The garden may be just a single indoor pot, a large plot outdoors, or anything in-between. These gardens can be found at parishes, schools, homes, shrines, convents and other institutions.
The statue of Mary is central to the garden.
Special flowers, shrubs, and trees associated with the legends about Mary are planted in the garden.
Such plants may include laurel trees, strawberries, ladyslippers, lilies of the valley, peonies, violets, irises and roses, all of which are identified as symbolic and significant in the story of Mary, as recounted in the Bible, and other Christian stories.
Gardens may have benches and a space for lighting votive candles.
The Mary Garden demonstrates devotional commitment, through the spiritual practice of designing, building and maintaining the garden and for the attendance, contemplation, and prayers of visitors.
Mary Gardens are similar to the Zen meditation gardens found
in the Buddhist tradition, except that Mary Gardens are devoted to one
More than 30 flowers
and herbs are
Legend of The Madonna Lily - The angel, Gabriel, is said to have been holding a lily, representing purity, when he appeared to Mary to announce she would bear a child. Lilies are often included in artistic renditions of the annunciation.
This article condenses and combines texts from various sources, such as Roesch Library, Marian Library, The mid-century 1990's letters of John Stokes, and the online histories of the Mary's Gardens Movement. It includes the philosophy in the design of a Mary Garden, and a suggested Mary Garden design plan.
Growing Mary Gardens originated in
monasteries and convents in medieval Europe. During the Middle Ages,
people saw reminders of Mary in the flowers and herbs growing around
them.The first reference to an actual garden dedicated to Mary is from
the life of St. Fiacre, Irish patron saint of
gardening, (and one of my
favorite saints) who planted and tended a garden around the oratory to
Our Lady, that he built at his famous hospice for the poor and infirm in
France in the 7th Century. The first record of a flower actually named
for Mary is that of "seint mary gouldes" (St. Mary's Gold or
Marygold) for the Pot Marigold or Calendula, in a 1373 English
recipe for a potion to ward off the plague.
The first such garden open to the public
in the United States was founded in 1932 at St. Joseph's Church, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Inspired by the St. Joseph's Mary Garden Edward A. G. McTague and John S. Stokes, Jr. founded "Mary's Gardens" of Philadelphia in 1951 as a project to research flowers identified with Mary, and make available seeds and plant source information for starting Mary Gardens. They also initiated a series of articles in religious publications to encourage the planting of Mary Gardens.
There is a growing interest in this relationship of flowers and gardens to Mary. It is fueling an entirely new devotion, which combines a reverence for Mary with a love of plants and flowers.
At homes, churches and holy sites, people have created gardens composed entirely of plants dedicated to Mary by name, legend or history. There is a Mary garden at the U.S. Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and one at the University of Dayton in Ohio. One of the earliest Mary gardens was planted at St. Joseph’s Church in Woods Hole, Maine.
Creating a Mary Garden at home or parish is easy to do, but they may vary considerably in size. An apartment Mary garden might be a large pot of flowers and a porcelain statue of her standing among them.
A small townhouse might have a niche
garden of Mary plants.
Most of our culinary and fragrant herbs were grown at one time in
medieval-monastery gardens or used by missionaries, In this way they
came to have popular names reflecting religious life and thought.
Some of the names came from the
liturgical feasts in the Church calendar, for which plants normally were
in bloom or fruit. Others came from striking plant shapes which brought
to mind events of the Bible or thoughts about the life of the Holy
Family. Many fragrant, soothing and healing herbs were associated
especially with Mary, because they suggested her sweetness and
Flowers of Our Lady - Christian
Eyes of Mary
Our Lady's Mantle
Our Lady's Praises
Infant Jesus' Shoes
Flower of the Cross
|Above: A Vintage Holy Card|
The Flowers of Our Lady came to symbolize many envisaged aspects of Mary's life, virtues and mysteries, and as such served to quicken devout persons beholding them in nature and garden to Marian meditation and prayer.
This devotional tradition has
been preserved in "Flowers of Mary," a series of 31 meditational
- one for each day of Mary's month of May - delivered in May, 1858 in Ingolstadt, Germany by Rev. Louis Gemminger
following are 12 meditations from
"The Flowers of Mary"
Impatiens has been named Mother Love from the constancy of its blooms during the entire period from spring to frost - bringing to mind the constancy of Mary's love for her Divine Son and Lord, and for us, her spiritual children. We turn to Mary, our Mother, in prayer, knowing she is constantly present in heaven as our Advocate and Intercessor, yet also at our side mediating the graces she obtains for us. From the sense of Mary's presence and graces received in contemplating its sacramentally blessed Flowers of Our Lady, the mother Mary Garden at Woods Hole has been called "Our Lady in her Garden".
