Labyrinth Plantings

Peaceful vantage point
Peaceful vantage point

Last year, I posted about installing a stone labyrinth for a client.  We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and just finished up the spring plantings. Go to Healing Labyrinth-Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, to see how I created and implemented the design and installation.

The theme for the plantings was pollinator friendly shrubs and perennials to surround and embrace the labyrinth to soften the harshness of stone and to bring nature in. When it came time to plant, I had to consider that the site is shady to part sun, with some parts in full sun, so I had to use an entire spectrum of plants that would attract pollinators.

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Hillside above labyrinth planted with many native plants

Where the wall surrounds the labyrinth pathway, I left a small space of 6″ to plant something simple but beautiful to soften the stone edge in the shade.  Hakenochloa ‘All Gold’ was chosen for its bright color in the shade and its graceful form. It has no attribute as a pollinator friendly plant, but was perfect for the spot. A slow grower that stays under 12″ high, the grass will not outgrow its space and is very low maintenance.

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Hakenochloa All Gold
Hakenochloa All Gold

The only plantings that were original were extremely fragrant pink climbing roses on the fence. I kept them as a backdrop for the new plantings.

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Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’

The garden surrounding the labyrinth is in partial to full sun and I went wild with the pollinator friendly plants.  The main shrub that I used was Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ –  seven of them spotted around the space. Clethra is a highly fragrant deciduous shrub that blooms in July and August in shade and partial shade and is frequently visited by an array of pollinators.  The racemes of dark pink flowers last for weeks and the foliage turns a bright yellow in the fall.

Butterfly bushes were also used to give late summer color as well as perennials such as stachys hummelo, salvias, sedum, vernonia, hibiscus, coral bells, and nepeta. A few annuals were selected for color and pollinator appeal –  petunias and pentas.

Just planted bed with stepping stones planted with grass seed
Just planted bed with stepping stones planted with grass seed
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Planted area 6 weeks later

The upper slope over-looking the labyrinth was in full shade and was planted with colorful foliage plants-coral bells, hostas, carex, toad lily, Lenten Rose, tiarella, brunnera, lamium, heucherellas, and woodland phlox to give texture and brighten the shady area.

Toad Lily- bees love this in the fall
Toad Lily- bees love this in the fall
Hillside of foliage plants for shade
Hillside of foliage plants for shade

Under the teak bench, I planted Mazus, a steppable creeping plant with tiny purple flowers.

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Mazus is a purple flowered creeper

 

In and among the rocks of the water feature, I planted several Deutzias for spring bloom, and variegated Iris, sedums, annuals, coral bells, and balloon flower. The water feature looked very stark without any plantings, so I was careful to plant things next to and within the rocks surrounding it so that plants would cascade over it.

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Water feature 3 years later in the spring

To frame the picture, and provide some privacy, a screen of Skip Cherry Laurels was planted behind the fence to anchor the new space. These will eventually grow up to over 8 feet and knit together for a nice hedge.

Planting the Cherry Laurels for a screen
Planting the Cherry Laurels for a screen
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Downward view of labyrinth with Helleborus in the foreground
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A Helleborus or Lenten Rose opening up in the winter
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Clethras turn a wonderful yellow color in the fall

Healing Labyrinth Part 3

Heart Space with Water Feature

To prepare for your journey in the labyrinth space, you enter the small space immediately at the entrance to the main labyrinth which is called the Heart Space.

Another example of a Heart Space at a labyrinth courtesy Wikipedia
Another example of a Heart Space at a labyrinth courtesy Wikipedia

This area gets you ready for the zen experience of walking the path. If you have someone in mind when you walk, then bring something –  a memento, picture, flowers, feathers, or whatever gets you in the mood and reminds you of them. With that in mind in designing the area, I thought a water feature right next to the heart space where you could dip your fingers into the water before your journey would work well.

I marked off the area for the Heart Space
I marked off the area for the Heart Space

Water Feature

Once the Heart Space was marked out, I marked out the water feature to the right of the Heart Space.  Before the paving for the Heart Space could be laid, we had to excavate for the reservoir for the boulder fountain.  A large hole around 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep had to be dug and lined with butyl rubber to hold the water that would be re-circulating through the fountain. Large matrix boxes that looked like plastic crates were installed in the reservoir to create a sturdy platform for the boulder. I had hand selected the boulder previously and picked a smooth oval one just the right size for the space. It was then drilled through the center for the water to re-circulate.

Matrix boxes and pump vault
Matrix boxes and pump vault

The pump vault simply houses the pump so that you can easily get to it for service.

