Mary in the garden

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How to Start a Mary Garden in 7 Easy Steps is a post by contributing writer Stephanie from Harrington Harmonies.

I love gardening. And I have always wanted to have a Mary garden. It just hadn’t happened until now.

What better way to celebrate May than with a Mary garden!

Having a Mary garden is a very simple way to honor the Blessed Mother. It’s easy to do with children and can enhance our own devotion to Mary as well.

It’s not difficult to do and pretty self-explanatory. The most important part of the Mary garden are the flowers. What legends and stories do they tell us about Our Beautiful Mother? How are flowers themselves symbols for us of her love and her life? What steps should we take as we start a Mary garden?

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Contents

Start your Mary Garden with These Seven Easy Steps

1. Choose the perfect place for your Mary garden.

Mary gardens can be located anywhere. They can also be any size. There isn’t a right or wrong location as long as it can be a place of prayer, reflection, and enjoyment.

You may, however, want to consider if the area is shaded or sunny as it may influence the kinds of plants you will have. I chose a small corner of my back yard. Later I will place a bench for sitting in front of it where I can pray or just take some time out.

This is the way my garden looked just after turning over the soil.

2. Prepare the soil.

You want to do this to ensure the success of your garden. Some places have terrible soil and even with reasonable care, plants just can’t make it.

I like to use box gardens which I can fill with my own soil mix. But for my Mary garden this year I decided just to turn my soil over and add plenty soil mix.

3. Find a statue of the Blessed Mother or another image to center your garden around.

Keep this simple and inexpensive. I am sure that the Blessed Mother would want it that way.

It’s not a Mary garden without some image or reminder of Mary in addition to the flowers themselves. It can be as simple as a laminated holy card. How about painting Mary’s image on a large stone. The possibilities are endless!

I found this statue at a local hardware store very inexpensive.

4. Choose plants for your Mary garden.

Several plants have links to Mary by their names or through the history of devotions to Mary and church tradition. There are literally limitless possibilities because Mary gardens are an expression one’s personal devotion to the Blessed Mother. There really isn’t a right or wrong as long as it is meaningful for you and enhances your prayer life.

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I have chosen to highlight the flowers that were easiest for me to find and purchase and that suited my location best.

You can make your own list of Mary flowers and take some time to read the legends associated with the different flowers and their meanings!

One of my favorites is that when Mary cried at the foot of the cross her tears turned to flowers. Mary’s Tears is the devotional name for Lily of the Valley. Marigold, or Mary’s gold, was offered by early Christians instead of coins.

Other flowers are known as Mary’s praise (petunias), Our Lady’s gloves (foxglove), Our Lady’s shoes (fallen spurs from the columbine are said to look like her shoes), and many more.

Possible Plants for Your Mary Garden

  • Roses – the “queen of flowers” has long been associated with Mary.
  • Rosemary – It’s in the name!
  • Marigold – Marigold means Mary’s gold. Early Christians offered Mary these instead of coins.
  • Sweet Alyssum – These have a wonderful fragrance. Cross-shaped flowers remind us of our Lord’s cross.
  • Lily of the Valley – These are also known as Our Lady’s Tears. This flower has fragrance and tolerates shade.
  • Impatiens – Also called Mother’s Love because of their constant blooms. Also good for some shade.
  • Bleeding Hearts – for Mary’s heart which was pierced. Tolerates shade.
  • Hyacinth – for its color, fragrance, and star-shaped flower.

5. Plan placement for each plant in the garden.

I chose the flowers above for starting my Mary garden because they are familiar favorites.

I also chose them based on their preferred growing conditions. Shade-loving ones for the shaded part of my garden. I placed those that require full sun in the sunny corner of my Mary garden.

You should also consider the height that your flowers and herbs will grow. You don’t want some to be in the way of others. Place tallest plants in back and small ones in front.

6. Purchase and begin planting your Mary flowers.

Now that you know what you will buy, what they mean to you, and where you should place them, you can begin planting. This is the easy and fun part.