As the shapes of snapdragon blooms bring to mind little shoes, we envisage in our imagination the little feet and shoes of Jesus, and Mary's loving motherly sharing and bonding with him as she cared for him in their Nazareth home. In imitation of Mary, may we ever nurture and protect the innocence and purity of our own children as we instruct them in the truths and virtues of the Faith.
As we look at the tiny white pins in the flower heads of sweet scabious, we think of Our Lady's wonder and joy as she sewed garments for the Divine Redeemer she was to bear. In emulation of Mary, we offer all our work and thoughts to God, and, in particular, our sewing for home and for our church altar.
The tiny cross-shaped flowers of sweet alyssum bring to mind Christ's Cross, quickening us to recollection that all our pains and sorrows were borne there by him, and that by our own bearing of them in union with him we extend the mystery and efficacy of his Redemption - "making up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ."
Consider the red poppy, one of the flowers said by old legend to have sprung up at the foot of the cross from Jesus' redemptive blood drops. These Passion symbols quicken meditation on Christ's Redemption of us, of the world of nature, and of the earthly Kingdom, so that the divine goodness, beauty, truth and glory of Creation may be shown forth, shared and magnified in the New Heaven and the New Earth for all eternity.
When the tear-like buds of larkspur appear, we unite our thoughts with those of Mary as she wept at the foot of the Cross, sharing interiorly the bitter Passion of her crucified Divine Son and Lord. May we become ever more closely united with the sacrifice of Christ through loving emulation of Mary's immolative motherly sorrows - as we are quickened to meditation and prayer by these flowers said by legend to have sprung up where her tears fell to the ground beside the Cross.
As we observe the first florets of cornflower blooming in a crown-like ring around the edges of each flower head, we raise our thoughts to Mary's coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth. We pray to her for the mediation of the graces needed by us ever to guide our actions towards the redemptive building of God's Peaceable Kingdom of truth, justice, love, freedom and material sufficiency for all - in preparation for the transformation of all in the New Heaven and New Earth on the last day.
As we come upon the eye-like flowers of forget-me-nots, with their golden centers, we are quickened to reassurance that the eyes of Mary, our Spiritual Mother in heaven, are always turned upon us and our needs. We are similarly reassured by the downwards inclining blooms of the daffodil, seen as "Mary looking down from heaven".
We see how beautifully the golden masses of marigolds suggest Our Lady's splendor after her glorious assumption into heaven, and her "coming forth as the morning rising . . . bright as the sun" from the interior of the Trinity, as the "Woman clothed with the sun" and "Queen in gilded clothing"; and in her subsequent merciful appearances on earth. We ask her to pray that we may obtain the promise of heaven.
We raise our thoughts from the blue of the morning glory, "Our Lady's Mantle" to the spiritual mantle with which Mary, Mother of the all-powerful God, and our heavenly mother also, mercifully protects those who turn to her for help. We beseech her protection from all dangers.
The blooms of petunias were named Our Lady's Praises from their perceived resemblance to the subtle flowers seen by those gifted with spiritual vision to rise from the lips of devotees proclaiming Our Lady's praises - as spiritual roses were perceived to rise from the lips of those praying theAves and Paters of the Rosary (the origin of the name, "Rosary"). Or, alternatively, they may be seen as praises rising from the lips of Mary, as her soul "magnifies the Lord." May our prayers, too, rise to Our Lady and to God as pure spiritual bouquets of love.
The zinnia is one of a number of flowers whose forms and settings in nature suggested to persons coming upon them the presence of the radiant heavenly human form of the Virgin, for whom the flowers were then named. Other such flowers are "Mary", "Our Lady of the Meadow", "Our Lady in the Corn", "Our Lady by the Gate". As we reflect on the yellow zinnia as it first blooms, with a single haloed glorious flower above its foliage "body," we rejoice that Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces, is always present with us by her action wherever graces are distributed.
Excerpted from a
Letter by John S. Stokes, Jr.
With respect to the meaningfulness of the Flowers of Our Lady, the symbolism of the each flower as recognized from its name first of all quickens devotional reflection as it blooms - as flowers must have in the medieval countrysides, and as we found in our first Mary Garden.
A summary of some length is made here because of the special contribution Mary Gardening makes to Marian devotion through the comprehensive scope of its visual symbolism.
Basic to flower meanings is the belief that flowers, like all creatures, were created by God to show forth and share with us the divine goodness, beauty and truth - to be perceived physically through our senses; and intellectually through their "signature" mirrorings of divine revelation. In the Mary Garden this perception is quickened by their planting around a Marian sculpture - so as to symbolize a range of Mary's mysteries, life and prerogatives, for a fullness of reflection and prayer.
Accordingly, flowers were seen and named as symbols of Mary's immaculate purity, her utter humility, and her total fidelity to the word of God. St. Bernard spoke of Mary as "the rose of charity, lily of chastity, violet of humility and golden gillyflower of heaven".
