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How to Make an Outdoor Garden Labyrinth

Outdoor labyrinths have enjoyed a recent surge in popularity. Viewed by many as an aid to meditation and a relaxed mental state, these ornate and intricate mazes make for a distinctive outdoor or garden feature.

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Step 1: Mark Out the Labyrinth

The first step in constructing a circular labyrinth is to mark out its dimensions. Place a stake to mark your labyrinth's center point. Use a long tape measure to measure out the radius of the labyrinth, then circle the stake at the same distance to mark the labyrinth's diameter. Establish the radius and mark that length all the way around the center point using marking spray.

Step 2: Excavate the Base

If you have a large project on your hands, it's best to use a front-end loader for digging (Image 1), or hire an excavation company to do the work. Since a front-end loader is not great at cutting curves, you should use a shovel to pre-cut the curves into the turf. Then the loader can lift up the turf and carry it away.

The next step is to prepare the base. You should dig your base 6 to 8 inches deep. Dig deeper for the base if the labyrinth is going to be in a high traffic area. Next, use a compactor to compact the base. Compacting will create an even foundation for the pavers (Image 2).

Once the base is compacted, lay down landscaping fabric over it. The fabric will help stabilize the soil, and keep any roots from growing up through the pavers. As you work, secure the fabric with gravel so it doesn't fly away. Remember to overlap the fabric layers by a few inches. Use a sharp utility knife to cut the edges, because you're dealing with a tough fabric.

Step 3: Pack Gravel and Crown the Base

Once the fabric is laid out, you can bring in the gravel pack. If you excavate 8 inches instead of 6, bring in two separate layers of 2 inches, and compact each. Before compacting the top layer of gravel, it's very important to make sure that the base is level. Rather than use strings to keep track of the level, which would quickly resemble a spider web, it might be a good idea to use a transit level.

After spreading the gravel, the next important step is to crown the base. "Crowning" means to create an artificial pitch for water runoff in the center of your area. To do so, use the transit to create a mound in the center that is about half an inch higher than the outer mounds. This will be the crown, about 2-1/2 inches below grade. Then spread the gravel so that it "crowns" at the extra half inch in the middle. Once the gravel pack is in, you can compact it with the compactor.

Step 4: Add a Layer of Concrete Sand

The next step is to lay down a layer of concrete sand, which will be the setting bed for the pavers. The concrete sand layer should be one inch thick. Screed in sections using an extra-long screed board. For screeding this area, use a long 2x4. Use a laser level to keep track of that one-inch height. If the level is too low, simply add sand until you get it to the correct height.

When you've finished screeding the sand, keep some wooden planks handy, so you can lay them down over the sand while you put in pavers. This will keep the sand from getting displaced.

Step 5: Get a Labyrinth Kit

For this project, a labyrinth kit with all of the pavers already organized and separated was used. The pavers are made from a high-density concrete, and come in two colors: gray and charcoal. The gray colored pavers make up the paths, and the charcoal pavers make up the paths' borders.

The stones from the labyrinth kit come in eleven different sizes, but luckily they come with a map that charts out where each stone is supposed to go. This map will simplify the layout of your labyrinth.

Step 6: Lay the Center Stone Pack

The first step to laying down the pavers is to set up cross strings. The cross strings will divide up the labyrinth into quadrants, and act as guides for construction. Put down a metal spike in the middle of the base and four additional spikes at equal distances around the perimeter. Run nylon string between the outer spikes across the base, so that the string divides the base into quadrants, and intersects at the center spike. Since these strings need to be accurate, use a laser level to make sure everything is perfect.

Lay down the first stone paver in the center of the labyrinth. Take the metal spike out of the center, and lay the stone right over the cross strings. The strings will be buried under the pavers.

With the center stone in, start putting down stones around it, according to the directions of your kit. Soon the center stone pack of the labyrinth is created. This is the point where the labyrinth's path will eventually end. Once the center stone pack of the labyrinth is installed, double-check the measurements. Be sure the pavers measure the correct radius, otherwise the rest of the labyrinth pavers will not line up correctly.

Step 7: Place More Pavers

The labyrinth kit may come with wooden templates (Image 1) that can be used to guide your placing of the turnaround pavers. The "turnarounds" are the turning points on the finished walkway. Without the templates, these are very difficult to place accurately. The strings you laid down previously will be crucial to guiding the placement of these templates. Most labyrinths are designed in quadrants, and the turnarounds will be centered on those strings.

The templates simply act as placeholders for the turnarounds for now. Start laying down the full-sized pavers around them, always following the map. As you lay down the pavers, leave some gaps where cuts are going to be. Because you don't want any continuous joints in the pavers, it will be necessary to make some cuts. Save those cuts for last.

With the templates still in place, continue working outwards, adding rows of pavers to create an ever-widening circle (Image 2). After laying down each row of border pavers, measure the distance from the center to confirm the pavers are lining up correctly. Use a rubber mallet to tap in the pavers, to keep the joints tight.

Step 8: Install Snap Edging

Once you've finished laying down all of the rows of pavers around the base (except for those that will eventually replace the templates) install the snap edging. Snap edging is a plastic material that will fit around the pavers and hold them into place. You may need to snip the snap edging in order to bend it around the labyrinth perimeter. Lay the snap edging down and hammer it into place with 12-inch landscaping spikes every five or six holes.

Step 9: Add Pavers for Turnarounds

With the snap edging installed, the next step will be to replace those wood templates with the pavers for the turnarounds.

The turnarounds are organized around the strings that divide your quadrant, so that each turnaround is centered evenly along a string. Pull out the first wood template and find its corresponding turnaround. Then take the turnaround pavers individually from their palette and place them where the template was. Once those turnaround pavers are laid in, fill in around them with the extra pavers provided by your kit. Do the same for each template.

Step 10: Make Cuts and Compact the Stones

To get a perfectly sized cut, hold a full paver over the spot where you need a smaller one. Mark the points, and draw lines where the paver will need to be cut (Image 1). For cutting pavers, save a lot of trouble by renting a wet saw. While you won't need a face mask to use a wet saw, you'll definitely want ear plugs and safety goggles. When using the wet saw, just let the blade do the work. Don't push the pavers into the blade.

Position the cut pavers (Image 2) and use a rubber mallet to tap the cut pavers into their holes. Save the cutoff pieces because chances are they can fill some of your holes. With the final cuts in, next compact the stones. Rent a plate compactor from any local supply company. Be sure to wear earplugs. Start compacting from the outside of the circle and work your way in (Image 3). That way, you're pushing the pavers toward each other instead of into the snap edging.

Step 11: Spread Polymeric Sand

With the pavers compacted, the next step is to spread polymeric sand into the labyrinth's joints (Image 1). When activated with water, the sand turns into a concrete-like substance that prevents weeds and discourages ants, but still remains semi-permeable to water. Be sure to wear a face mask and eye protection while handling the polymeric sand. Spread the sand around until the joints are completely filled in.

Then come back in with the compactor. Again, start from the outside and work towards the center. This will help sand settle in the joints, so if you find the joints getting a little low, go back through and sweep in extra sand (Image 2). Next, bring in a hose and mist the labyrinth. That will activate the polymeric sand. Go over the labyrinth two or three times, but be careful not to over-wet it. Just mist the surface.

Wait for the polymeric sand to activate, which will take about 24 hours, and then spray the labyrinth down one final time (Image 3). Finally, fill in some loam around the outside edges of the labyrinth to cover up where you dug. With that, your perfect meditational labyrinth is complete.

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