Tag Archive: labyrinth


lavender labyrinth at Kastellaun, Germany

‘Lavender Labyrinth’ at Kastellaun, Germany. Imagine the ‘scentsation’ of walking this route!

Old School Gardener

My mother – in – law is currently on a two week visit to us. A keen gardener (she was until a year ago Chair of the Tavistock Ladies Gardening club), she is not as mobile as she once was (she celebrated her 83rd birthday last week). However, she still enjoys looking at gardens so this is a great excuse (as if I needed one) to get out and about to see some interesting local gardens. The weather has also been kind so we’ve been to a few places that I haven’t been before, or haven’t seen for a good number of  years. Two of them are in Norwich, our local cathedral city, and they are fine examples of gardens developed for very different reasons; the one out of  the passion of a Victorian entrepreneur, the other based on a medieval religious garden.

The Plantation Garden

The Garden in 1897

In 1856, a prosperous upholsterer and cabinet maker living in Norwich, took a long lease on an industrial site just outside the old City walls. His name was Henry Trevor, and for the next forty years, he spent considerable sums of money and much effort transforming a chalk quarry into a magical garden.

Henry Trevor

In many ways, Henry Trevor’s garden was typical of Victorian taste and technology. He built a fountain, terraces with balustrades, rockworks, a Palm House, and a rustic bridge. He planted elaborate carpet beds, woodlands and shrubberies. He designed serpentine paths to conduct the visitor along circular routes, and he built and heated several greenhouses with boilers and hot water pipes.

Henry Trevor, however, was also a man of strong personal tastes. His “Gothic” fountain is unique, and he displayed great enterprise in using the fancy bricks from a local manufacturer to create medieval style walls, ruins and follies. Within less than 3 acres, he established a gentleman’s residence and garden that reflected in miniature the grand country houses of the Victorian period. Visitors were frequently welcomed in the garden by Henry Trevor, for he was always ready to allow his garden to be used for charitable causes.

The Garden in Victorian times- the Palm House no longer exists.

After the 1939-45 war, the garden was virtually abandoned. Fortunately, much of the structure has survived, and is gradually being restored by the The Plantation Garden Preservation Trust. The first task of its members was to clear a forest of sycamores and a blanket of ivy to reveal what had become hidden during the past 40 years. Since then, they have restored the flowerbeds, fountain, balustrading, Italian terrace, rustic bridge and in 2007, the Gothic alcove.

Trevor’s original passion has been matched by this band of volunteers and our visit, on a beautifully sunny afternoon, showed considerable progress in the restoration programme since my last visit some years ago. I was particularly impressed with the enormous amount of work done to stabilise, weed – proof and replant the steeply sloping sides of the garden, which remain topped off with a range of majestic Beech and other trees.

The Bishop’s Garden

Our second visit, on one of it’s open days in aid of local charities, was to the Bishop’s Garden, a four acre green oasis in the centre of Norwich, sitting in the shadow of the Gothic cathedral.

There has been a garden of sorts since around 1100 AD when Bishop de Losinga began to build the cathedral and palace. From the existing garden one can still marvel at the original detailing of Norman stonework on the North Transept of the cathedral which is only visible from the Bishop’s Garden.

In the early 14th century, Bishop John Salmon greatly increased the size of the garden by compulsory purchase of additional land. The general form of the garden was laid down at least 300 years ago. The lower end was cultivated and separated by a wall running straight across the garden. The colossal Old Bishops Palace which still stands was completed in around 1860. In 1959 a major change took place when a new Bishops House built and the Old Palace came to be used by Norwich School. The garden was reduced from 6 and half acres down to the present 4 acres. Records show that in the 1940s up to 15 gardeners were employed reducing to 9 in the 1950’s and today the garden is looked after by 1 fulltime and 1 part time gardener, plus a team of volunteers.

The garden has a range of features typical of many grand gardens developed over the last hundred plus years – large herbaceous borders (which have a persistent ground elder problem and are to be successively dug up and weeds systematically removed in the coming couple of years), a small woodland walk and box – edged rose beds. There is a long shade border with Hostas, Meconopsis and tree ferns, all but the latter looking splendid on our visit. There is also a large wild grass labyrinth, very popular with children (I walked it and contemplated my life as I went…). This is of a size where it can be easily mown using a ride on mower, the gardener told me that he cuts it all down in the autumn and then the path edges are left for the various wild flowers and other species to grow up over the growing season.

There are also extensive shrubberies containing many rare and unusual plants, among these being a Hebe planted from a sprig taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet in 1840. There is an organic kitchen garden and  ‘bambooserie’. The garden continues to evolve with new plants and features being introduced year by year. The Bishop’s Garden has developed links with Easton College, helping horticulture students gain valuable experience.

