Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Quincunx, mystically considered

Huge fan, I am, of reading old gardening books.

While looking for some good pictures of roses for the current Días de los Muertos art project, I ran across this odd word - Quincunx. Odd and old, not to mention hard to pronounce and slightly naughty sounding.

Wikipedia has an entry for it. Merriam Webster has a definition. Visually it is the five spot on a domino - four dots on the corner and one in the middle.  The origin is thus: "Latin quincunc-, quincunx, literally, five twelfths, from quinque five + uncia twelfth part". According to MW, first known use was 1485. Now I'm still thinking how does 5/12 relate to planting.

"The Ladies' Companion to the Flower-Garden; 
Being an alphabetical arrangement 
of all the ornamental plants usually grown 
in gardens and shrubberies with full directions for their culture"  
by Jane Loudon, p. 269
Here's the full entry for Quincunx from "The ladies' companion to the flower-garden", 1858. From the pattern, you can see the 5 spots and the pattern is repeated. In this picture, the 4 trees are not in a square.

The mystery unfolds. Many very old books to very current books talk about Quincunx in planting. I will post them below. The meaning may have shifted over time. There is some difference in opinion whether the quincunx has its four dots in the shape of a rectangle or a square.

This cookie was baked by someone who
did not know about quincunx.
Because the flat edge was not exposed to the heat,
the sugars did not caramelize
as much as the exposed sides.
It was still a really good cookie.
But I have finally "gotten" why someone decided we needed this word. We've all used a Quincunx system when we are trying to fit those last few cookie balls on the baking pan. We skootch the rows around and offset the rows, so there's enough cookie space. If we don't, we get some big co-joined odd-shaped cookies.

Those of you who just ate the last two raw cookie dough balls, I understand completely.

The trick is that the quincunx is based on the (if one believes the oldest work, equilateral) triangle which along with the diamond and hexagon are pretty amazing shapes, much more interesting sometimes than the square. Just ask a bee what shape is best for packing the most stuff in a space. Check out wikipedia's hexagon article.

And the handy thing about laying out the orchard in the quincunx system is that when you stand in the middle of the orchard you have three directions of rows.

Fancher Creek Catalog. Not sure which! Which pattern is this? So many rows.

"What is more beautiful than the quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight lines?" (Garden of Cyrus)

Is the quincunx based on equilateral triangle? Or a square with a point in the center? Here's the frontpiece from The Garden of Cyrus (Sir Thomas Browne, 1658), from Wikipedia. This looks like it is an equilateral triangle based diamond.
Quid quincunce speciosius, qui, in quamcumque partem spectaveris, rectus est (What is more beautiful than the quincunx which however you view it, presents straight lines?)

"...the quincunxial lozenge, or net work plantation of the Ancients, artificially, naturally, mystically, considered" (The Works of Samuel Johnson, 1825)

Other interesting old books on the quincunx

Books listed in order of my discovery, not necessarily on logical order at all:

What about the Quincunx today?

The quincunx has been discussed for quite a while. What do current day methods of planting suggest? The quincunx method is mentioned in a New Mexico publication (Designing a Pecan Orchard, New Mexico State University, 2000.). However, the equilateral triangle method is called the "Triangle" and quincunx method is more like the 5-spot face of the domino. 

"This design is seldom used in New Mexico. It is difficult to lay out and is not as well adapted to fillers or temporary trees because distances between trees will not be the optimum when every other row is removed."

Some fun pictures from all of those references

I wouldn't want you to miss these!

Dedication in Notes on Nets.
Not the name of a musical group, but it should be,
the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers still exists in London,
being in existence for some 700 years.

The Elements of Forestry shows the various ways to plant.

From A New Universal Gazetteer
Quincunx is a Roman Square Measure

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