Historical gardens · Horticulture

Water history in gardens – ancient times

The history of gardens is in a way a history of water arrangements. Only when a man posed the ability to control the level of water supply, was also able to cultivate plants in various conditions.

Ancient Egypt

The first ancient gardens existed already in Ancient Egypt. The whole agriculture of ancient Egypt depended on annual floods of Nile river. The water was collected through the complicated system of irrigation canals and reservoirs and supplied to fields and gardens  in subsequent period of the year. This flood pattern repeated each year, starting early July in the South and August in the North of the country and finished in October and November, respectively, depending on region.

The agricultural culture based on these natural flow rhythms lasted more than 5000 years.

In case of gardens, one of their most important parts was a pond as a  main reservoir of water. It was usually of rectangular or T-like shape.  It was used not only as part of irrigation system but also for decoration and recreation purposes as well as for the fish breeding and for religious rituals.

Tools used in ancient garden for water control were described in the previous post.

Ancient Mesopotamia

Similarly as In Egypt, the agriculture was strongly depended on the rivers (Tigris and Euphrates) and the irrigation system of canals enabling the water supply to distant fields and gardens.

The high level of hydraulic engineering allowed to irrigate gardens located on terraces, at present known as hanging gardens. In fact, they were situated on special construction of narrow and high corridors, closed on the top, where the plants were cultivated in shallow layer of the soil. The space under this construction provided shadow in hot days.

Ancient Assyria

Hanging gardens were built also in ancient Assyria. The complex system of irrigation canals and basins allowed the supply of sufficient amounts of water to support cultivation of abundant greenery.

The most famous hanging gardens of ancient Assyria were erected near the Nineveh town.

Ancient Persia

Water is a key element in Persian garden. The layout of Persian gardens (so called chahar bagh) was based on rectangle or sometime a square, divided in four parts by two straight perpendicular lines strengthened by water canals and roads. Water canals were the main (or only) provider of water for plants in the garden.

KW_chahar bagh layout

Fig. 1 . An example of simple layout chahar bagh

The water in form of the basin or a fountain was often was emphasized and displayed in the central point of the garden, at the crossing point of these canals.

The water to the garden was collected from natural springs located near the garden or (more often) transported from distant locations by the system of qanats.

More about qanats in next post.



  1. Mahdi Nejad J., Azemati H., Zarghami E., Abad A.S.H., 2017. The Role of Water in Persian Gardens. Open Journal of Ecology, 7, 41-54.  http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/oje.2017.71004
  2. Majdecki L., 2016. History of gardens
  3. Wengel T., 1987. The art of gardening through the ages



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