Boustrophedon Garden

“Boustrophedon” is Greek for “ox-turning,” as in going back and forth like an ox pulling a plough across a field and turning at the end of each row, onto the next. In Canada’s Dominion Land Survey, townships are divided into a square grid of 36 sections, starting with Section 1 in the southeast corner and the numbering proceeding boustrophedonically until Section 36 in the northwest corner is reached.

All this by way of defining the 50-cent word identifying one of 11 Ephemeral Gardens commissioned for Quebec City’s year-long 400th-anniversary festivities in 2008. The Boustrophedon Garden was designed by Toronto’s Plant Architect, whose members delight in creating projects with a formidable intellectual program. It also commemorates Quebec founder Samuel de Champlain, who domesticated the countryside and initiated subsistence farming to ensure that his settlement would survive.

Besides plowing, there’s the weaving of cloth, another activity by the settlers that the design sought to express. The garden’s pattern was “woven” over the course of the summer, with increasing numbers of plants, neoprene flag markers, concrete and steel weight markers, ropes and photographs.

The site’s length represents an axis of time with an embedded wood calendar in the ground and along the bench wall, marking the duration of the garden festival in weekly increments. Rows of herbs and vegetables (chives, bee balm, sunflowers, bush beans, onions and heritage tomatoes) ran the length of the garden, each with a corresponding set of overhead ropes and height-marking posts. Each week, plant measurements and a photograph of the garden were taken and permanently recorded; overhead ropes correspond to each furrow and significant life-cycle event. As plants died back after the harvest, the permanent structural record of the garden calendar remained.

Design team: Lisa Rapoport, Mary Tremain, Chris Pommer, Jane Hutton, Elise Shelley and Jessica Craig