By medieval times many flowers of the countryside were seen to be symbols of Mary's virtues, life, mysteries and divinely bestowed prerogatives of her union with God - enabling us to compose them devotionally today in Mary Gardens.
Our desire therefore for the Mary Garden, is both to honor Mary through the planting and tending of an attractive arrangement of her flowers around her statue; and also to have a comprehensive flower imaging of her life and mysteries for the quickening of our ever fuller meditation on them and our constant recourse to her in prayer for her protection, spiritual nurturing, and counsel and for her divine advocacy, intercession and mediation.
In this, as stated, the flowers as such show forth and share God's goodness and beauty; and our composition of them and care for them in the garden honors God's will for the care and enhancement of all Creation in the building of the Peaceable Kingdom.
Symbolism of Mary can begin with "her flowers": white lilies for her immaculate purity at the Annunciation; roses for her Divine Motherhood at the Nativity; Iris spears for the sword of sorrow piercing her soul at the Passion and Crucifixion, and marigolds for her heavenly queenship and mediation.
More generally, white roses and all white flowers are seen to represent the Rosary joyful mysteries; red roses and flowers the sorrowful mysteries, and gold and yellow the glorious mysteries.
According to Apocryphal legend, in the opening of Mary's emptied tomb following her bodily assumption into heaven, there were found roses and lilies.
The titles, "Rose of Sharon" and "Lily of the Valley" were applied to her from scripture, by the Church Fathers.
"Our Lady of
Peace" - Evelyn De Morgan, 1902
Mary Garden Design
"Flowers For the Fairest"
Daniel J. Foley
The Pilot, May 19 & 26, 1956
Editor of Horticulture and staff member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society
Scores of flowering plants associated with Our Lady, particularly in the Middle Ages, have given gardeners all over America a fresh idea for a very special kind of garden. Mary Gardens, little plots or large ones, where there might be a suitable place for a statue of Mary surrounded with plants are pleasant to contemplate and plan these bright May days.
Our Lady's slippers, her
thimble, her keys, her looking glass, her tresses, her teardrops, her
nightcap and a host of others were symbolized in the wild and garden
flowers of Europe in the great "Age of Faith." These symbols
were very real to our medieval ancestors, because the parts of the flowers
closely resemble the articles for which they are named.
FAVORITE FLOWERS OF OUR LADY TODAY
If an attempt were made to assemble all the plants associated with Our Lady, the list would run to several hundred. However, many of these favorites of the European countryside are, by their very nature, unadapted to present-day gardens. Some of them would fit nicely in a woodland planting, were space available. But for the small plots which most of us cultivate, gardeners must choose those best adapted to the home garden.
Soil requirements, the amount
of sunlight available and the types of plants, including annuals,
perennials and shrubs, must be considered first.
Here are some
easy-to-grow plants which can well provide the start for a Mary Garden
Annuals and Perennials
White Plantain Lily
Christian Flower Name
Our Lady's Tears
Our Lady's Little Ladles
Our Lady's Mantle
Our Lady's Milk Drops
Rose of Mary
Our Lady's Delight
Emblem of Mary, the Mystical Rose
Eyes of Mary
Our Lady's Night Cap
Our Lady's Shoes
Our Lady's Gloves
Our Lady of the Meadow
Our Lady's Eardrops
St. Joseph's Staff
Our Lady's Praises
If your garden is in a shady spot, why not carpet the ground with lily-of-the-valley, an easy to grow, hardy perennial, which can be transplanted at most any time of year. This familiar plant does best in rich, well drained soil, and thrives in partial shade. In the Middle Ages, the flowers were used to decorate the Lady Chapels of the great cathedrals, and in the folklore of Europe, we find references to the lily-of-the-valley as Our Lady's Tears.
Another denizen of shade is the tiny autumn cyclamen, Cyclamen purpurascens, which develops its bright rose-pink flowers from large brownish corms. These are planted in late summer and flower during late September and October. Given good drainage and a sheltered location, they are hardy in the Boston area, but are little known even to expert gardeners. Curiously enough, this plant, which was dedicated to Mary was also used as a charm against bad weather. From the upwards angle of its blooms retained on drooping stems it was known in Germany as Our Lady's Little Ladles.
To cover a fence or a trellis, plant morning-glories. These annual vines with flowers in shades of white, lilac, pink and a striped form climb over trellises and fences with great abandon. Soak the seed over night to hasten germination. The curious shape of the flower, like that of a nightcap, gives rise to the medieval name of Our Lady's Nightcap, to keep her hair in place, and also Our Lady's Mantle.
A fragrant bed of herbs, which can also be a delight for flavoring in the kitchen, belongs in any well-ordered Mary Garden. Chief among the plants to be included is our common spearmint, known in France as Menthe de Notre Dame and in Italy as St. Mary's herb. This hardy perennial spreads rapidly on underground stems and must be kept in bounds to prevent it from being weedy.
