The Fertile Nile of Egypt

Thursday, 9 January 2020  |  Alison

 The Fertile Nile of Egypt

Think of Egypt and probably the Pyramids, Tutankhamun Treasures and the River Nile probably come to mind, rather than plants and gardening.  My recent trip to Egypt (or Eggwhite, as my dad said they called it when he was at junior school circa 1938), had me also pondering on the Agatha Christie novel ‘Death on the Nile’ and I was fully expecting a murder to happen whilst on a cruise along the Nile. Thankfully this didn’t happen, although sitting on the sunny deck of the boat lazily sipping on a chilled gin & tonic, watching life go by on the banks of the River Nile, I could imagine stepping back in time and such a thing taking place…..   

However, back to the present and a few interesting facts about Egypt and its natural geography which has always made the River Nile so important to the lives of the people of Egypt:-

  • Egypt is located in North East Africa where 90% of the country is desert and barren mountains.  It covers an area of 1.01 million square kilometres with an overall population of 100 million.
  • 95% of the population of Egypt live near the River Nile, arguably the longest river in the world at some 6,695km (4000 miles). It snakes its way north from the mountains of Ethiopia through eleven other countries in central/eastern Africa before entering the Mediterranean Sea north of Cairo through a series of feeder rivers known as the Nile delta (Lower Egypt) with the ports of Rosetta, to the west, and Damietta, to the east, being the two main cities where the Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The River Nile is still an invaluable source of life for Egyptians today, as it has been for some 5000 years.

  I am intrigued by the ancient history of Egypt and an excursion to Luxor to visit the Valley of the Kings did nothing to quell my enthusiasm and set my mind racing. The beauty of the tombs I visited was breath-taking, especially when you think how long ago the carvings and paintings covering the walls and ceilings were done, let alone the mind-boggling engineering and construction of the tombs themselves. The colours in the paintings are as bright as the day they were painted. It is interesting that these ancient paintings and symbols (hieroglyphics) show us that plants we use today were used thousands of years ago.  

In the Egyptian tombs, dating from the early 2nd millennium BC, paintings show flax being turned into linen.  This was a prized commodity in ancient Egypt and the temple priests, who were revered, wore sacred white linen robes.  Other carvings show how the Nile flooded every year from around June to September from the rainfall in the Ethiopian Highlands. Once the waters receded, the rich covering of silt left behind, which was full of nutrients and minerals, gave life to the surrounding lands making it perfect for growing many crops which in ancient times would have been grains such as einkorn wheat, emmer wheat and barley that were made into bread, porridge and beer.  Papyrus, grew by the water’s edge, was used to make parchment for writing.    Plentiful fish supplies were always on the diet of the ancient Egyptians too and paintings show fishermen catching their supplies from the flowing river. 

Tomb paintings show that wealthy ancient Egyptians and Pharaohs were fond of their gardens and had ponds too in which papyrus and water lilies were grown. Temple gardens show many flowers such as jasmine, lotus blossom, chrysanthemums, poppies and roses were grown and filled their gardens with perfume.  Some gardens were created miles inland from the River Nile and complex irrigation systems were built to bring Nile waters to these places of paradise.  Exotic fruits such as pomegranates, figs and melons were grown with vines and orchards of fruit trees to give shade whilst walking around the gardens in the searing heat.  

For millennia and right up until as recently as 1965, vast areas of fertile land either side of the Nile flooded yearly allowing the river people to grow crops to feed themselves and their animals. However, when the Aswan High Dam, located in Egypt’s southernmost city, was built and finished in 1970, to stop the annual flooding (inundation) and to control the flow of the river it had advantages and disadvantages. The dam also had generators to harness the power of the water into electricity, but this was soon found to be less than had been anticipated.

The measured amount of water released from the huge 500 kilometre reservoir, Lake Nasser, behind the Aswan Dam permitted the reclamation of around a million acres of new land for Egyptians to utilize the land and grow crops year round. Unfortunately, the deposits of silt were severely depleted as the floods stopped and with it also stopped the natural minerals and nutrients and topsoil being deposited on the land making the conditions less than ideal for crops to grow.   

Today, artificial fertilizers are now used. Crops widely grown today include sugarcane, cotton, rice, fava (broad) beans and sweetcorn (maize). Fruits including figs, mangoes citrus, prickly pears and water melons are also grown in abundance.

Egypt will always hold a fascination for many with its ancient history being revealed in the astonishing tomb discoveries of the last few centuries.  I have been re-reading the Egypt series of (fictional) books by author Wilbur Smith and am transported back to ancient Egypt with all its riches and immense power, whilst modern influences of treachery and greed permeate through as they always have.   

Gripping stuff and I am off to catch up on all things Egyptian, with a trip to the Tutankhamun Exhibition in London very soon.  

I may catch up on some jobs in the garden too whilst allowing my mind to wander to ‘this very Egypt’!


Brookside Nursery