7. Add meaningful and/or prayerful accents.

I plan to add seven stepping stones in my garden, one for each of Mary’s seven joys as in the Franciscan Crown Rosary. Those joys are the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Finding our Lord in the Temple, the Resurrection, and The Assumption and Crowning of Our Blessed Mother in Heaven.

I suggest adding anything that is meaningful to you. Here are some possibilities:

• Painted rocks that represent an aspect of faith. For example: the fruits of the spirit.

• Garden stones, pinwheels, or other items to represent your prayer requests. Add or remove as requested and granted.

• Add decorative ladybugs to your garden. These are easy to paint from round stones! Or add real ones, for that matter. Do you know they get their name because after farmers had prayed for their crops “Our Lady’s Beetles” came and ate all the pests that were destroying the crops? And that’s why we now call them ladybugs having originated from Our Lady’s Bugs.

Ladybugs get their name from being Mary’s help to farmers, once called Our Lady’s bugs.

• Add items that relate to Mary by her many names. We are adding a large clam shell and other shells because Mary is known as the Star of the Sea. What other names can you and your children think of for Mary? Have them choose items to adorn the garden to represent those names.

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• Add a garden bench to sit on for prayer and meditation.

These are just a few of the things you can do with your Mary garden. It’s so easy to set it up in a way that reflects your own devotion to Mary.

May Our Blessed Mother wrap you in her lovely mantle and bless you through your garden this year!

Other Posts You May Love:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. They don’t change the price you pay. However, when you shop through them, we may receive a small compensation.

This post was originally published May 13, 2013. It was most recently updated in April 2017.

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Mary Garden

Photo Credit: Kevin Collins

The following excerpt is taken from “Mary: Ever Virgin, Full of Grace” and is reprinted with permission.

It is a Catholic tradition to acknowledge and honor the unselfish and holy life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One way of doing that is to plant a Mary Garden.
In the Middle Ages, missionaries and travelers spread stories across Europe about flowers named after Mary and various times of her life. Mary Gardens that featured these flowers became popular there, and later the tradition made its way to America. Around 1932 it is believed that the first Mary Garden in the United States was constructed on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church in the Woods on Cape Cod.

Now, many flowers that symbolize the name of Mary grace gardens throughout this country. If you, too, would like to honor our Blessed Mother through flowers, perhaps you would like to create your own special garden spot that showcases plants that carry her name. The center focus of the garden is a statue of Our Blessed Lady. The size of the garden does not matter. In fact, people with limited space can use a small area and a few select flowers to surround their statue. If you are an apartment dweller, you can set up your Marian Garden in a window box or even use a small statue with a single flowering plant. Reflecting on Marian flowers can be a perfect starting point for meditating on the life of Christ through Mary.

To help set up a Marian Garden, flowers and their meanings are listed below. This list is far from complete but should give you enough information to begin.

1. Lily: Legend tells us that the Angel Gabriel held a lily in his hands when he came to tell Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the Savior. Lilies are often depicted in pictures of Mary as an indication of purity and grace.

2. Rose: The rose symbolizes Mary as the Queen of Heaven. The red rose represents sorrow. The white rose shows joy, and the yellow rose stands for the honor bestowed upon Mary.

3. Columbine: This flower is often called Our Lady’s Slipper. Legend says that this flower sprang from the earth where Mary’s feet stepped when she was on her way to visit Elizabeth.

4. Violet: The violet is a symbol of modesty and simplicity; humble acceptance to the words from the angel Gabriel….”Let it be done unto me according to Your will.”

5. Carnation: Legend says that the carnation bloomed on the night of Jesus’ birth; a sign of Mary’s joy at the Child’s birth.

6. Oxeye Daisy: It is said that when the wise men reached Bethlehem they looked for a further sign to guide them to the new king. King Melchior saw a white and gold flower and knew which building to enter.

7. Star of Bethlehem: The shape of the flower is said to resemble the star that the Magi followed to find the Christ Child.

