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News: That’s A-Maze-ing: Mazes and Labyrinths


May 28, 2020

From The GCA Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a maze as “a structure designed as a puzzle, consisting of a complicated network of winding and interconnecting paths or passages.” While that sounds daunting as a garden feature, mazes can be as simple or as intricate as the gardener designs them to be. 

The first recorded hedge maze can be traced back to 13th century Belgium. Androuet du Cerceau, architect to Catherine de Medici and a leader in the French Renaissance, began incorporating mazes into his architectural work in the late 16th century. The oldest hedge maze still in existence dates back to 1690. It can be found at Hampton Court Palace in England.

Mazes can take on two forms: multicursal or unicursal. A multicursal maze has multiple paths that lead to the center, while a unicursal maze has only one solution. Labyrinths are unicursal and are very similar to mazes with one main difference; the entrance also serves as the exit. They are designed to be more about the experience of the passage or pilgrimage rather than solving a puzzle. Labyrinths often have lower walls making them easier to construct.

Mazes and labyrinths can be made of many different materials including hedges, maize, stones, vines grown on posts, and various plants. While most gardens don’t have mazes or labyrinths, they do have paths meant to take the visitor on a journey.


The boxwood maze at Tuckahoe (left) was over a century old when it was lost in the 1970s to English box decline. The labyrinth in the Caldwell Garden (right) was modeled after the one in Chartres Cathedral in France.

Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of America Gardens By Bella Wenum, GCA Garden History and Design Intern, July 2013.



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