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Friday, February 28, 2014

That's A-Maze-ing: Mazes and Labyriths

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a maze as “a structure designed as a puzzle, consisting of a complicated network of winding and interconnecting paths or passages.” While that sounds daunting as a garden feature, mazes can be as simple or as intricate as the gardener wants.

The first recorded hedge maze can be traced back to 13th century Belgium. In the late 16th century, Androuet du Cerceau, architect to Catherine de Medici and a leader in the French Renaissance, incorporated mazes into his architectural work. The oldest hedge maze that still exists today, dating back to 1690, can be found in Hampton Court in England.

Mazes can take on two forms: multicursal or unicursal. A multicursal maze has multiple ways to get to the center, while a unicursal maze has only one solution. There is also the labyrinth which is unicursal and very similar to a maze, but designed to be more about the experience of the passage or pilgramage rather than solving a puzzle. Labyrinths often have lower walls and can therefore be easier to construct. Labyrinths also differ from mazes in that their entrance is also their exit, while a maze can have different exits and entrances.
Mazes and labyrinths can be made of many different materials. These include hedges, maize, stones, vines grown on posts and fencing, turf, and various plants. Among the plants that can be used are Virginia creeper and honeysuckle.

Hedge maze at Tuckahoe Plantation, boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson, Richmond, Virginia, circa 1920s-1930s. Unknown photographer.
Labryinth at the Kitty & Hacker Caldwell in Lockout Mountain, Tennessee, April 2008, Robert Busby, photographer.

Bella Wenum, Archives of American Gardens Intern, Summer 2013

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