Labyrinths and mazes have their beginning in European countries where Kings and Dukes would petition a labyrinth or maze for their castle. But in recent times, labyrinths have found their way to spas, hospitals, and retreats where mental exercise or contemplation is needed. Mazes on the other hand, have been used by farmers to create agritourism opportunities, parks as an attraction, and even in the common home landscaping. But to create your own labyrinth or maze one must understand the difference.
Labyrinths are typically designed to define a sacred space that has one entrance/exit. The paths are designed to go in one direction and lead to a predetermined destination. While an individual walks along the path mediation and contemplation occurs. The goal of a labyrinth is not how one gets to the predetermined destination but instead the journey itself.
Mazes, on the other hand, have many different paths that lead into many different directions and only following one particular path will lead to the destination. The challenge of a maze is not the journey but the challenge of solving a puzzle and being rewarded with a beautiful view, fountain, or statue.
To start the process of creating a labyrinth or maze requires planning. The minimal space required for these types of garden designs is 25 square feet. To begin this process, simply draw out your design or create one on the computer. There are several websites that will help with this creation. The next consideration that needs to be thought out as if one wants to disturb the garden soil. If this is not an option then a labyrinth is in order.
A simple type of labyrinth utilizes one’s existing turf or a turf labyrinth. This type of labyrinth is created by mowing turf in circles. These mowed areas create the path that can be left mowed down or covered in gravel, mulch or even a ground cover. If utilizing a ground cover consider using creeping thyme or some other aromatic ground cover. This will enhance the journey through the labyrinth. Another approach is to use stepping stones to create the path for the labyrinth in the turf.
Once the path has been designed, areas of mediation can be set up along the path depending on how large the labyrinth is and where it is located. Labyrinths that have narrow paths designed for one-person travel can be designed to use color as a mediation element. Annuals can be used to line one circle at a time in a rainbow fashion starting with red. Continue this color pattern by planting flowers in different hues of the same color and when the next circle appears a new color on the rainbow is planted.
Mazes require more work and financial commitment then labyrinths because they are more permanent. Many mazes found in Europe are made from yews or shrubs that are pruned to create the shape of the maze. Hever Castle in England has taken this design a step farther by utilizing a yew maze that includes a path that goes over a pond. The path over the pond consists of stepping-stones geared with spray nozzles. As individuals cross the path they get sprayed with water.
But for the typical maze created as part of a suburban landscape the plan does not have to be that complicated. Posts and wire fencing outlining the maze design is a great alternative to using traditional shrubs. Hops, bittersweet, sweet autumn clematis, trumpet creeper, hardy kiwi, Virginia creeper and honeysuckle are all good choices to plant along the wire fencing. Annuals also find a home along the fence and include sweet peas and morning glories. And lets not forget the vegetable garden. Beans, cucumbers, or peas all can be used to produce food and create the “walls” of the maze.
Corn or sunflowers can be used to craft a more traditional looking maze in the place of yews. Simply plant rows of corn or sunflower in the maze area. Once the plants reach maturity mow down the plant material into the maze design.
Living walls, furthermore, can be fashioned through the use of ornamental grasses such as feather reed grass or switchgrass. These grass walls can then be lined with low growing grasses including blue fescue or sedges. And if the paths are 2 to 3 feet apart an uncomplicated stonewalls can create the “walls” of the maze path.
Perennials are not suited to labyrinths due to their spreading nature but they are great for accents in a maze. Line paths with plants such as daylilies or tall garden phlox. Also use perennials to hi-light corners or wider areas in the maze.
Once the labyrinth or maze design is finished there does remain one design element and that is what will be discovered in the center of this design. So ancient designs showcased a view of a revered mountain, the sunrise or sunset during the summer solstice, or another natural form of beauty. But the center design for the common labyrinth or maze does not have to be that complicated. The center can be a quiet grassy area where one can rest and mediate. Add a bench, seat, or even a table to the area where one could write down their thoughts. Throughout the paths sprinkle garden art such as angels, garden fairies, and spirit stakes. This will add design interest while creating mystery and places of reflection.
Labyrinths and mazes are not as complicated as they may seem and are worth the effort if you have the garden space. But if time and/or space are preventing you from creating a labyrinth or maze, try drawing one on the sidewalk or driveway. And for that special one on that special occasion try creating a maze on a concrete porch designed by outlining the paths with candles in glass containers. When the paths are lit it creates a memorable labyrinth or maze for that special moment in time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.