The number four (or multiples of it) has appeared over and over again in garden design and parterre patterns, and still does.
The quincunx is an arrangement of five objects in a square or rectangle, with one in the centre and the other four at each corner. It allows maximum sun to fruit trees but was also commonly used for formal plantings of topiary, as it offers diagonal vistas through, as well as vertical and horizontal ones, with opportunities for focal points in all directions.
The labyrinth pattern has variously been seen as a trap for evil spirits, a path to good fortune, a pilgrimage, a meditation tool and a place for courtship and dalliance. It is a matter of wonderment that the pattern has appeared in places around the world as diverse as on rock engravings in Goa and in the White Sea, in Iron Age Galicia and on Cretan and Roman coins. The Greek historian Herodotus (484–425 bc) in his Histories (Book II) spoke of a labyrinth at the palace of King Amenemhet in the nineteenth century bc, in Hawara, Egypt, as ‘surpassing description’.
However, it is the Cretan legend of the Minoan labyrinth of 1600 bc that resounds through garden history. According to the myth, in the reign of King Minos there lived on the island of Crete the half-man half-bull Minotaur, the offspring of Pasiphae, Minos’ queen, and a divine bull from the sea. At the command of Minos, the architect/inventor Daedalus constructed at the king’s palace at Knossos a labyrinth in which the Minotaur was imprisoned. Every year (or every nine years – the stories vary) the Minotaur was fed the tribute of seven young men and girls from Athens. Theseus, the son of the King of Athens, volunteered to be part of the tribute, with the intention of killing left above Quincunx pattern by Giovanni Battista Ferrari in Hesperides, 1646. left below Two knots and a labyrinth by Thomas Trevelyan, seventeenth century. opposite A seventeenth-century hedge maze at Villa Pisani, near Venice.
topiary, knots and parterres