Phases of the Maze

bots maze3

Cambridge Botanical Gardens Grass Maze

I think mazes are tremendous fun: From the glorious, historic hedge mazes of palaces and castles (e.g. Hampton Court, Hever Castle) to the local Victorian yew hedge maze in Saffron Walden. I invariably get lost in them too, even though I know there is a system.

Then there are the transient, annual mazes, where maize is grown in different patterns on Open Farms like the one in Milton (this year it is in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex apparently). They are great for children with too much energy.

However, what I really love are turf mazes, labyrinths made by cutting convoluted paths into an area of short grass. They were once a fairly common feature of medieval villages in England, but not too many survive now. Luckily for me, Saffron Walden (which is quite near) has a second maze which is an important, large, ancient example of this on its Common. It is designed with four “bastions”, has a dated recuts (1826, 1841,1859,1887) and more recently, its narrow groove path was marked out with bricks (1911).

Best of all, on our doorstep, we have the Cambridge Botanics grass maze. This is reminscent of the medieval turf mazes, but is planted out with Pheasant’s Tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana, marking the ‘walls’. The design is a simple double spiral.

bots maze2

Looking slightly worn, after a tough summer, Cambridge Botanics turf maze still provides lots of fun.

It is loved by visiting children who, depending on age, either enjoy getting to the centre post (sometimes throne) first or enjoy the feel of the grass as they race around and through it. In fact it gets such wear that on average it has to be completely replaced every two years. It is a beautiful feature that changes with the seasons and with its maturity.

bots maze1

An example of the Pheasant’s Tail grass maze in its newly planted state …. still useful as a race course

Anemanthele lessoniana was chosen for the maze for a number of reasons: it is an evergreen that turns a beautiful bronze colour in late summer; it is a very tactile grass with a soft arching structure; it makes delightful rustling sounds as it moves in even the gentlest breeze. Furthermore, as a bunch grass, the new shoots appear inside the clump, re-enforcing the wall structure, rather than spreading away from the centre and narrowing the path.

tail feather

Anemanthele lessoniana in my garden …. shimmering and (I think) looking just like a pheasant’s tail feather

In flower and seed, the plumes catch the light and seem to shimmer, giving rise to its common name in New Zealand: Gossamer grass.

Plantsman E.A. Bowles apparently commented that “The Pheasant’s Tail grass as it is called – goodness knows why, as it is no more like a pheasant’s tail than a pig’s – is one of the most beautiful of all light grasses’.

He was right about its loveliness, but it seems glaringly obvious why it should be called Pheasant’s Tail grass.



About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in History, Nature, Out and about, Plants, Whimsy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Phases of the Maze

  1. Tina says:

    It’s a beautiful grass, the Pheasant’s Tail. Love this post–not too many mazes here in Central Texas–though we do have our share of gorgeous native grasses.

    • Yes, Pheasant’s Tail has really caught my eye this year. I grew it from seed last year and this is the first flowering. I am pretty ignorant about american grasses I am afraid. Shame about the lack of mazes as they are quirky and fun, but I have seen meditation gardens that echo the winding patterns.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, I’d no idea about these medieval labyrinths let alone that there’s one in Saffron Walden. Thank you for sharing such interesting information, including the E.A.Bowles quote. Nice juxtaposition with the sunlit image of the iridescent feathery grass!

  3. I love mazes, as frustrating as they can sometimes be. πŸ™‚ One year when my son and I visited England we traveled to Longleat specifically to go through the maze; it was absolutely (ouch) a-maze-ing! I think it took us about an hour to find the center.

    • I’ve not seen the Longleat maze, but it sounds impressive to take an hour. I think that I would probably have panicked a bit, especially if it was the same on the way out.

      • It probably takes less time now, because they have added bridges to the maze that were not there in the 1990s. The only thing that was there then was the tower in the middle. When you got to the tower you got a map telling you how to get out (which you had to return to the person at the entry point, in order to get your “Certificate” proving to others that you really did complete the maze.) πŸ™‚

      • Oh wow …. I’ve just looked up pictures of the maze and it is massive. I am glad I don’t have to clip that!

  4. hoehoegrow says:

    Enjoyed your post – we have a very early turf maze nearby called ‘Julian’s Bower’, in Alkborough, N Lincs. It is called a maze but is technically a labyrinth, so I believe.

    • Ah thanks. I’ve just checked Julian’s Bower out in Wikipedia and I love that the design is repeated in several places around the village. The maze looks surreal with the Flats in the background.

  5. Robbie says:

    ( long sigh)…you live in such an amazing place with all that history of gardens. looks like fun!

  6. These mazes are wonderful. What is it about a maze that makes children, and many adults, need to wander through them. Corn mazes are fairly common in this part of the country, but what I’d really like to see is a maze of really tall prairie grass, like Panicum or Andropogon.

  7. Pingback: Cliff top drama – Fiery Montbretia | Frogend dweller's Blog

  8. Hi, I think it’s Allson, isn’t it? I’m poised to do a post about Anemanthele lessoniana, I’d love to link to your post if that was okay with you? And, thanks for the nudge regarding E.A.Bowles!

  9. Pingback: E.A. Bowles and The Riddle of the Pheasant’s Tail Grass | Barn House Garden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s