Though busy on our visit, including delightful music from a local Youth Orchestra and Choir, one can imagine the garden creating a peaceful mood – one where a succession of Norwich Bishops, stretching back 1000 years, paused to reflect, pray and secure spiritual renewal.

Sources and Links:

The Plantation Garden

The Bishop’s Garden

Old School Gardener

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The Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus)

The Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus)

You will recall that our day out had begun promisingly at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. After lunch we drove off (car roof remaining closed in view of the low cloud and short journey) to the town of Saffron Walden in north Essex. More specifically it is the chief town of the District of Uttlesford– I always think this sounds like somewhere you might find in ‘The Shire’ of Hobbit fame!

We’d been here a long time ago and then only driving through so didn’t really have a chance to explore it thoroughly. Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s entry on the town if you’re interested in its history. In brief it’s of ancient standing, there having been a settlement here long before the Roman occupation of Britain 2 thousand years ago. Of particular interest is the derivation of the town’s name. In the medieval period the primary trade in Saffron Walden was in wool, but in the 16th and 17th centuries the Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativa) was grown in the area. Each saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigma. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas were used originally in medicines, as a condiment, a perfume, an aphrodisiac, and as an expensive yellow dye. This industry gave its name to the town and what used to be Chipping Walden became Saffron Walden. The town itself retains many old buildings, interesting spaces and features, as you’ll see in the gallery at the end of this article.

We began our visit in a fascinating garden – Bridge End Garden. This is actually a series of seven interlinked gardens laid out by the Gibson family (eminent bankers and brewers) in the nineteenth century. They are Grade II* listed (so protected), close to the town centre and church and are open to the public each day free of charge. Careful restoration has replicated gardening techniques and designs typical of the Victorian era and has brought the garden back to its full splendour.

Though there are signs around stating that it is ‘not a playground’ and ‘ball games are not allowed’, I can see it can be difficult to prevent its use for play by the town’s children, some of which might get a bit over exuberant at times…. While we were there I was delighted to see a group of teenage boys playing ‘It’ around the different spaces and the hedge maze was also an obvious draw for local kids. These features in an original 17th or 18th century setting must surely have been used in a similar, playful way – if not by children then by adults! The Dutch Garden with its complex parterre of box bushes also looks so like a ‘mini maze’ (in fact hedge mazes developed out of the complex parterres in France, Holland and elsewhere across Europe), so it wasn’t suprising to see another sign, perhaps rather desperately, announcing that it isn’t a maze!

The gardens are maintained by a team of paid staff (of the Town Council, which also maintains a number of other public gardens) and volunteers, and are in a very good condition. A long winding path flanked by well – kept mixed borders leads you past the formal Rose Garden with views to the parish church beyond (apparently the tallest church in Essex) to the walled garden with its fence and wall – trained fruit trees and two glasshouses with miniature orchard and citrus fruit trees, respectively, in pots that look as though they are brought outside in warmer weather.

All around are little curiosities to intrigue –  statues of mock-snarling (or is it smiling) beasts, other classical statuary, some fine, mature trees such as a Cedar of Lebanon, a small summer house with a display of some curiosities from the garden (such as old gardener’s notes) and another gazebo called ‘Poets’ Corner’. The ‘Wilderness’, as it’s name suggests, was an area of more naturalistic planting (now with a developing Yew tunnel) and from the viewing platform at one end you can get a wonderful view of the Dutch Garden, with its swirling pattern of box hedging laid out to a design by Gertrude Jekyll, who visited the garden in the early 20th century.

Having seen a hedge maze, we went in search of one that is much older – and made of turf. At one edge of the town’s Common sits this wonderful example of a classical labyrinth (see my post on mazes and labyrinths for more information), of uncertain age, but several centuries at least as it was recut in the 17th century. This splendid feature is certainly a challenge to concentration and determination, being 1 kilometer long if you walk the full length of the winding brick path between the shallow turf mounding! Labyrinths are ancient features, adopted by Christianity as a way of encouraging meditation along the symbolic ‘journey of life’.

From here we passed by some of the medieval charm of central Saffron Walden, with their ‘pargetted’ walls (a technique that creates geometric patterns and pictures on the external render) and Market Square, and found a nice little Tea shop for our afternoon break. Unfortunately the west country ‘Saffron Cake’ appears not to be a local delicacy here, despite the town’s association with the spice! Instead portions of Strawberry Cheesecake and Millionaire’s Shortbread had to suffice! We finished our visit by looking round an old – estabslished Antique shop and the parish church of St. Mary- a superb example of a grand parish church built on wool – wealth (and latterly saffron – wealth). It has glorious glass, high painted wooden roof and stonework. Just as we were leaving this delightful town,  the rain began to fall – great timing!

