Monday, November 28, 2016

Backyard Labyrinth

Even 5 year olds can meditate!
Well, it's ALMOST complete! Just before Thanksgiving, I finished my back yard labyrinth to the extent that I can. This spring, after our last frost, I'll be planting ground cover in the dirt walkways, but until then, this project is complete and fully functional.
Frankly, with the election results, it couldn't have come at a better time. My daughter and I have both enjoyed using the labyrinth to walk and pray. Now, she's only 5, so it's not quite the same experience for her. However, I hope as she grows and matures, she finds this labyrinth to be a wonderful tool for meditation and de-stressing.

Here are my suggested steps, based on my own experience, on how to build your own back yard labyrinth.

1. Design the labyrinth. 

  • Decide if you want to pave the walking paths or not. I decided it was simpler and better for my yard to just put in stone borders and leave the paths dirt and plants. If you're going to pave the entire area, this guide won't be a whole lot of help!
  • Choose a labyrinth pattern. I used this video to draw several labyrinths on paper. I selected the pattern I wanted and then drew out a five circuit labyrinth on plain paper.

2. Measure twice, then measure again. Once I had my pattern drawn on paper, I measured it to see how big an area I would need. 

  • You need to decide the size of your center circle, your walking paths, and your borders to define the paths. I chose to make the center circle 36" in diameter. Based on advice from the Internet, I made my paths 16" wide. I decided to use 4-6" river rock for the borders, so I estimated that the borders would be 4" wide. Then I added up 5 16" circuits and 6 4" borders to a 36" diameter circle to get a total of a 20 foot diameter circle. I drew a lot of scribbles and added up the numbers several times to make sure 20 feet was really what I needed. 

3. Clear the space. 

That's not my house. But that is my yard.
This was actually my original starting point, as I was clearing out a gigantic hedge in my yard. The idea to fill it with a labyrinth came later. Still, you'll need to clear out a circle of significant size. I recommend clearing out a square, because that's a lot easier to measure out. Once I destroyed the massive hedge, it was easy to measure out a 20' by 20' square that was free of trees or bushes.
Next I cleared the ground. Which means I sweet talked my father in law and husband into using their rototiller on my 20' square. That was hugely important. It dug up a ton of rocks and roots, as well as uprooting most of the weeds that served as ground cover in that spot.
Best husband ever! (Father-in-law also great, just not pictured)

Find the center. 

I put stakes in each corner of the square, then connected them diagonally with twine. I used another stake at the intersection. I did some more measurements to make sure the center stake was really at the center, and while it wasn't perfect, it was close enough.
Twine is hard to see, sorry!

Draw the labyrinth. 

  • For a Chartres pattern like mine, you just need to draw circles around the center point. A Cretan pattern is slightly more complicated, and I don't know how to advise you on that one! But if you are doing a Chartres pattern, or a Cretan pattern that's centered on 1 point, you'll need to create a giant compass. I took a small spool from the center of a roll of ribbon, and put it over the center stake. Then I tied one end of my twine around that spool. Next I measured out 18" of twine and cut it. This gave me an 18" length of twine attached to my center stake. I took a can of spray paint, held the end of the twine on top of the spray button, and then pulled the twine taut. I then sprayed the paint and walked in a circle around the stake while holding the twine taut. This gave me a 36" diameter circle around the center stake. 
  • At this point, I could have draw another circle 4" out from the first circle, then another one 16" out, to outline the stone border exactly. I decided instead to measure out a 20" circle, and just dig the stone trench inside the spray paint line. This greatly simplified my life. I added some twine to the first piece, cut it off at 20", and then drew another spray paint circle. 
  • Once the circles are drawn, it's time to draw the turns. If you are using a Chartres pattern, you simply need to draw two diameter lines at right angles to each other. I chose to orient my lines according to the four cardinal directions. I used the compass on my phone to draw one north-south line through the center, and a second east-west line through the center. Next, using the sketch I had drawn, I highlighted the sections where I would dig the stone borders. 
Monkeyed with this photo to help the spray paint show. But IRL it was easy to see.

Create the borders. 

I used a mattock to dig out a roughly 4" deep and 4" wide trough along the spray painted lines. I filled in the trenches with river rock as I dug. I bought my rock from a landscaping company, in 5 gallon buckets. I used 7 buckets, or 35 gallons of 4-6" river rock. It took me 3 trips to the landscaping company!

Finishing touches

  • I went back over the paths and used a shovel and rake to make them slightly more level. 
  • I applied a strong weed killer and pre-emergent herbicide to keep weeds from sprouting up over the winter. In the spring I will plant low soft ground cover plants. Stay tuned for that post!
Overall I'm thrilled with my labyrinth. It's one of the few big yard projects I've ever tackled that ended up looking exactly like what I had pictured! And yes, I'll have to maintain it, mostly by weeding the stone borders, but it'll be well worth the effort. Now I can go out to my yard whenever I feel the need for some meditation and walk a labyrinth. I hope you get inspired to create your own meditation area for yourself!

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