How to: make a labyrinth
Photo - Wychwood
Tracing a calm path, the labyrinth is undergoing a garden rebirth.
Michael Stevens, a paediatric oncologist at the Children’s Hospital, Westmead, in Sydney, hopes to have a labyrinth built in the grounds of the hospital for the use of patients and their families. He says a labyrinth is a perfect tool for meditation, and he has been so convincing enough a site for one is being negotiated.
A labyrinth is a unicursal (one-way) path that leads to a goal, and shouldn’t be confused with a maze, which throws up dead ends and wrong turns. Stevens told the Sydney Morning Herald a few months ago, “In a maze we lose ourselves, but in a labyrinth we find ourselves.”
There has been a resurgence of interest in the labyrinth over the past few decades. There are now more than 1000 labyrinths in the US, for instance, including at least 170 in hospitals, where they are valued as a contemplative space in which to soothe anxiety.
Most labyrinths follow a seven-circuit design which dates back to the ancient civilisation of classical Crete but which is better known as the Chartres style, after the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral near Paris. Its use in religious spaces has to with the spiritual associations of the labyrinth. Its paths mirror the journey of life through darkness and uncertainty to the light at the (spiritual) centre of life.
As garden features, labyrinths have operated as both meditative spaces and paths to romance. Henry II was said to have a labyrinth built in which to hide his lover from his jealous wife. Of course, a one-way track, no matter how winding, is no place to hide someone, and the story is a myth. Nonetheless the labyrinth did become a place of secret assignations, especially in medieval France where it was not unknown for labyrinths to be tunnelled arbours that operated on several levels, complete with staircases to upper levels.
Garden labyrinths are sometimes made of head-high hedges so that the path ahead can literally not be seen. But more often the unknown path is symbolic and the labyrinth’s pattern is clear to see, marked out in stone and gravel, or stone and grass, or simply as turf cut in turf.
The easy way
If you like the idea but don’t fancy your skills, Australian company Kitscape sells a labyrinth kit called the Angel Wing labyrinth. It’s a three-circuit modular labyrinth made in a range of standard sizes from 1.3m to 13m. Kitscape provides a design consultation service and installation to make the labyrinth fit into your garden space and style. More at www.kitscape.com.au