As to the abundance of vegetable products among the ancient Egyptians, we need only consult their sacrificial vessels, their baskets of fruits, and their festival processions. There are long rows of men carrying baskets laden with fruit on their shoulders, and ears of corn or papyrus in their hands. Between them are other beautifully woven baskets, piled high with every sort of garden food. But the Middle Period has the fewest pictures of vegetable gardens. One picture of Beni-Hassan shows, in poor perspective, square beds, planted with green vegetation (Fig. 8).
A canal ending in a round pond has green tendrils all about it, as though to indicate that it lies within the garden; beside it two men are working, bringing water and emptying it over the beds. They would seem to be important persons in the service of their master. Both their names are perpetuated, not only in an inscription over their heads, but in the large picture of the servants bringing gifts to place on the sacrificial tables of the dead. Our two gardeners appear with their names again noted, Neter-Necht and Nefer-Hetep. They are giving their master the fruits of the earth, obtained by their own labour, in baskets carried over their shoulders on a crossbar.
On another picture of the same period, the beds are marked out in squares like a chess-board, with many kinds of plants in them. Gardeners are shown watering the land and there is always a canal or a pond to complete the scene (Fig. 9).
Above the gardeners stands a row of pot plants. This is an early example of ornament that became common later on. To the left of the garden is a vine arbour, where men are in the act of plucking ripe grapes. The same wine harvest is shown at the Beni-Hassan tomb, but here the arbour is most elegantly furnished, and covered over. This is rare in so old a work.
Much is told by pictures of the time before the New Period. But even at that time utility was not everything. Rich people, from the earliest days, made gardens round their houses in the country, where they meant to retire after their busy careers. We see this from an inscription on the Tomb of Meten, an official and high priest who lived under the last king of the Third, and the first of the Fourth Dynasty. Meten built himself a wonderful villa with a wall round it, which enclosed a square 105 metres in length each way. His house was well built, and supplied with all the necessaries of life. It was enclosed by trees both for ornament and use—palms, figs, and acacias. Several ponds with green surroundings made a home for water-fowl. Before the house stood arbours. Two fields of vine plantations yielded him every year an abundant supply of their fine wines. There is no picture that shows the actual arrangement of these plantations, which afforded so much pleasure to their owner.
We must pass over 1500 years, to find descriptions like Meten’s in the New Period, which will, however, present precisely the same pictures of the order of plants and buildings, though in a highly advanced state of culture.