Garden Labyrinths

What can be more rewarding than walking a labyrinth in a beautiful garden setting? Of the thousands of labyrinths now existing in the United States and around the world, the vast majority have been made in private yards and gardens. Often, these are do-it-yourself projects.

Historically There Are No Precedents

In past eras, there was little commonality between garden labyrinths and meditation labyrinths. The earliest use of labyrinths was probably for rituals and ceremonies. Only the select were allowed to participate. The Romans used labyrinths as a decorative motif for mosaic floor designs. Generally, they were too small to walk. During the Middle Ages, walkable floor labyrinths appeared in the Gothic cathedrals of northern France starting in the late 12th century. How they were used is not known, with the exception of a single report of priests doing a ceremonial dance at Easter time in Auxerre.

Whatever the spiritual intensions of labyrinths, they were soon lost and forgotten. Most of the labyrinths were removed from the floors of catherdrals. While a number of turf labyrinths were made, for the most part, the development of garden labyrinths was a post-Rennaisance secular movement. For the first time, multi-cursal mazes appeared, with many paths. Their purpose was to confound, confuse, or amuse. Many times such mazes were planted with bushes forming the walls, growing to become carefully trimmed barriers eight feet tall or more. The world's greatest scholarly compendium on labyrinths, Through the Labyrinth by Hermann Kern, has many pages of hedge mazes and garden designs.

Modern Garden Labyrinths

In the 21st century, the rebirth of labyrinths has shown to be a democratic movement. Everyone is allowed to participate. When using traditional designs from the Middle Ages or earlier, most labyrinth walkers are seeking a focus of meditation and well-being, rather than entertainment. For this reason, the designs are two-dimensional, laid out on the ground with stones or bricks. The same is true for more durable surfaces, such as pavers or concrete. Three dimensional designs, made of fences or hedges or tall grass tend to isolate the walker and invoke a sense of panic.

Meditative garden labyrinths of the 21st century, therefore, may include some low plantings (for example, lines made of herbs) or decorative landscaping, but are rarely more than a few inches tall. Turf labyrinths, dug into the ground, may be as deep as 10 to 12 inches. By far the most accessible and popular technique for building a labyrinth in one's yard has been to lay out stones for the lines and leave the paths natural grass. The photo shows the labyrinth at our previous residence, along with our cat, Minotaur. Alternatively, the paths can be made of mulch. We have a number of photos on our website in the "Our Work" gallery section which include labyrinths that utilize rocks and mulch and grass. (See: Our Work) By inserting brick lines into the ground, the grass can be cut with a normal power mower.

Resources for Garden Labyrinths

Garden labyrinths are ideal for do-it-yourselfers because they are very forgiving. If you use the instructions shown on our website (see: Instructions) to lay out rocks, correcting a mistake simply involves picking up the rock and moving it elsewhere untilthe patternis correct. People often call and ask about templates and patterns. With just a few minutes of study, you should be able to follow our instructions and make your own labyrinth without a template. It gives a feeling of accomplishment.

The next step up from our free instructions is is to buy one of our books. The Labyrinth Idea Book, at $15, is filled with color photos of labyrinths of all kinds, many in garden settings. It can get the creative juices flowing. We have two instruction manuals, one for the classical pattern and one for the Chartres pattern, at $20. Beyond the printed materials, we also offer consulting and design services. (See: Consulting and Design)

On-Site Assistance and Installation

In a number of instances we have come to the site and assisted either in drawing the pattern or in guiding a group of volunteers in the actual construction. (For example, see: Silver Bay) The cost for a day or two of our labor is no more than a large stencil or template would cost, and we can answer your questions or make suggestions. For more sophisticated materials, we usually bring our own crews. Even then, there can be a savings if you provide some help.

And so, as you cans see, we have all of the resources you need, at whatever degree of involvement, to obtain a garden labyrinth. If you also need help in planning the garden itself, we can refer you to someone who knows both garden design and labyrinths.