Boulder sitting on top of the matrix boxes inside the reservoir
Boulder sitting on top of the matrix boxes inside the reservoir
Boulder sitting next to the pump vault
Boulder sitting next to the pump vault

Everything had to be placed perfectly level and 2 inches above the grade of the labyrinth so that water coming down off the hillside wouldn’t inundate the water feature with wash out during a storm.

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Placing the tubing through the drilled hole of the fountain
Placing the tubing through the drilled hole of the fountain

An auto-fill line was installed from a nearby hydrant so that the fountain would never run out of water.  Typically evaporation and splashing will reduce the water volume over time, and this way you wouldn’t have to check on the fountain constantly and refill it by hand.

A water line was attached to a nearby hydrant
A water line was attached to a nearby hydrant

Also, an overflow was buried from the reservoir to the lane to take care of any excessive run off. Then we filled in with River Jack and larger pieces of Pennsylvania Fieldstone chunks. A smooth topper stone was added to cover the top of the pump vault for easy access.

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The basin is filled in with River Jack and you can see the cover for the pump vault off to the side.

Since the stone for the labyrinth was so precisely cut and formal, I wanted the entrance of the Heart Space to be a little more informal and so used irregular stone.  This informality sets you up for the journey through the labyrinth. My stone mason used irregular bluestone to pave right next to the water feature to create the Heart Space. In the spring when we landscape around the labyrinth, I will finish setting the boulders around to hide the liner.

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The bluestone goes right up to the Heart Space water feature. Part of the liner is exposed until we finish landscaping around the entire labyrinth in the spring.

The Spring Landscaping

Come spring, grading and planting around the labyrinth will complete the design. I will keep you posted!

Healing Labyrinth – Part 2

Designing the labyrinth was interesting and fun. But now the hard work of installing it began.

Preparation

After locating all utilities and getting necessary covenant permission, we were ready to go. First up was removing all plant material and grading of the site with heavy equipment. It was necessary to level a space large enough for the labyrinth to be placed and a retaining wall to be built into the hillside.

Grading the site
Grading the site

Once the soil was graded, you could clearly see where the wall was going to be built of boulders. Measuring 45 feet long and 2 feet thick, varying from 2 to 2.5 feet high along its length, we used large boulders of Pennsylvania Field Stone.

An S-curve wall will be built in front of this hill
An S-curve wall will be built in front of this hill

I designed the curve to embrace the area of the labyrinth, so you felt that you were in a special enclosed space. Using dry laid technique, the wall was completed in 4 to 5 days. Then we were ready to start on the flat work of the labyrinth.

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Stone mason taking a breather

Once the wall was finished and before we started the labyrinth itself, it was time to stub out the electrical in conduit. For the Heart Space of the labyrinth, we needed electricity for the pump to run for the boulder fountain.

Trenching out for the electrical conduit
Trenching out for the electrical conduit

Labyrinth Flat Work

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Templates for cutting stone

Preparing the Flat Area

Once the wall was completed, the flat area was graded level with a slight slope towards the lane for drainage. It was power tamped with gravel laid on top. The next layer was the black landscape fabric pinned in place. Topping it all off was the white template pinned to the ground.

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Marking the black landscape cloth

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Black landscape cloth pinned down
Placing the template on top

The most important part of the job was getting the base properly prepared and power tamped so that the stones would not shift. The base was composed of tamped soil, tamped gravel, black landscape cloth, and topped off with the template for placement of the stones.

Hard Work- Cutting to Fit

The hard work of cutting and fitting the bluestone began.  My stone mason numbered templates of all the curves in the labyrinth so that he could cut the stone precisely. Every piece of stone that was used had to be hand cut with a diamond tipped stone saw blade which was a very time consuming task.

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Cut stone turns
Template for the turn
Template for the turn

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Putting It All Together

005 (3) 058 (2) Every stone was cut to size and placed on the template in position.  Once each stone was fitted together, stone dust had to be placed under each piece and tamped. Because bluestone is a natural stone, each piece of stone varied in thickness, and each piece had to be individually placed and leveled.

Filler

To make the lines stand out against the blue-grey color of the bluestone, a dark charcoal grey gravel was placed in between the stones. A metal edge that would not rust was inserted around the perimeter of the labyrinth, and staked to keep everything stable.

Gravel was placed in between the stones with a metal edging around the entire labyrinth. I marked where the Heart Space is to go.
Gravel was placed in between the stones with a metal edging around the entire labyrinth. I marked where the Heart Space is to go.

Attributes

This 24 foot diameter labyrinth can give a walker a long and comfortable journey.  The total distance for walking is 439 foot which is phenomenal considering the total space we had to work with. The width of the walking path is 20 inches which is plenty wide for a single walker.  This design can also accommodate multiple walkers if need be.

