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There are tons of books about gardening – though not so many about gardening in the Middle East – and there are probably even more about Egypt ancient and modern. Here are a few useful English-language resources:


Books from the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society, e.g. Vegetable and Fruit Gardening; Encyclopedia of Herbs; published by Dorling Kindersley (DK). I wouldn’t be without them.

Organic Gardening the natural no-dig way – Charles Dowding, pub. green books. Practical, no-nonsense guide from the guru of gardening using compost rather than laborious turning of the soil – let the worms etc. do it for you.

No Dig Organic Home & Garden – grow, cook, use & store your harvest – Charles Dowding & Stephanie Hafferty, pub. Permanent Publications. Well illustrated guide to planning, preparing the land for food crops, growing, tending and using produce not just for food, but also for skin, tooth and hair care, cleaning etc. Emphasis on affordable solutions to gardening challenges. References to demo videos available on YouTube.

Grow Organic – from Garden Organic, a UK charity, pub. DK. Useful, not just veg, fruit and herbs, but flower beds too.

The Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar – pub. annually, Floris Books. Day-by-day guide to what can or cannot be done in the garden following the lunar cycle.


Gardening in the Middle East – Eric Moore, pub. Stacey International. Helpful guide to preparing soil, choosing plants according to region and caring for them; bugs and pests; plant encyclopaedia.

Tropical and Subtropical Plants – Frances Perry and Roy Hay, pub. Ward Lock. Guide to identifying plants, their properties and uses. Quite helpful photos.

The Desert Garden – Irina Springuel, pub. American University in Cairo (AUC) Press – a specialist guide to cultivation in a desert habitat in Egypt.


The Secret Life of TreesColin Tudge, Penguin Books. Absorbing, well-written and filled with fascinating info.

RHS Botany for Gardeners – pub. Mitchell Beazley.

The Kew Plant Glossary – Henk Beentje, pub. Kew Publishing. Nitty-gritty reference, technical.

Desert Plants of Egypt’s Wadi El Gemal National Park – Tamer Mahmoud, pub. AUC Press. Guide to the plant life and communities of a national park on the Red Sea coast south of Marsa Alam. Well illustrated directory of plants and maps of their distribution in the park; interesting details of how local people use the plants in daily life.


There are some wonderful, modern resources to help you navigate Egypt’s extraordinary history and amazing culture. Here are a few of the best in print:


Blue, Lonely Planet, Rough – take your pick, it all depends on how you want the info presented. Straightforward and packed with detail – go with the Blue; occasionally raffish – try the Rough. Michael Haag has also produced a Guide to Egypt, as well as books on particular topics, e.g. Alexandria.

There are Illustrated Guides to important sites in Cairo, e.g. the Pyramids, National Museum and Coptic Museum, pub. AUC Press. Other sites badly need them – e.g. Islamic Cairo, the Textile Museum.

For Fayyum, see R. Neil Hewison: The Fayoum – History and Guide, pub. AUC Press. First published in 1984, it has been revised and brought up to date with the inclusion of the Wadi al-Hitan UNESCO World Heritage Site, where fossilised remains of 40 million year-old mangrove swamps and prehistoric whales have been discovered. (To see additional material from the site, visit the Geological Museum in Corniche el-Nil, Maadi).


The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt – Toby Wilkinson, pub. Bloomsbury. Well written and comprehensive account, highly readable.

The Story of Egypt – Joann Fletcher, pub. Hodder & Stoughton. Fizzing with ideas, this feminist reading of ancient Egypt by professor of world mummification (yes, really!) at the UK’s York University is a great read. Puts the pharaohs in their place, brings many queens/dowager queens back to their rightful, prominent position in Egyptian history, and updates us on recent scientific analysis of mummies etc.

An Introduction to Ancient Egypt – TGH James, pub. British Museum Press. General overview.

Life in Paradise – Zahi Hawass, pub. AUC Press. Lavishly produced, superbly illustrated.

The Illustrated Dictionary of Ancient Egypt – Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, AUC Press. Reference book with generous supply of diagrams, maps and photos.

Cairo: The City Victorious – Max Rodenbeck, pub. Picador. Excellent history of Cairo in its many guises from ancient times, drawing on the writings of chroniclers and travellers over the centuries.


Letters from Egypt – Lucie Duff Gordon, pub. Virago. Resident in Egypt in the 1860s as she struggled with tuberculosis, Duff Gordon was an acute and witty observer of the Egyptians she lived among, chiefly in Upper Egypt. Home was at different times a dahabiyyah (boat) on the Nile and a quirky residence on top of the ancient temple of Luxor, then largely submerged in sand. For more, see also Katherine Frank’s biography Lucie Duff Gordon – A Passage to Egypt, Tauris Parke Paperbacks.

In an Antique Land – Amitav Ghosh, pub. Granta. Part-history and part-personal memoir, this weaves together two stories: One of a medieval Jewish merchant who lived in Cairo, Yemen (Aden) and India, the other of the anthropologist Ghosh who stayed in a village in the Delta as a grad. student. A perceptive, thoughtful, rewarding read.


The Art of Ancient Egypt – Gay Robins, AUC Press. Beautiful exploration of Egyptian art from the Old Kingdom to the late period.

The Medicine of the Ancient Egyptians – Eugen Strouhal, Bretislav Vachala, Hana Vymazalova, pub. AUC Press. Useful – some weird stuff in there!

Ancient Egyptian Medicine – John F. Nunn, pub. British Museum Press. A medic’s eye view. Many problems of identifying ancient plants with certainty.

An Ancient Egyptian Herbal – Lise Manniche, pub. AUC Press. An excellent introduction outlining the gardens and natural resources of the ancient Egyptians; useful reference section despite problems with identification of plants.

The Pharaoh’s Kitchen – Magda Mehdawy and Amr Hussein, pub. AUC Press. Interesting insights; plenty of recipes, though “lotus “blossoms may not be so easy to find in the local market nowadays! Illustrated.

For literary sources, see the 3-volume series Ancient Egyptian Literature pub. University of California Press.

Specialist studies of ancient Egypt, as interesting as they are challenging, authored/ edited by Jan Assmann, formerly Professor of Egyptology at Heidelberg University, Germany – e.g The Mind of Egypt, pub. Harvard University Press.

EGYPTIAN WRITERS – translated into English

My preference is for writers of an older generation, such as Tawfiq Al-Hakim (playwright and novelist). More prolific was novelist and commentator Naguib Mahfouz, whose works I rarely read; but since he won the Nobel Prize, he should be mentioned! Many Egyptian novels were published in the past by Heinemann in the African Writers series; their works now appear under the impress of the AUC. For modern/contemporary writers, try Latifa Al-Zayyat’s The Open Door, first published in 1960, and a milestone in modern feminist writing in Egypt; Alaa Al-Aswany (The Yacoubian Building; Chicago), or works by the late Radwa Ashour (Granada – an historical novel set in Spain; Blue Lorries). Writing in English is Ahdaf Soueif, whose romantic The Map of Love (pub. Bloomsbury) is a modern exploration of the ancient Osiris myth.















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