Historic Mazes: Glendurgan Gardens & Somerleyton Hall

Historic Mazes: Glendurgan Gardens & Somerleyton Hall

MAZE MONTH reaches its conclusion with the discussion of hedge mazes from the days of yore! Be sure to check out the previous four blog posts covering the overall history of mazes and labyrinths (links below). In between the historical blogs, MAZE MONTH has included eight posts spotlighting the surviving turf mizmazes in England, and now it is time to spotlight the four historic hedge mazes.

History of the Maze

More Maze History, and an Exploration of the Purpose

Turf Labyrinths: What they are & How they came to England

Topiary & Hedge Maze History


Cherry Laurel Maze at Glendurgan Gardens in Cornwall

Glendurgan Gardens is a National Trust property near Falmouth in Cornwall. The home of the Fox family for over 180 years, the house is set in a lovely valley sloping down to the Helford estuary. The steep-sided valley creates a protected environment where tender plants can thrive, including cypress trees and Japanese loquats. The Fox family developed the gardens as a private retreat over the course of twenty years in the early 1800s.

The maze was designed by Alfred and Sarah Fox in the 1820s but not actually planted until 1833. Fox conceived of a true maze, designing a pattern presenting a challenging puzzle to solve, the primary purpose to entertain his twelve children and their numerous cousins.

Laid out in the form of serpents curled lazily in the grass, the coils get tighter as you near the center. If stretched, the coils would measure three-quarters of a mile. The hedges of the maze are cherry laurel, a vigorous and tolerant shrub with dense foliage. Palm trees mark each of the four corners and a thatched summerhouse sits in the center. The maze sits on a slight slope, so there are 173 steps within the maze path. There are wonderful views looking down over the maze from a garden path high on the hill overlooking the valley floor.

The Fox family passed the gardens on to the National Trust in 1962. Restoring the maze, and maintaining it over the decades, is an ongoing process. It is open to the public with an estimated 80,000+ visitors walking the paths each year. Glendurgan Garden has a subtropical atmosphere, Alfred Fox passionate about collecting exotic plants from far and wide. The gardens house an olive grove, apple and cherry orchards, magnolia and camellia trees, carpets of wildflowers, and an array of rare plants surrounding the maze.

Yew Maze at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk

The 12-acre formal gardens and pleasure grounds at Somerleyton Hall near Lowestoft in Suffolk were laid out between 1844 and 1862 for Sir Samuel Morton Peto. The maze was planted in 1846 to a design by famous Victorian landscape gardener William Andrew Nesfield. Located north of the main house, at the far tip of what was the Winter Garden, the maze is composed of high yew hedges. The lone entrance is through a tall, wide archway of solid yew, a coniferous evergreen shrub. The circuitous pathway with numerous dead-ends is relatively easy to navigate, taking on average 15-minutes to reach the central mount, upon which sits a Chinese pagoda. The entire route from start to center to back out again is about 800-yards.

In the 1970s the original yew had grown so thick that walking through was difficult, so the maze gardeners undertook a major pruning endeavor. The result is healthier plants and wide walkways, but also the impressive razor-sharp appearance of the hedges. The peaked tops were created to allow snow to slide off easier.



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