Despite my jokes to the contrary, I know that you gardeners won’t really turn to a life of crime now that gardening is over for the summer. But you might go into a decline, wasting time watching afternoon television or reading trashy novels. Don’t. Please don’t. There are always possibilities for projects outside, even after flowers and vegetables are through for the season. One such project to consider is building a labyrinth.
I recently visited a labyrinth at Harmony Farm, a non-profit nature-based education center, open to the public at 28 Bowers Rd, Hartland, Vt., (www.harmonyfarmvt.com). They have built a 55-foot diameter labyrinth in memory of Derek Cooper, a young worker at the farm who is now deceased. It is a simple, though time-consuming project that, once completed can be very spiritual in nature.
Labyrinths are sometimes confused with mazes. Both involve walking a path in an area usually defined by a circle. But a maze is a puzzle with many choices about which way to go. A labyrinth has no choices. The pathway winds around, turns corners, and seems to go to the center of the labyrinth - only to turn and lead back to the outside. Eventually you reach the center after walking every step of seven or more concentric circles.
History is unclear about the origin of labyrinths. Labyrinths appeared in Crete and Egypt over 2,000 years ago. They were introduced inside Catholic cathedrals in Italy in the 12th century and in France in the 13th. Worshippers walked them as a way of calming the mind and becoming at one with God. Some crawled on their knees while praying. Some walked labyrinths instead of going on a pilgrimage. Famous labyrinths are at the Cathedrals in Chartres, Reims and Amiens in northern France, but now they can be seen outdoors all over the world.
Knox Johnson, one of a family of farmers and gardeners living and working at Harmony Farm, introduced me to their labyrinth and explained how it was created. The first step in creating a labyrinth was to find a relatively open, flat space for it. Barbara Johnson recommends getting someone to dowse the site to find just the right spot, using either crystal dowsing, or rods.
Once the spot was identified, Knox tilled the soil late in the summer of 2011. He allowed the weeds and wild grasses to come back for a few weeks and then tilled it again, getting rid of most of them. He added lime to improve the soil pH. He raked the area, smoothing out the surface and finally seeded it with a seed mix called "Eco Blend with Clover" from North Country Organics (www.norganics.com).
Clover is good in a seed mix because clover plants fix nitrogen from the air, turning it into useful nitrogen and enriching the soil. Unfortunately, many seed companies no longer include clover seed in their mixes because "weed-n-feed" treatments have herbicides that kill clover. So clover has been declared a weed.
This summer the real work began. Once the grass was well established, Knox and a friend laid out the pattern. He used a device that holds a can of spray paint to mark out the lines. He used a long light-weight cable to define the circles. The spray paint in its holder was attached to one end of the cable, while the other end was looped over a stake in the center of the labyrinth.
Knox sprayed white paint while keeping the cable taut. The center of the labyrinth is a 4-foot space which eventually was surrounded by seven concentric circles, each 31 inches apart from the next. He had a design copied from the cathedral in Bayeux, France, and used stakes to mark turns in the walkway. He told me it really on took an hour or two to mark the lines.
Because of all the twists and turns, that path to the center of the labyrinth is about 1,000 feet from the entrance. That amounts to a lot of stones needed to line the path. They used smallish stones, so 4 or 5 were used in every foot. But if you create your labyrinth you can use whatever size you want.
Knox directed me to the Universalist Church in Hartland, Vt., just half a mile from the labyrinth at Harmony Farm. Bryce Lloyd, a Boy Scout, built a lovely labyrinth near the church as his Eagle Scout project. Bryce used larger stones, and installed gravel instead of allowing grass to grow. I assume that landscape fabric was put down beneath the gravel to keep weeds out - though some weeds will persist no matter what, I fear.
Walking a full-sized labyrinth like the one at Harmony Farm takes five minutes or so. I find that walking one is an easy way to clear the mind and to forget for a few minutes the deadlines and worries of life. One moves forward, one turns back, one concentrates on the journey. I find walking a labyrinth very relaxing. I don’t think I will build one myself, but they are nice to visit and are more common than you might think.
Henry’s new book is out: Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet from Bunker Hill Publishing. It is a chapter book for kids, a fantasy-adventure about a boy born with a mustache and a magical ability to speak to animals and understand them. Learn more at www.Gardening-Guy.com.