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Graham's Groves in Manitoba
by Liz Primeau
by Liz Primeau



Liz Primeau's second edition of Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, updated and with a new chapter on using art in your garden, plus a design and garden-care workbook section, will be released in January, 2002.

She is at present writing a new book on front-yard gardens, to be published by Firefly Books in spring, 2003.

Liz is the the founding editor of the Canadian Gardening magazine.


December 30, 2001


In my mind's eye I have a picture of Alan Graham, umbrella in hand, soaring over the tall grasses of Graham's Groves, the family farm near Carman, Manitoba. Not exactly like Mary Poppins, because he's supported by a 30-foot wooden tower. More like the lifeguard at a large public swimming pool. "Actually, I think of myself as Linus's blanket," Alan says. "I'm the security people need when they go into our maze. I give them a position point, and I can help out if they really get lost."
Not that anyone really has. The 10-acre maze may be a challenge but it's fun, even an experience in self-discovery, and Alan's presence ensures that no one panics and crashes through the grass walls. Oh, maybe the occasional person has become frustrated and gone through to the next aisle. "But we discourage that," says Alan's daughter Cory, with mild irony in her voice. "We let people know they should protect the walls for the next visitor. These are growing plants, and once they're down, they're gone."
The maze is a small part of the farm, which has been in the family for four generations now (if you count the Graham's three children, Cory, Ryan and Rusty), since Andrew Graham homesteaded it in 1878. For more than a century the family grew grain, but by the late 1980s Alan realized changes had to be made. "I didn't see a big future in a small farm," he says. Small means nearly a section, or square mile, of land, as farms were parceled out in those days. "Most farms here are two to three sections, about 1,200 to 1,800 acres, and they get bigger as you go farther west." 
So Alan and his wife, Ethel, decided to move into berry growing, starting with Saskatoons, which they planted in 1990. It wasn't an easy haul at first, getting the bushes established and producng well, but their prairie initiative has persevered and now they have 30 acres of fruits, including raspberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, black and red currants, cranberries and Nanking cherries, sold as pick-your-own and pre-picked. There's also a kitchen that makes pies, pie filling and juice, marketed at the farm gate and at the St. Norbert Farmers' Market on Saturdays. The maze--plus a grass-path labyrinth designed after the one in the courtyard of the cathedral at Chartres, France-- were added in 1998 as special attractions for visitors.
Lots of people come out to the farm just to meet the challenge of the maze and to picnic afterward. "Local small businesses use it as a day's outing for employees," says Alan. And of course there are the passersby, and tourists who read about the maze on Graham's Grove Web site (www.grahamsgroves.mb.ca ) and stop by for a couple of hours. Everyone approaches the maze differently. "Americans in particular don't want to just explore and find their own way through," says Cory. "They want a map. Now we take aerial photographs and give them one to follow." Alan says men navigate the maze just like they find their way in a car. "They say to themselves, 'I know how to get there...I don't need directions' and off they go. Women look at the map first." 
The maze, a cross between sorghum and sudan grass that grows 10 to 12 feet tall and looks a lot like corn, has a new design each year . The first year a five-acre dragon was planned by English maze designer Adrian Fisher, but in 1999 Cory took over the design and created a seven-acre duck. Last year the maze grew again: the 10-acre Pesquito the Mosquito, an appropriate choice for mosquito-ridden Manitoba, has eight kilometres of paths. "I do the first design, but my brothers revamp it on the computer, to the point that I hardly recognize it," Cory laughs. 
It takes 45 to 90 minutes to find your way from the foot to the stinger and you can help yourself along by knowing a few things about mosquitoes and choosing, for example, the path where a sign says there are more than 2,000 species in the world, not the one claiming less than 1,000. Three eight-foot high bridges give you an overview and may point you in the right direction, but first you have to find the bridges.
And what's the reward once you exit at the stinger end? "The personal satisfaction of solving a maze," says Alan. "And of course, a walk across the Victory Bridge."


Liz Primeau's second edition of Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, updated and with a new chapter on using art in your garden, plus a design and garden-care workbook section, will be released in January, 2002. She is at present writing a new book on front-yard gardens, to be published by Firefly Books in spring, 2003.



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