Further information:

Plantax 5: Crocus- spicy herald of Spring

Saffron Walden Town Council website

Bridge End Garden- Uttlesford District Council website

Visit Saffron Walden website

Old School Gardener

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The Maze at Longleat House, England

The Maze at Longleat House, England

I must admit I’m a bit of a fan of labyrinths and mazes.

As a play landscape designer I’ve tried to find ways of incorporating them in my designs as they are especially attractive to children. Usually they are one of the first design ideas to be dropped, generally on grounds of maintenance requirements. I’ve tried to suggest simple materials like grasses to mark out a pattern, rather like the one in the Cambridge Botanic Garden, but again they do take some looking after. The best I’ve managed is a wooden stepping stone and daffodil spiral. One day I’ll find a client with the imagination and deep(ish) pockets to give a bigger one a real go.

Labyrinths and mazes – what’s the difference between them?

Well, the answer is  ‘it rather depends…’.  There is one school of thought that sees labyrinths as different to mazes and another that sees labyrinths as one type of maze. Labyrinths have just one route– so there’s no danger of getting lost – whereas mazes are rather more cunning in that they have dead ends, twists and turns which are set out to puzzle and confuse. Sir Walter Scott’s ‘O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!’ comes to mind.

Labyrinths (remember the single route or ‘unicursal’ one) are found in many cultures, some as old as 3,500 years. They all have an entrance or mouth, one route to follow and a central destination, sometimes marked with some sort of stone/statue/ feature. A further detail is how many concentric circuits or paths they contain and they can vary from the small to the huge – several hundred feet across. They have traditionally been seen as spiritually symbolic, meditative paths as well as just entertaining and can be found in many religious buildings such as Chartres and Ely cathedrals.

The Labyrinth pattern in Chartres Cathedral

The Labyrinth pattern in Chartres Cathedral

Humankind has been fascinated by patterns in the land for millennia and some of the earliest were forms of spiral (some multiple spirals). These later developed into the sorts of maze-like patterns we’re more familiar with, including the Cretan maze (or labyrinth as its usually called!). Of course the famous one was that in classical mythology where Theseus found his way to the centre and killed the Minotaur to ensure he freed his fellow Athenians. He used a length of thread to trace his way in and so find his way out. Which rather suggests that this ‘labyrinth was in  fact a more complicated maze as it would have been easy to retrace his steps in a one-route labyrinth! This all goes to support the case that the words labyrinth and maze are interchangeable, and certainly common usage suggests this- e.g the turf ‘mazes’ in some English gardens are in fact labyrinths (i.e. one routers).

A-maz-ing Gardens

Mazes as multi – choice routes really developed in gardens out of the parterre and knot gardens which used lines of plants (usually Box) to create patterns within which other plants, gravel, grass or sometimes coloured powders created a contrast in colour and level. You can wander around these hedges in some gardens and it isn’t difficult to imagine how (either deliberately or perhaps through lack of maintenance!) these hedges grew taller. This both made it difficult to grow anything successfully within them and also added a touch of mystery to the experience of walking round the garden. A book by Daniel Loris –  ‘Le Thresor des Parterres de l’univers‘ – written in 1629, seems to capture the developing fashion for such mazes (though most of it is concerned with the traditional parterre).

Hampton Court Maze, England

Hampton Court Maze, England

Britain’s oldest surviving hedge maze is at Hampton Court – created by George London and Henry Wise in 1690 and also thought to be the oldest hedge maze in the world in continuous use. Originally planted with Hornbeam and having two trees at the centre the hedging is now Yew, the hedging used in many traditional hedge mazes.

Labyrinth of Horta, Barcelona

Labyrinth of Horta, Barcelona

The Labyrinth Park of Horta in Barcelona, Spain, was created around 1794 as part of a neoclassical ‘makeover’ of the garden by its Marquis owner. In recent years the garden and maze have been restored and I have had the good fortune to almost stumble across it.

A simple bulb labyrinth at Cornell University, USA

A simple bulb labyrinth at Cornell University, USA

Today there are many different types of maze to be found in gardens, parks and estates around the world, some using hedges or walls (for your truly ‘puzzling maze’), others using turf, other grasses, low-growing plants or materials to mark out the (usually labyrinthine) route. In Britain temporary  ‘Maize mazes’ created in agricultural fields have become a popular summer visitor attraction.

There is something magical about these labyrinth and maze ‘puzzles on the land’ and I hope that one day I can create one in a park or garden…maybe you have scope for one in your garden?

Sources and further information:

Garden Mazes

Mazes and labyrinths

Design your own maze

History

Wikipedia- labyrinths

Wikipedia- mazes

Labyrynthos- resource centre

Labyrinth.org

Maze photos

Quizzicals (thanks to Les Palmer for these):

answers to the last two-

  • Has had too much already Sycamore
  • A country full of automobiles – Carnation

and a couple of gardening ditties

Big in Japonica’

‘You picked a fine time to leave me lucerne’

Old School Gardener

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