Build a Backyard Labyrinth

Bring the serenity of a brick labyrinth into your backyard with these DIY instructions and tips for choosing plants and designs that suit the space.

| March/April 2019

Labyrinths offer a unique opportunity to reconnect with yourself, nature, and your community. They can be built to suit any budget or space, and can be temporary or permanent installations. Here’s a basic guide to making your own Chartres-style brick labyrinth — although you can apply these instructions to any style or material.

Photo by Getty Images/jonya

You can rough out the pattern for your labyrinth with leaves or cut grass, or lay out a rope to define the path before you begin laying bricks. Consider how many people you expect to walk the labyrinth at once, as well; this will affect the size of the center circle, and whether users will be able to stay at the center for a while or will need to continue on the unwinding path immediately.

Tools and Materials

  • Labyrinth pattern
  • Stake and rope
  • Temporary markers for your path
  • Spade
  • Newspaper
  • Builder’s sand
  • Bricks
  • Circular saw with masonry blade
  • Mallet
  • Masonry sand

Step 1:

Choose location. Find a location that will lend itself to the meditative, grounded act of walking a labyrinth, and be sure that it’s large enough for the design you want. Labyrinths are perfect for landscaping with low-growing herbs; if you want to plant the spaces between the paths of your labyrinth, consider the type of soil you have, the width of the beds, and whether you’ll be able to water your plantings.

Step 2:

Calculate size and area. Artress recommends keeping labyrinths small. “Sometimes people want to create a huge labyrinth,” she says, “but that can take a long time to walk. For a classical labyrinth, even 28 feet [in diameter] is large.” While you can always slow down your walking meditation, you won’t want to feel rushed!

See Labyrinth Formulas, below, for formulas and examples of labyrinth sizes. A 28-foot Chartres labyrinth will use about 615 square feet of path material, while a 44-foot version with 6-inch garden beds between paths will use about 1,060 square feet of path material.

Step 3:

Mark labyrinth. Mark the center of your labyrinth. You can easily lay out the concentric circles underlying a Chartres-style labyrinth with a stake and rope compass.

Photo by Getty Images/smontgom65

Drive the stake into the ground at the center of the labyrinth, tie a loop in one end of the rope, and slip the loop over the stake. For a labyrinth with garden beds interspersed, knot the rope at intervals matching the radius measurement of each path edge; or for a labyrinth with only narrow spaces between paths, knot the rope at intervals matching the distance the center of each path will be from the center. Use twine and stakes, paint, flour, or even birdseed to mark the outlines of all the circles.

After you’ve marked the circles, use a printed labyrinth pattern to guide the placement of the turns in the path.

Step 4:

Dig foundation. Use the edger to make neat cuts along the edges of the path, and remove the sod down to about 2 inches deeper than the thickness of your bricks. Start at the center, working in stages to keep any sudden rain from turning your future labyrinth into a muddy mess.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Tomasz Zajda

Layer newspaper into the bottom of the trench to deter weeds, and cover it with about 2 inches of builder’s sand. This will be the foundation of your labyrinth. You may also wish to use garden edging along the sides of the paths, especially if you plan to have garden beds integrated with your labyrinth.

Step 5:

Lay bricks. Place bricks in whatever pattern you prefer, leaving just enough space between them to fill with more sand. For a more formal appearance, cut bricks as needed to keep the width of the joints consistent — or stick to whole bricks and allow larger gaps where necessary to fit them around curves. Tap the bricks into the surface of the sand with a mallet or piece of scrap wood.

Spread a thin layer of masonry sand over finished sections of path, and sweep it into the joints. Continue adding sand and filling the joints until they’re tightly packed and flush with the surface.

Photo by Getty Images/LindaCharlton

Step 6:

Plant garden beds. If your labyrinth features integrated garden beds, choose plants that are relatively low-growing — a labyrinth isn’t a maze, after all — and perhaps scented or tactile in some way. Many herbs are well-suited to growing in labyrinths: They’re often heat- and drought-tolerant, and the scents of growing herbs can add to the meditation experience. Colorful annuals, such as zinnias, marigolds, and dwarf cosmos, will attract pollinators while they beautify your labyrinth; and plants with interesting textures, such as lambs’ ears, switchgrass, and succulents, will draw walkers to slow down and appreciate their surroundings.

Labyrinth Formulas

Most labyrinths are roughly circular, so the formulas to find the area of the path — and the amount of path material you’ll need — are quite simple. All measurements are in feet or square feet.

Area of a circle: πr2
Area of a ring: πro2 – πri2
Path width: (Dt – Dc)/n

  • Use 3.14 for π; r is the radius of the circle. For the area of a ring, ro is the radius of the outer circle, and ri is the radius of the inner circle.
  • For path width, n is the number of times you encounter the path, counting straight across the center. This is 22 for a Chartres-style labyrinth (11 circuits, encountered twice). Dt is the total diameter of the labyrinth, and Dc is the diameter of the center, which is normally 1/4 the total diameter.
  • Note: If you have garden beds between paths, your “path width” will be the combined width of one path and one garden bed.

Photo by Carolyn Lang

Example 1:

A 28-foot-diameter Chartres labyrinth with a 7-foot center and very narrow spaces between the paths.

  • Area = π(14)2  = about 615 square feet
  • Path width = (28 – 7) / 22 = 0.95 feet

Example 2:

A 44-foot-diameter Chartres labyrinth with an 11-foot center and garden beds.

  • Area of center = π(22)2 = about 95 square feet
  • Total path material needed = area of center + areas of each path ring = 95 + 968 = about 1,060 square feet
  • (See chart below for the approximate area of each path ring.)
  • Path width = (44 – 11) / 22 = 1.5 feet, divided into 1-foot path and 6-inch beds

Each path’s ri is the radius of the center (5.5) plus the width of all the paths (1 foot each) and garden beds (0.5 foot each) between the center and the path you want to calculate. The ro is the ri plus the width of the path you’re calculating.

 Path 1 10  11 
 ri 6 7.5  10.5  12  13.5  15  16.5  18  19.5  21 
 ro 7 8.5 10 11.5 13 14.5 16 17.5 19 20.5 22
 Area 41 50 60 69 79  88 97 107 116 126 135

Discover more about the Healing Power of Labyrinths.

Caitlin Wilson is a Mother Earth Living editor with a lifelong interest in medieval history, textiles, and native plants. Find her project blog online, Sunshine and Roses.

3/28/2019 11:40:00 AM

I like the natural labyrinth done in dirt, grass and stones. The Serenity is in getting in touch with the Earth. Thank you for the math, very interesting.



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