Arboretum hedges bets with new maze garden

Includes special area for young kids


If you’re madder than a hatter about mazes—and a fan of Alice in Wonderland—Morton Arboretum’s “Live on the Hedge!” (through Aug. 21) may be for you. This summer installation uses the classic Lewis Carroll tale to introduce visitors to the arboretum’s newest permanent exhibit—a giant maze garden that opened in May.

A 1-acre living puzzle four years in the making, the maze garden is made up of 3,100 yews, arborvitaes and boxwoods that create a half mile of winding paths to challenge visitors’ navigation skills. Unlike traditional mazes, where the object is to reach a central point, the goal here is to find seven different plant rooms.

Nervous as a hare about losing your kids in the maze? Relax. This maze is truly for kids of all ages. After all, it’s mom designed. Peggy Pelkonen, the assistant landscape architect and designer, has two boys, ages 8 and 10. “Those are the eyes I see through,” she says.

For starters, there’s a special maze designed for little ones within the confines of the big maze. It boasts a stroller parking area and shrubbery no taller than 2 feet. Benches in this area invite parents to take a break while youngsters explore. “My fantasy being [that] Mom and friends can sit on a bench while kids are running around,” Pelkonen explains. This area is geared toward kids ages 5 and under and features a rubberized surface to cushion any falls.

While kids ages 5 to 8 probably will do best exploring the main maze with parents, Pelkonen says older kids can navigate on their own. Internal fencing keeps kids from creating shortcuts (safer for both kids and plants), the entrance and exit are side by side, and gates within the maze—which can be used to change routes—are locked in place “so kids aren’t swinging on them,” Pelkonen adds. Right now, hedges in the main maze top out at 4 feet. Pelkonen says they should reach 6 feet in five to 10 years.

In addition, a 12-foot-high observation platform that wraps around a majestic sycamore tree allows parents to keep an eye on their roaming progeny. Parents can call out guidance or encouragement from this perch.

So far, Pelkonen says, “Kids seem to love it. They hit the [entrance] gate and just start running.”

The arboretum hosts several Alice-themed events through Aug. 21; visit the Web site for details. Following this opening exhibit, the maze garden will be outfitted with permanent information about its plants. And, Pelkonen says, plans are in the works for other seasonal events, including a haunted theme for the fall.

The maze opens at 9:30 a.m. daily. It is wheelchair and stroller accessible. Morton Arboretum is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily during daylight-saving time and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. The arboretum is located at Interstate 88 and Illinois 53 in Lisle. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for kids ages 3 to 12. Wednesday is discount day. Call (630) 968-0074 or visit Jennifer Burklow


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