Garden Mazes Create a Sense of Wonder
Image courtesy of Suzman Design Associates
It might look like a maze but this is actually a labyrinth created by Suzman Design Associates. If it was a maze, the hedges would be too high to see over the pathways.
Mazes and labyrinths have been prominent components of European gardens and estates for centuries but they are now gaining popularity in the U.S. Either form brings something magical and compelling to a landscape design but there is a distinct difference between the two.
A maze is a puzzle with a choice of pathways and dead-ends designed to confuse and challenge the explorer. Garden mazes are usually created with tall hedges that you cannot see over or see through, making it difficult to navigate your way from the entrance to the exit. One of the most famous examples of this is the maze at Hampton Court Palace in England.
A labyrinth, on the other hand, is designed with a single, non-branching path which leads to the center. Architect Stephen Suzman, who has designed several labyrinths for clients, states that "a labyrinth is basically a pattern on the ground that is low and could be made up of something as simple as two different types of stone or grass and stone or very low hedges."
Image courtesy of Suzman Design Associates
This labyrinth of brick and pavers was a collaboration between Suzman Design Associates and Thomas Hacker and Associates for a school. Labyrinths are quite popular with children who are engaged by the design and interact naturally with it.
While mazes test your deductive reasoning, labyrinths serve a different purpose. "Labyrinths were designed to concentrate the mind," Suzman says, and are "more of a progression to a center, sort of like a walking meditation. There are labyrinths in places like Chartres where they have religious and meditative functions." An American example would be the Labyrinths of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, which are open to the public as a place to reflect, pray or meditate.
Of the two forms, labyrinths offer more options on what materials you use to create them. Gravel, sand, rocks, tiles, bricks, pavers and low-growing vegetation are some of the many choices available. A traditional garden maze, however, requires hedges or shrubbery that can grow to heights of 6 feet or more and would require much more maintenance. Among the more popular and hardy plants used by maze designers are yew, boxwood and yaupon holly. Suzman adds, "You could use beech or hornbeam. It would be deciduous in mazes but they could certainly be very effective." Clumping bamboo is another alternative.
Lost in Yew
Composed of more than 16,000 English yews, the Longleat Hedge Maze, located near the town of Warminster in Wiltshire, England, is a stunning creation that was first laid out in 1975 by the renowned designer Greg Bright.
Bird's Eye View
Modeled on the famous maze at the Hampton Court Palace, the Governor's Palace maze in Colonial Williamsburg was restored in 1999-2000 with yaupon holly replacing the less vigorous American holly.
Find the Clue
John, Paul, Ringo and George
A corn maze tribute to The Beatles? Yes, the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' U.S. debut was the theme of this unique 2013 tribute at the Richardson Adventure Farm and Corn Maze in Spring Grove, Illinois. The popular tourist attraction included four separate mazes that winded through 33 acres of cornfields.
The Longleat Hedge Maze in England is part of the 8,000 acres that belong to the historic 1541 estate of the Marquesses of Bath. The maze is considered the longest, but not the largest, one in the world and covers 1.48 acres and 1.69 miles of pathway.
Designed as a place of meditation, The Harmonist Labyrinth in New Harmony, Indiana was reconstructed between 1939-1940 with privet hedge on the site of the original design. The Harmonists believe that the labyrinth symbolizes the difficult path of life to reach true perfection.
If you make it to the center of the Garden Maze at Luray Caverns, you'll discover a refreshing surprise. This one-acre ornamental garden is open year round on weekends, weather permitting.
Every year The Amazing Maize Maze at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Ronk, Pennsylvania creates a new theme for its interactive 5-acre corn maze and this aerial photograph displays their 2011 theme, "Once Upon a Time."
Engage the Mind
This labyrinth design by Stephen Suzman of Suzman Design Associates displays the aesthetic difference between a labyrinth and a maze. "Labyrinths were designed to concentrate the mind," says Suzman, and are "more of a progression to a center, sort of like a walking meditation." A maze, on the other hand, requires hedges or vegetation that are tall and prevent you from seeing through them, which creates a sense of mystery.
The Amazing Maize Maze
This overview of the corn maze at Cherry Crest Farm gives you some idea of the unique and creative agricultural experience awaiting visitors during its active season between May and October.
High as an Elephant's Eye
Corn mazes can be even more challenging than hedge mazes since the corn can grow to heights of ten feet or more and even viewing your location from an elevated bridge is no guarantee you can figure out how to get out of the maze. These intrepid explorers at the Cherry Crest Adventure Farm are armed with a flag that they can signal for help if they get lost.
The Dino King
The age of the dinosaurs was the theme at Marini Farm in Ipswich, Massachusetts, for the 2013 season and if you look closely, you can see the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the corn maze design.
In recent years, corn mazes have become increasingly popular in farming areas and there are several commercial operations that transform their cornfields into elaborate mazes every year with specific themes. Larry Davis of Davis Family Farm Adventures in Sterling, Massachusetts uses world famous maze designer Adrian Fisher to design their seasonal corn maze with themes like the board game Clue. An aerial view of the maze reveals a giant question mark in the center of a network of intricate puzzles, dead-ends and observation bridges placed strategically throughout the exhibition.
One striking aspect of the Davis Mega Maze is that it isn't completely created out of corn stalks and is supplemented by sorghum-sudangrass. "It grows very tall and gives a jungle effect to the maze," Davis said. "It makes the pathways look super lush. You really can't see through them well at all." The Davis Mega Maze also offers a flashlight experience that challenges visitors to navigate the twists and turns of their eight-acre corn sculpture under the night sky.
For more information about mazes and labyrinths, check out Mazes and Labyrinths of the World by Janet Bord (E.P. Dutton & Co., 1976) and Mazes and Labyrinths by W.H. Mathews (Longman, Green and Co., 1922). The Labyrinth Society is also a good internet resource.