Labyrinthine de­signs

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Leisure - HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

IF you en­joy clip­ping and prun­ing, you could con­sider in­stalling a maze in your gar­den. Also known as a labyrinth, a true maze is a se­ries of paths and pas­sages cre­ated by a com­plex and some­what claus­tro­pho­bic ar­range­ment of hedges or walls.

Per­haps dat­ing to the an­cient Greek myth of the mino­taur who ter­rorised maid­ens in the wind­ing tun­nels be­neath the Palace of Knos­sos, seat of King Mi­nos, in Crete, the maze has for thou­sands of years sym­bol­ised mys­tery and en­ter­tain­ment, along with the path to wis­dom.

In the Mid­dle Ages, labyrinths and mazes sig­ni­fied the dif­fi­cult path Chris­tians were of­ten forced to fol­low, and rep­re­sented the jour­ney to the Holy Land.

One of the ear­li­est known mazes was at Wood­stock in Eng­land, where in the 12th cen­tury Henry II courted Rosamund.

The maze at the Palazzo Rus­poli just north of Rome, planted in 1612, re­mains one of the best pre­served in Italy. De­signed to be viewed from the win­dows of the palazzo, it is ar­ranged in 12 sec­tions planted in laurel, myr­tle and box, with cit­rus borders out­side the maze.

Parter­res and knot gar­dens (more achiev­able, per­haps, for the smaller do­mes­tic gar­den) were first de­signed to repli­cate the in­tri­cate em­broi­dery so im­por­tant in medieval times, as well as finely de­tailed Per­sian car­pets. They were tra­di­tion­ally drawn in hedg­ing plants of dif­fer­ent fo­liage shapes, tex­tures and colours. In the ear­li­est monastery gar­dens, parter­res were func­tional, in­tended to sep­a­rate medic­i­nal and culi­nary herbs. Later, pat­terns be­came more in­tri­cate, hous­ing an­nual flow­er­ing plants or de­signed as el­e­gant swirls in sev­eral species, against a back­ground of gravel.

The ear­li­est mazes were marked out in rock and ma­sonry; turf mazes fol­lowed, be­fore conifer be­came more usual. While yew ( Taxus bac­cata) is most of­ten used in the north­ern hemi­sphere, in this coun­try cy­press, per­haps x Cu­pres­so­cy­paris ley­landii ‘Leighton’s Green’, is more com­mon. (This species is out of fash­ion in some cir­cles, how­ever, be­cause if left to grow to its full height, it can se­verely af­fect a neigh­bour’s amenity.) Thuja oc­ci­den­talis ‘Smaragd’ may be a bet­ter choice: an in­tense emer­ald green in mid­sum­mer, turn­ing bronze in win­ter, it is slow grow­ing, which al­lows for bet­ter de­tail­ing and a denser fin­ish. You can also find mazes cre­ated from rose hedges or from mown sec­tions of turf. They are some­times planted in corn and kept only for a sum­mer or au­tumn sea­son.

Mazes and knot and parterre gar­dens are also cre­ated from box ( Buxus spp.): the two boxes, English and Ja­panese ( Buxus sem­per­virens and B. mi­cro­phylla var. japon­ica), look par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive when planted to­gether. The faster grow­ing Ja­panese box is lighter in colour, while the denser, slower-grow­ing, darker green English box can be pruned lower. You can also use sev­eral other plants to cre­ate the ba­sic pat­tern of your knot gar­den: santolina, teu­crium, westringia, laven­der and lon­icera are just a few. Re­mem­ber that the slower grow­ing the species you choose, the more finely de­tailed the re­sult.

In the small 13th-cen­tury vil­lage of Bag­naia, about an hour north of Rome, you can find one of the most per­fect gar­dens of the Ital­ian High Re­nais­sance, the Villa Lante. De­signed in the late 16th cen­tury by the land­scaper and ar­chi­tect Gi­a­como Vignola for a young car­di­nal as a coun­try es­tate for en­ter­tain­ing, the gar­den salutes pal­la­dian con­structs of cir­cle and square. The mas­sive Lake Parterre, richly drawn in box, rests at the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­ries of ter­races, fountains and wa­ter chains. Laid out on the low­est level of the gar­den, the lake com­prises four pools of wa­ter sur­rounded by 12 gar­dens of box and yew that en­case var­i­ous al­le­gor­i­cal mo­tifs, along with tubs of cit­rus.

Your own parterre can be as com­pli­cated as your en­ergy will al­low; cre­ate fancy over-and-un­der ef­fects by weav­ing the var­ie­gated box into your de­sign. You could fill in the voids with a chang­ing plant se­lec­tion in each sea­son: tulips for spring, petu­nias in sum­mer, per­haps.

Or, if you pre­fer to avoid too much main­te­nance, plant an ex­panse of box and clip as much, or as lit­tle, as you like. But, as with all hedg­ing, reg­u­lar clip­ping from the time of plant­ing will pro­duce the most in­tri­cate, and for­mal, re­sults.

Whether it is a maze, a parterre or a knot gar­den you fancy, use graph, trac­ing or but­ter pa­per to draw your shapes to scale. Mark out the ar­eas of dif­fer­ent plants by shad­ing the sec­tions in dif­fer­ent colours pen­cils, not­ing which colours in­di­cate which species. This will also pro­vide you with a le­gend when you are ready to plant.

Plan­ning and draw­ing up your de­sign pro­vides that per­fect ex­cuse for staying in­doors on cold win­ter days. Fol­low daily gar­den tips and tricks on twit­ter.com/hol­lyk­er­forsyth. Holly Kerr Forsyth’s new book, Sea­sons in My House and Gar­den, is out now.

HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

The maze at the Palazzo Rus­poli, near Rome, was planted in 1612

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