For an edging of the herb
plot, you can plant pulmonaria or lungwort, also known as Bethlehem sage,
or Our Lady's milkwort because of the white spots on the lush green
leaves. It is a hardy perennial with bright blue flowers in late April and
May. The enduring foliage keeps fresh and green all summer long and it
does well in part shade.
Our Lady spread her coat on a rosemary bush to dry, and it became known as Rose of Mary.
A fragrant woody shrub, seldom growing more than two feet high, is our beloved rosemary, known for centuries as a favorite in herb gardens. This plant is not hardy in the New England area, but potted specimens can be obtained from herb dealers. The pungent leaves are spicy and pleasant to the nose, and the bluish flowers appear on old plants in early spring. According to tradition, the flowers which were once white, became blue in color when
The old-time pansies with small flowers, are sometimes found in gardens where they seed themselves readily. However, they are not easy to come by, and we must rely on present-day pansies and violas to take their places, These easy-to-grow plants make delightful edgings for beds and borders, and the colors you choose will be based on your own preferences. These expressive little flowers with faces that are almost human, were appropriately known as Our Lady's Delight.
For centuries red and white roses have been associated with Mary and her Rosary. Scholars differ on the origin of the Rosary, but tradition has credited St. Dominic with the devotion whereby prayers were said on beads made of rose leaves which had been pressed into round molds. The rapid spread of praying the Rosary is credited to a legend that subtle roses were seen proceeding upwards too heaven from the lips of a young monk praying his Aves with his beads. In season, rose blooms were strung together to make a devotional chain.
In its early use, the word Rosary referred to a rose garden and later was used to mean a garland, a wreath or a bouquet of roses. In Italy roses bloom in May and naturally the queen of flowers was dedicated to Mary, as with the month of May.
pre-Christian times, the rose was dedicated to
Almost any rose, bush or climber, singly or in groups, fits nicely into a Mary Garden.
Practically all that we know about Mary Gardens of the Middle Ages is contained in the casual references to scores of plants named for Our Lady. We find them in old garden books, in folklore and poetry and in various kinds of manuscripts and books covering a variety of subjects. In some of the old breviaries and illuminated manuscripts, there are illustrations which give us a fairly definite concept of the small plots in enclosed area which were known as Mary Gardens. The fact that they were bordered by walls or hedges and sometimes had fountains as features, would suggest that these little gardens were formal in outline.
However, in re-creating the Mary Garden, we must adapt the space we have at hand and arrange our plants accordingly.
Listings of the above-mentioned plants for edging, middleground and background planting are offered as suggestions for those who wish to plant a garden in the spring. The plants selected will get the beginner off to a good start. Most of the plants in these lists are ideally suited to full sun or light shade. Where tree growth is dense and roots offer competition, a Mary Garden of ground covers and the effect of year-round greenness may have to suffice. However, the presence of a figure, large or small, of Our Lady and the use of plants whose folk names are associated with her, interpret the spirit and concept of what a Mary Garden should be.
Group 1. Plants suitable for edging either type of garden deserve consideration first. Pansies (Our Lady's Delight) in mixed or separate colors will flower over a long period if the seed pods are removed. Likewise, English daisies (Mary-Loves) can be used for edging. Forget-me-nots (Eyes of Mary) are showy and delightful. In late June these can be replaced with the dwarf French marigolds (Mary's Gold) and petunias (Our Lady's Praises) which will flower until frost.
Group 2 For the middle of the border, Canterbury bells (Our Lady's Nightcap) will make a pleasing appearance in late June and July. Sweet William (Mary's Tuft) makes a charming companion with its fragrant heads of bloom. Assumption Lily, commonly known as white plantain lily, with showy white flowers in August, is easy to grow and worth having. Fuchsia (Lady's Eardrops) is highly decorative and colorful Scabiosa (Lady's Pincushion), an easily grown annual, averages two feet in height and adds color during the summer. Columbine (Our Lady's Shoes or Slippers) is a hardy perennial for June and early July.
Group 3 Background plants appropriate to your devotional garden include various types of roses, the hybrid teas, the floribundas and the shrub roses. If you have a fence or trellis or support, plant some climbing roses. Morning Glories are also attractive and appropriate for one year effects. Tall perennials include foxgloves (Lady's Gloves), hollyhocks (St. Joeph's staff), meadow rue (Our Lady of the Meadow) and peonies (Mary's Rose).
These plants chosen from several hundred plants may well serve as a starter. Most of them are easy to obtain. As your interest and fervor grow you will have the pleasure of tracking down many curious plants to grow and study.
Planning and planting a Mary Garden can be as pleasurable, inspiring and devotional a hobby as you choose to make it.
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