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Corn maze goes on, but without the corn

WEYBRIDGE — Deep in the field at Weybridge Gardens, the green stalks and budding tassels overhead look almost like corn. But the green abundance that forms the winding paths of the Thompson Hill Road maze isn’t corn this year — it’s Sudan grass.
Though sisters Kris Bowdish and Audra Ouellette are still calling this year’s installation a corn maze, by the time the fields dried out from this spring’s flooding it was already July.
Bowdish and Ouellette knew the corn wouldn’t be tall enough for a maze if they planted it then.
“We’ve just been working around Mother Nature,” said Ouellette on Monday, looking out over the maze from atop the bridge at the center.
So Bowdish and Ouellette decided to plant Sudan grass instead. The grass, also known as sorghum, grows faster than corn. It can serve as a cover or feed crop, but Bowdish said it’s not too common among area farms. Still, Ouellette and Bowdish said it’s stood up well to this year’s continued wet weather.
And the grass has turned out to have other advantages, too. Sudan grass grows well when planted more densely than corn, making it more difficult to see through the rows to other parts of the maze — and impeding those hoping to sneak in between pathways.
Bowdish said Sudan grass also requires less nitrogen than corn to grow, meaning that it’s easier on the soil.
The delayed season isn’t the only setback the sisters have faced — when the Otter Creek peaked following Tropical Storm Irene, backflow streamed up the Lemon Fair River, flooding the lower areas of the property and washing a number of hay bales across a field.
Those bales were waiting to go into the maze as obstacles, but fortunately Bowdish and Ouellette had more round bales in a higher field that they’ll move into the maze before a yet-to-be-determined opening day.
As weather conditions and growing patterns continued to change, Ouellette, who designs each maze by hand, scrambled to keep up.
“This is my third design for the field. It’s definitely been a very flexible year,” said Ouellette.
The final design — what Bowdish termed “The Year of the Giant Pumpkin” — is laid out in the field now, waiting for the finishing touches.
With the paths carved out, the sisters said they were relieved to find the maze not too different from years past.
“It feels just like a corn maze,” said Bowdish.
Bowdish and Ouellette hope to open the maze soon, but before that happens, they said they have more work to do, from widening trails to installing games in some of the clear areas. This year, the sisters say there will be many more surprises to find inside the maze.
“We try to add something every year,” said Bowdish.
Meanwhile, they said they’re hearing lots of excitement about the maze, which in past years has opened earlier in September. Bowdish, a Middlebury police officer, said people have been stopping her in the street to find out when the maze will open for the year.
For that, Bowdish and Ouellette said they’ll post an update as soon as the maze is open for the year at weybridgegardens.com. The two said they’re mostly trying to complete the finishing touches — and waiting for the mosquitoes to die off. As soon as that happens, they’ll be open on weekends, school holidays and by appointment for groups, with a haunted maze the two weekends before Halloween.
And despite the rocky growing season, the two are optimistic that their fourth year running the maze will be as good as ever.
“There were times when we maybe should have thrown in the towel,” said Bowdish.
“But we couldn’t give up,” said Ouellette.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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