8. Snowdrop: The snowdrop is said to have bloomed in February when Mary took Jesus to the temple to present him to God.

9. Rosemary: It is believed that Mary hung the linens of the Holy Child on the rosemary bush to dry. Afterwards, the bush carried a sweet aroma.

10. Forget-me-not: The tiny blue flowers of this plant represent Mary’s eyes.

11. Meadow Cress: This plant is called Our Lady’s Smock. It stands for the fine linens made by Mary’s hands. It is said that Mary learned to weave as a young girl.

12. Lavender: This fragrant plant represents purity, cleanliness and virtue – Mary’s spotlessness and chastity.

13. Marigold: Early Christians placed marigolds around statues of Mary in place of coins calling them Mary’s gold.

14. Bluebells: These bell-shaped flowers resemble tiny thimbles and represent Our Lady’s working hands. They were often called Our Lady’s Thimbles.

15. Speedwell: This plant is also known as Mary’s Resting Place. A legend tells that its blossoms marked each spot where the Blessed Mother rested during the flight into Egypt.

16. Lily of the Valley: Lily of the Valley is called Our Lady’s Tears. It is said that her tears fell at the foot of the cross and turned into tiny fragrant blossoms.

17. Iris: The Iris is a flower, like the Lily, that represents the Annunciation.

18. Herbs: Almost any herb can be used in your garden to represent Mary. Soothing and healing herbs represent her heavenly love and mercy. Bitter or sour herbs represent her sorrows and sweet smelling herbs reflect Mary’s spiritual sweetness.

19. Fuchsia: These gently drooping flowers resemble pendant earrings. It is said that the child Jesus playfully hung these flower ‘jewels’ on his mother’s ears.

20. Fleur-de-Lis: This is sometimes called the Ave Maria flower. There is a legend that tells of a fourteenth century knight. He was extremely wealthy but renounced his worldly possessions and entered a Cistercian Order of monks. He was very devout but not terribly smart. He could never remember more than the first two words of the Ave Maria prayer even though a teacher gave him numerous lessons. Since he loved Our Lady very much, he would continually repeat the first two words of the prayer, day and night: Ave Maria, Ave Maria. Some of the monks ridiculed him for his simplicity and told him that Mary would not listen to his unfinished prayer. He grew old and when he died, he was buried in the chapel yard of the monastery. As proof that Mary heard and loved his short but earnest prayer, a fleur-de-lis plant sprang up on his grave. On every flower shone in golden letter the words, Ave Maria. The other monks finally realized his great devotion for the Blessed Mother; and her devotion to him.

Topics: Faith

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. She co-authored and published the best-selling All Things Girl books and co-hosted the EWTN 13 part televison series of the same name. Her company is Bezalel Books (Bezalel is Hebrew and means “in the shadow of God”) where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith. Her website is www.BezalelBooks.com where parents, teachers and catechists are invited to browse through titles.
View all articles by Cheryl Dickow

In this month of May, dedicated to our Mother Mary, consider planting a garden in her honour. Before Christianity, many flowers and plants were associated with pagan gods such as Diana, Venus and Juno. As Christianity spread, in recognition of God’s presence in and through the glory of nature, missionaries ‘christened’ many flowers with themes that related to Mary, Jesus and holy places. For example, the medieval names for ‘Baby’s Breath’ was ‘Lady’s Veil’, ‘Impatients’ was ‘Mother Love’ and ‘Jonquil’ was ‘St Joseph’s Staff’. Sadly, during the Protestant revolution, many of these flowers were renamed with more secular names. Yet still, the symbolism and Christian associations of these flowers are powerful reminders of the profound truths of our faith as well as being a delightful and joyous expression of devotion.

Here’s a few ideas to get your Mary’s Garden blooming.

Location: Renovate a secluded corner of your garden, build an enclosed space in generous yard, create a feature in a busy location, or dedicate a generous patio pot to the project. Even an indoor floral arrangement made from fresh, dried or satin flowers can be a Mary’s Garden. Alternatively, create a roadside shrine or lay claim to a derelict flower bed in a public park or the school grounds.

