Feature Article - November 2006
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Open Invitation

Landscape design brings in visitors

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Be A-Mazed
Grooming your garden into a maze or labyrinth

First things first: A maze is "multicursal," meaning that "it has many paths, dead ends and options from the exterior starting point to the center," explained Dr. Leonard Perry, an extension professor in the University of Vermont's Department of Plant and Soil Science.

Labyrinths, in contrast, are "unicursal," as they have only one path to follow from the outside to the center. Mazes usually offer entertainment and challenge, whereas a labyrinth presents an opportunity for contemplation and reflection. Adding either of these green gems to your grounds can be a major point of interest, as well as an attractive feature that encourages interaction between visitors and nature.

Although mazes and labyrinths can be quite elaborate, they don't have to be, and even simple designs can be fun and beautiful. After visiting an assortment of labyrinths around the world, Perry became interested in creating one himself because of "a section of field I was tired of mowing," he explained. He simply mowed a path to create a labyrinth and installed a handmade "spirit stake" in the center as a point of reflection.

In a public space, a labyrinth might need to be a bit more substantial than just a mowed path, but not much. Consider a labyrinth of "rock edges and pebble paths," Perry suggested. Your maintenance may be as simple as keeping extraneous leaves off the pattern. Mazes made from hedges or fast-growing plants will need the most maintenance, as regular trimming will be a must, and mazes require a little extra planning as well.

For a maze (with multiple paths and choices) it's wise to sketch out your design in advance, Perry said.

"The minimal recommended space is at least 25 feet across, although even a narrow rectangular space might suffice," Perry noted in his summer article for the University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science Web site. (Other useful info can be found on Perry's Web site: www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/.)

If your available space is skinny, use posts and wire fencing to grow vines for the walls of your maze or labyrinth, Perry suggested. In larger spaces, stone walls, shrubs and ornamental grasses can be used.

In the center of your structure, consider installing a bench or two, a piece of art or a garden statue, or a special burst of floral color. (Just be sure the grounds crew knows the way in to water.) This central space will serve as a spot to rest or a reward for those sly enough to navigate their way through.

The big picture

Only after you've consulted, collaborated and developed a master plan are you finally ready to focus on the tangible.

"Clients tell us it's easier to find money for plant material and physical components of a project than to get funding for planning," Droby said. Seems it's more fun to donate a tree than to throw money at the idea of having trees. With a plan in place, your organization will know what to ask for, whether it's donated contractor services, an assortment of bulbs or a ton of crushed gravel for a walkway.

A plan can also help you keep the big picture—and final outcome—in mind, even if you complete your reinvigorated grounds in stages. The city of Waunakee, Wis., has worked with Williams at JJR for years in just this fashion.

"When [Community Services Director Sue McDade] has a little bit of funding to hire a designer, she has us look at a park," Williams explained. "We've done six or eight in the community over the last three or four years. We do a quick master plan, and then she uses her staff and the city to implement the suggestions. They've been very successful doing things internally."

With a plan in place, donated trees can be designated to an appropriate spot, not haphazardly stuck in the ground. And don't worry, a master plan is far from inflexible. Six years ago, Williams worked with representatives from the community in Milton, Wis., to plan a park on the south side of town.

"They have been implementing the plan since then on their own," he said. "Thirty trees here, asphalt there… We also had a pond on the master plan."

However, not long ago, Williams got a call from Milton asking if the yet-to-be-created pond could be reconfigured as a dog park. No problem.

"We redid the plan for that, and last I talked to them, they had the fence in place and dogs were coming," Williams said.

Oh, one other thing. Be sure you make plans for maintenance as you put your master strategy in place. What a tragedy to create a perfect paradise of plants and recreation, only to have it turn brown and crispy a few weeks or months later because its maintenance proves too much for your staff or budget to handle.

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the first not-for-profit organization in the country to manage a park system, modeled their maintenance program on the one used in New York's Central Park. Rather than assigning various gardeners to specific tasks, the parks are broken into "small, manageable zones for one gardener to take on and take ownership of," Dold explained. "In this way, they're held accountable for a small area. If there's a problem in an area, we know who to talk to, and there's also the benefit of having a person there all day long. That adds to the level of safety."

Dold also suggests including "endowed maintenance" in your budget for a particular project because "plants look great at the nursery, but if you don't care for them, they're going to die or look terrible, and that can be worse than if you didn't do anything."