A Maze for a 17th-century House

Modeling a New England garden on a 17th-century French maze.

It was the previous, preservationist owners of the Oliver Goodrich house who contacted landscape designer Ann Uppington. When it came time to create the landscape around their ca. 1700 house, they were open to suggestions. Uppington had ideas that were novel, though period-appropriate.

The garden maze consists of pea-stone paths between spiraling boxwood hedges. (Photo: Kindra Clineff)

In retrospect, the designer says, she thinks her fascination with calligraphy influenced her recommendation to install a maze. It was ambitious for a property of less than an acre. Uppington decided to adapt a maze-garden design installed in the 17th century, in Chantilly, France.

In every sense, the spiraling maze is perfect for the property. First of all, the term: “labyrinth” and “maze” are often used interchangeably, but they differ. A labyrinth is a circuit that winds clearly to a center and back out. A maze has multiple means to a destination, often with dead ends. The spiraling circuits at this house create a maze surrounding an armillary sphere at the center. Composed of rows of carefully clipped hedges, the evergreen maze that Uppington designed is graphic both summer and (long) winter. No protection is needed.

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 An armillary sphere is at the center of the tightly wound maze. (Photo: Kindra Clineff)

Today’s owner Jessica Marbain explains that Uppington bought dozens of ‘Green Mountain’ boxwoods in gallon pots from a wholesale nursery, placing plants two feet apart. The trick was in planning for the growth of the boxwoods, so that even at their maturity, pathways would be of sufficient width for walkers. Leaving two to three feet for the pea-stone walkways, and at least four or five feet between the spiraling circuits, provided ample room for plant growth.

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Within three years, the boxwood was well on its way to being filled in. Today the maze is remarkable and even swank, tucked in next to the garage with its trompe-l’oeil paintings. Like the house, the maze fits seamlessly and yet has panache. 

Tags: garden Maze OHJ June 2021

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