Next Up- Heart Space and Water Feature
Healing Labyrinth Part 3

English: Labyrinth in Kennedy Park Dunure Laby...
English: Labyrinth in Kennedy Park Dunure Labyrinth made of stone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Healing Labyrinth- Part 1

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Bluestone Labyrinth with Heart Space Entrance

Dream Job

Sometimes as a designer, a dream job drops into your lap! That happened recently with creating a labyrinth space for a client. I have always wanted to install a labyrinth and had designed one for a previous client but because of cost, the job fell through. For that client, I went on to do a fabulous installation of waterfalls, ponds, and terraces, but the labyrinth was not to be. Here finally, was my chance to design and install a labyrinth!

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The site chosen was at a bottom of a hill next to a lane bordered with a fence

Labyrinth History

My current client requested a space to help with the healing process of losing a son, which started me on a journey of learning all about the lore of labyrinths, which I found have been in existence for thousands of years. Patterns for labyrinths have been found on old tablets and pottery dating back to 4000 BC, and this ancient pattern is found in many cultures around the world. It is said that labyrinths mimic the spirals of nature.  A labyrinth is often looked upon as a womb – a place of safety and rejuvenation. It is seen as a place for the birthing of inspiration, understanding and creativity.

Reverse of a clay tablet from Pylos bearing th...
Reverse of a clay tablet from Pylos bearing the motif of the Labyrinth. The tablet, the earliest datable representation of the 7-course classical labyrinth, was recovered from the remains of the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, destroyed by fire ca 1200 BCE (Kern, Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, 2000, p. 73, catalog item 103–104). Note: there is no evidence for a connection between the labyrinth design and the legend of Theseus at this early date. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a mythical creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it. Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a skein of thread, so he could find his way out again.

Roman mosaic picturing Theseus and the Minotau...
Roman mosaic picturing Theseus and the Minotaur. Rhaetia, Switzerland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but there is a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path  labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which winds to the center. A labyrinth has an unambiguous route to the core and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.  It is all about the journey to the center of the labyrinth and a traveler is to walk it with intent and purpose. The path taken is for personal, psychological, and spiritual transformation.

Heart Space

To start your journey, a visit to the Heart Space which is the entrance to the labyrinth, is the first stop. I designed this as an antechamber to the main labyrinth with a small boulder water feature. The Heart Space may be used for the placement of any symbol that may enhance the spiritual use of the labyrinth. As a walker, you could dip your hand in the water to start the journey.

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‘Heart Space” water feature

Center

To break the walker’s journey, I wanted a perching boulder that you could rest on.  I looked for the perfect size and shape to place in the center.  I didn’t want the boulder to be too large and over power the space which was 5 feet in diameter, but wanted something to enhance the journey.

Design Process at the Site

The site chosen was a little glade at the bottom of a slope in a grassy area
The site chosen was a little glade at the bottom of a slope in a grassy area

Since the site was sloping, I knew that a retaining wall had to be built into the hillside to hold the slope, and the entire area had to graded flat with a very slight incline towards the lane for drainage. With these parameters in mind, I measured the space that would accommodate a deceptively simple design that utilized the space available. Also large field stone steps would have to be placed in the hillside from the upper area down to the labyrinth.

A Chelsea five-circuit design was chosen as it gives you a greater length journey in a smaller space
A Contemporary Medieval design with five circuits was chosen as it gives you a greater length journey in a smaller space

I chose a cruciform design (turns in each quadrant), or a Contemporary Medieval design, which is a simplified version of the Chartres Labyrinth found at Chartres Cathedral in Paris. Old examples of these Medieval designs are found on the floors of Cathedrals of Europe. I ordered a template of white landscape cloth online as the design had to be installed precisely in stone.

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The template of the design was preprinted on white landscape cloth
Walking the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral
Walking the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, photo by Wikipedia

Materials

I looked at many materials when planning the design but ultimately decided on one of my favorites, Bluestone. Sandstone was considered, but ultimately because of its habit of shedding layers since it is a soft stone, I discarded the idea of using it. Some labyrinths are made of turf set with stone, but already having known and taken care of this kind of labyrinth, eliminated this because of high maintenance. I just remember the weeds over growing the lines and the maintenance of always clearing  them off.

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Bluestone was the material chosen for the labyrinth

For the walls and steps, Pennsylvania Field Stone is a natural fit and goes well together. Once the materials were chosen, we were ready to break ground and hope the weather held out in November and December.

Next up – Installing the Labyrinth!