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For an outdoor labyrinth, line paths with ground covers

Q: During a recent trip to San Francisco, I came across a labyrinth. What is the difference between a hedge maze and a labyrinth, and what plants can I use to construct a labyrinth at home?

Ray Rhoads, Caledonia, IL

In a labyrinth, a single unobscured path runs from the entrance to the center. Defined paths can be edged with low-growing plants. Click to enlarge image In a labyrinth, a single unobscured path runs from the entrance to the center. Defined paths can be edged with low-growing plants. Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume

A: David Tolzmann, owner of the Labyrinth Company, a firm in New York City that designs and builds labyrinths, responds:  The origin of the labyrinth design, a winding path that serves as a metaphor for a spiritual search, dates back to Roman times, when it was incorporated into mosaic floors. Gothic cathedrals, particularly in France, also included elaborate labyrinths of stone or tile in their central aisles. The Episcopal Church revived the use of the labyrinth as a meditational tool in this country about 10 years ago. Since then, labyrinths have been built in churches, cathedrals, retreat centers, hospitals, schools, and meditation gardens.

Unlike the puzzling path in a hedge maze that is concealed by the hedge itself, a labyrinth consists of a single unobscured path that runs from the entrance of its circular design to its center. Labyrinths contain no dead ends, no decisions, and no tricks along the path. And since the entire design of the labyrinth is visible whether the walker is standing inside or on its perimeter, he or she is not confused by the complex path and is instead able to engage in prayer, quiet time, recentering, rebalancing, stress reduction, and right brain (creativity) enhancement while strolling.

The defined paths of labyrinths can be constructed both indoors and outdoors with canvas, wood flooring, paving stones, and grass. Outdoors, paths can be defined with plantings. Since the paths of a labyrinth must be visible, low-growing ground covers that are no more than 6 to 8 inches high are the most appropriate plants to use. For a labyrinth located in a sunny spot, bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Mazus repens, lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodora), and candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) are good perennials to use. Low shrubs such as Cotoneaster adpressa and Cotoneaster horizontalis, which is evergreen, also make nice outlines. The challenge is to keep the plants confined to the lines so that the path remains walkable.

From Fine Gardening 77, pp. 78