Feature artwork: Position a statue of our Lady as a focal point, or create something yourself using symbols of Mary’s titles such as hearts (Immaculate Heart), roses (Mystical Rose), or stars (Star of the Sea). Garden art can be created with clay or painted onto smooth stones or tiles which can then be glued to a wall or a stone paver. For pots and indoor arrangements, framed holy pictures, plastic figurines or other craft objects can be used.

Meditation opportunities: Think about how you might use your garden. Will it simply be something that you and others admire from the side, or will it be a space that you can use for prayer? Think about placing a garden seat for easy contemplation and prayer, stepping stones or a spiral pathway upon which one can make a mini-pilgrimage.

The Rosary means ‘crown of roses’ and it is said that each time we pray a decade of the Rosary, we add a rose to Mary’s crown. Different colour roses are associated with different qualities of Mary – White is for her Purity, Red for her Sorrow, Gold for her Glory.

Author: Francine Pirola

Over to you! Did you have a little corner of your garden for Mary? Have you never done anything like this before? What are your favourite flowers and do they have a religious name? How did you go with making your Mary garden? Tell us in the comments below!
More on Mary from CathFamily:

  • Mother of Life
  • An Announcement!
  • A Mother’s Heart
  • The Angelus

Photo copyright 2016 Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

She’s been hugged and kissed. She’s been hit with soccer balls, footballs, and baseballs. I even found her once with a Disney princess bike helmet perched on her head and two pinwheels by her side. But she’s a mother, too. She’s used to it. And so she still stands, a stoic figure of stone, hands open in a gesture of grace for all who cross her path.

I love how our Mary statue stands in our backyard garden, watching my children as they play. Somehow she and her flowers survive all of their games–and remind my children that she is an important part of their lives.

From a very young age, my children have been naturally drawn to her gentle motherliness. I’ve often caught my little ones talking to her, ending their conversation with a kiss on her stone cheek. Planting a Mary garden has been an effective way to draw our whole family closer to Mary. And as we draw closer to her, I know that she is drawing us closer to her Son.

Photo copyright 2016 Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

Mary gardens can be planted outside in a flower bed or container. They can also be created in a small container or terrarium for indoor enjoyment. They can evoke a certain aspect of Mary’s life, or be comprised of a variety of flowers that work well in your particular region. Many, many flowers and plants are named after Mary, the saints, or some other facet of Christianity.

This website has an abundance of information on Mary gardens, but don’t become overwhelmed with the project. Just obtain a statue of Mary and start small. One rosebush (Our Lady’s flower) or a few marigolds (Mary’s Gold) can create a lovely little grotto for Mary. Over the years, our family has added some tiers for annuals and a trellis for morning glories (Our Lady’s mantle). A garden bench provides a place for prayer and meditation.

Photo copyright 2016 Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

Some years we have planted bedding plants; other years we’ve planted seeds and watched with delight as the surprises popped up. Involving my children in the process has become more important than a perfectly manicured garden, and as we pull weeds together (along with a few flowers sometimes…oops!), we talk about why we care for this special space.

Every so often, I get to sit in peace on our garden bench by myself. And as I gaze at the beauty of the butterflies and flowers, Rosary beads in hand, I am certain there are times that the scent of roses–stronger than what my rosebushes alone could produce–permeates the air. A sure sign that my mother Mary is close by.

Some common Mary garden plants and what they symbolize:

Photo copyright 2016 Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

Foxglove–Our Lady’s Gloves

Pansy–Our Lady’s Delight

Chrysanthemum–All Saints’ Flower

Columbine–Our Lady’s Shoes

Forget-Me-Not–Eyes of Mary

Strawberry–Fruitful Virgin

Violet–Our Lady’s Modesty

Alyssum–Mary’s Flower

Cosmos–St. Michael’s Flower

Marigold–Mary’s Gold

Morning Glory–Our Lady’s Mantle

During the Middle Ages, the faithful saw reminders of Mary, the Mother of God, in the flowers and herbs growing around them. Violets were symbols of her humility, lilies her purity and roses her glory. They called her “Flower of Flowers,” and named plants after her. Marigolds were Mary’s Gold, clematis was the Virgin’s Bower and lavender was Our Lady’s Drying Plant.

