming back from Punt. I know nothing about Myrrh trees other than seeing one once and it was not pretty. But perhaps to her, its connection to the sacred is what she is considering most of all.
myrrh6.jpgMyrrh Tree – image courtesy

Many of our common garden plants have a connection to the sacred. Papyrus is the sacred symbol of Northern Egypt and the lotus of the South. Tying a bundle of the two plants together symbolizes the united country we have today.

Hatshepshut wants her temple to be a “paradise.” Now there is an interesting new word she has introduced into our language. “Paradise” is a word from Persia and it means “an enclosed park.” I wonder how she knows of it? We have so little dealing with that part of the world.

She even has it carved as an inscription on her temple. “I have listened to my father . . . commanding me to establish for him a Punt in his house, to plant the trees of God’s Land beside his temple, in his garden, just as he commanded . . .”

Now, our Lady King may have more than gardening in mind when she calls her temple a paradise. She has been seen wandering more than once through the arcades with her architect Senenmut, and with all loyal retainers left far, far behind. He is also a Steward of Amun and tutor to the royal children. Although he already has a completed tomb at nearby Qurna, a second tomb is being carved for him into the rock near the temple. This tomb may be a gift from Hatshepsut and is grand enough for any pharaoh. In fact, this second tomb of Senenmut is being designed so that the burial chamber is directly under the courtyard of Hatshepsut’s temple.

That desire for eternal proximity has tongues wagging all over Egypt.

It seems every temple and house in Egypt is surrounded by lush greenery and flowers. Even the homes of the poorest have their patch of onions and even a blooming weed or two growing out of a muddy bit of ground. From the Delta to Thebes and beyond, Egypt is one long flower bed.

A poor gardener’s work is never done. Though we are not poor in the financial sense. Skilled gardeners and garden designers are employed by temple and palace, as well as the households of the wealthy and many of us are rich enough to employ gardeners of our own.

Working for Her Majesty, the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, has certainly allowed me to do that.

Riverside home and gardenRiverside home and garden – image courtesy

Till next time


One Response to “Ancient Egypt V – A Gardener’s Lament”

  1. eiffel says:

    Thanks, Digs, for another fascinating read. By the way, the link to Punt was probably intended to go to here: