By Ellen Barcel
Hedge mazes — they’re pretty and they’re fun and one is coming to Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park this year, courtesy of the Mount Sinai Garden Club. According to member Walter Becker, the garden maze will be very unique. “To the best of my knowledge this is the only hedge maze on Long Island,” said Becker in a recent interview.
There’s a long history of garden mazes going back to Europe during the Renaissance period (14th to 17th century), especially in Britain and France. Some were just designed to provide a unique walkway. Later on, it became popular to include blind alleys to confuse those wandering through the maze. Still others are destination mazes where one walks through the paths trying to find the center. Some destination mazes have small gazebo’s in the center or some other architectural feature, such as a small bridge, a water feature like a birdbath or a statuary. A bench or small table and chairs is ideal for a smaller maze.
While most mazes are round or rectangular, they can be almost any shape. Some have plants that are quite tall — tall enough that the average adult can’t see over them — while others are so small that you can easily see across them. Usually garden mazes are made from evergreens so that it can be used throughout the entire year.
Setting the plan in motion
The Mount Sinai Garden Club is planning to install a hedge maze at Heritage Park (known locally as The Wedge) as early as the end of March. “The entrance and the exit of the maze are going to be on the same side,” explained Becker, making it be easier for parents “to keep track of their children playing in it.” When installed next to the new putting green, the maze will be 48 by 36 feet and is being donated by members of the garden club.
A tremendous amount of research and planning was put into the design of the maze. The group wanted evergreen plants that could be pruned to a specific height, that would be sturdy and pest and blight resistant. For example, Becker said, “boxwoods were expensive and they were prone to a blight,” so they were ruled out. They also wanted plants that required minimum maintenance and that were not invasive.
After looking at many shrubs, they finally settled on the Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtuse, “an evergreen with soft needles, which takes drought conditions and does well in full sun.” A native of Japan, it is a slow-growing conifer that does well in acidic soil, another plus for Long Island’s growing conditions. It’s hardy in U.S.D.A. zones 4 to 8 (Long Island is zone 7) with an eventual height of nine feet high and a width of five feet. The garden club may decide to prune it back to six feet depending on usage.
What gave Becker the idea for a maze? During a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, he particularly enjoyed seeing children playing at the Governer’s Palace Maze. They would run in and around, entertaining themselves and even making up games. “It allows kids to have some fun,” he said.
While the garden club members are the prime movers and have donated both time and funds for the installation, many others have helped as well. Thanks are extended to the Mount Sinai Civic Association, the Heritage Trust, Town of Brookhaven Parks Department, Echo Landscape, Jake Ziskin with Blades of Glory Landscape, Schlect Nurseries, Bob Koch Tree Service and DeLea Sod Farms for all their assistance, guidance and donations.
A call for volunteers
“This is a huge undertaking,” said Becker, noting that volunteers are welcome and needed for the initial planting as well as long-term maintenance of the maze. On Sunday, March 26 (weather permitting)) the group will begin the construction of the maze by spray painting the layout on the ground. During the week of March 26, excavating and soil preparation will take place. On Saturday, April 1, 140 shrubs are scheduled to be delivered to Heritage Park. Volunteers are needed to help unload the shrubs and mulch and to help with planting. The plants are in five-gallon pots and are about three to four feet tall. In addition to adult volunteers, young people (over age 12) are welcome.
Volunteers are asked to bring their own tools and dress accordingly and are asked to register at the garden club’s website before the event. Becker also noted that although the garden club is based in Mount Sinai it is open to members of the surrounding communities as well. Once the plants are installed and mulch laid down, the maze will be closed for a short period of time to allow the plants to settle in. A formal opening will be held at a to-be-determined date.
Can you plant a garden maze in your own yard? Well, it is possible if you have enough room. Recommendations include at least a 25-foot across space, but consider a tiny maze with dwarf plants and fairy sculpture as a charming alternative.
Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.
Garden plots for rent
Spring is just a few weeks away. The Mount Sinai Garden Club has several garden plots available for rent at Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai–Coram Road, Mount Sinai for 2017 at a cost of only $25 per year. Each raised bed is 4 feet by 8 feet, perfect for maintaining a vegetable or flower garden. For more information, email [email protected] or call the park at 631-509-0882.