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Now that Spring is finally with us – it is a good time to think about gardening and management of the land. There has been a slowly growing trend in Bloomsbury, central London for residents (and their friends and supporters) to cultivate even the most smallest patches of earth and this has encouraged me to ponder about how the ancient Egyptians managed their often very small plots of land. ┬áThis blog will be repeated anon – with images and additions.

Over the past few years residents in some streets in central London have ‘taken over’ the tree pits in their streets. ┬áThe reasons for this are manifold: to improve the quality of their environment, to add colour to their area and, most importantly, to stop people dumping rubbish and allowing their dogs to foul in these areas. In many cases the appalling build up of rubbish and mess beneath the trees in many streets has been the impetus for residents to act and plant up these areas like mini gardens; now, in the majority of cases, the fly tipping and dog fouling has either ceased or certainly significantly lessened. The pride which the residents have invested in these mini gardening projects has attracted some measure of media interest via television and newspapers. Let’s look at, and comment upon, some examples of these mini urban projects:

So, these examples are mini gardens created around the pits of trees. The knock-on effects of these endeavours have been dramatic: the air seems fresher, places look cleaner and people have even reported changing their walking habits in order to stroll down streets so beautifully planted and so much more appealing.

In an environment notable for the relative (to desert) lack of cultivable land, the ancient Egyptians did pretty well when it came to land management. The ancient Egyptians were as proud of their gardens as are people nowadays. We know, from tomb reliefs and textual records, that the wealthy landowners cultivated gardens to provide trees, flowers and herbs and, in much larger farming establishments, food crops – much as the Egyptians do nowadays. In these larger tracts of land the aim would have been for farmers to produce enough crops to both provide for the people and, in good yield years, to have surplus crops to trade for other commodities. In times, when the Nile inundation was successful (ie. not too high nor too low) this aim was achievable. On the more modest front, the wealthy employed gardeners to maintain the gardens attached to their villa-like houses because the affluent ancient Egyptians wanted ornamental gardens, varieties of trees and flowers. One of the main tasks of the gardener would have been to supply the gardens in their care with water. A shaduf would have been used to move water from the river to the desired areas of the garden. The shaduf, still in use in parts of Egypt today, consisted of a long pole with a jar or bucket at one end and a counterbalance (probably dried mud) at the other end.

The ordinary person in ancient Egypt may have had a very small plot of land – this may have been owned but was more likely ‘rented’. Studies of a variety of sources seem to suggest that the ordinary ancient Egyptian enjoyed a plain but nutritious diet: bread, beer, oils, a range of vegetables and, as nowadays, fish could have been caught. Certainly meat, from the larger animals (cattle and so on) would have been a longed for luxury for the ordinary person but perhaps meat from ducks and geese may have been a realistic goal on some occasions. It is surprising what can be grown on a small patch of land – as any modern allotment keeper will tell you. Onions, lettuce, celery and garlic (to name but a few) were cultivated to enrich the plain diet of the ancient Egyptian. Garlic, native to Asia and widely consumed by the ancient Egyptians, had useful, antibacterial properties; cloves of garlic were included in the tomb offerings of Tutankhamun. Whilst I have not seen any actual vegetables or salad items being grown in these modern tree pits, I have seen a variety of herbs being grown under some trees! A wide variety of herbs were available to the ancient Egyptians: coriander, dill, mint,cress and parsley amongst many. Ancient Egyptian gardens displayed flowers more at home in the fields: the cornflower and the poppy; the mandrake, with its yellow fruits, and the lily were also popularly grown. The tree pits highlighted above feature flowers known to the ancient Egyptian plus more.