Devoted to Mary, people decorated her altars with flowers on her feast days. Poets and popes praised her in hymns, as in this 15th-century Ave Maria: Heil be thou, Marie, that aff flour of all
As roose in eerbir so reed.

In the last century, prior to the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960’s, the faithful also honored Mary with flowers. May crownings were the tradition in Catholic schools during Mary’s month (May), and makeshift home altars bearing an image of Mary were decorated with the choicest home-grown blossoms.

Those traditions have almost disappeared, but the medieval custom of finding reminders of Mary’s attributes, glory and sorrows in flowers and herbs has left a legacy that can enrich our lives in this millennium.

In medieval times, legends about flowers and herbs, some of them dating from the first century, were used to instruct the faithful as well as entertain them. Those legends, as well as the Mary names of flowers, can still inform and delight us.

Reflecting on the flower names, we can honor Mary and find relevance for our own lives. We model Mary’s humility as we gaze upon the humble violet, sing her praises with petunias and share her sorrows as we behold the purple blossoms and sword-like leaves of the blue flag iris.

Flower and herb legends tell us about important moments in Mary’s life. The Madonna Lily was carried by the Angel Gabriel when he visited Mary to tell her God had chosen her to be the mother of the Savior. Our Lady’s Bedstraw, Holy Hay and other herbs became radiant in the humble manger where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Carnations and the Christmas Rose bloomed on that night.

More than 30 flowers and herbs bear legends about Mary’s life. Many of the plants can be easily grown in your own Mary Garden, a garden dedicated to Mary and containing her image and plants associated with her by name or legend. They are found in Mary Gardens throughout the world, should you want to make a pilgrimage in Mary’s honor. The legends and reflections which follow can take us, in spirit and in our hearts, on a virtual journey with Mary.

Columbine

Aquilegia vulgaris. Our Lady’s Shoes.

Columbine is said to have sprung up wherever Mary’s foot touched the earth when she was on her way to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.

The spurred flower resembles a little dove and came to symbolize the Holy Spirit. In England doves were used to decorate the altar in Whitsun Week, the week following Pentecost Sunday, as the faithful made a connection between the dove, the Holy Spirit and Our Lady’s Flower, the name they had given the columbine.

Reflection

Mary, how many miles you walked upon this earth! Your grace-filled being brought the Son of Man close to us. Have we ever thanked you for the role you played? Let us follow your footprints; even better, teach us to walk in your shoes.

Ox-eye Daisy

Chrysanthemum leucanthemum. Mary’s Star.

On the night that Jesus was born, the Magi, praying on a mountainside, saw a star appear in the form of a fair child. The child told them to go to Jerusalem, where they would find a newborn child.

When the Wise Men, following the star, reached the village of Bethlehem, they looked for a further sign. Suddenly King Melchior saw a strange white and gold flower that looked like the star that had led them to Bethlehem. As he bent to pick it, the door of a stable opened and he saw the Holy Family.

A mystery play called Office of the Star, a pageant about the Magi’s visit on the Feast of the Epiphany, began as part of the liturgical service in the 11th century, probably in France. Later it was replaced by Feast of the Star, performed partly in church and partly outdoors.

Reflection

Things, persons and events are prophets pointing the way to God; they are priests and people praising God. Did you learn, Mary, to discern God’s graces long before Bethlehem and the coming of your child? If only I could share your wisdom, as did the Wise Men who knelt down before the child in your arms.

Juniper

Juniperis. The Madonna’s Juniper Bush.

In Sicily, it is told that the juniper bush saved the life of Mary and the infant Jesus during their flight into Egypt. As the soldiers pursued them, the Holy Family hastened through fields of peas and flax and thickets of various shrubs. A juniper bush growing nearby opened up its thick branches to enclose the Holy Family, hiding them until Herod’s men had left. The inside of the large bush became a soft bed, sheltering the fleeing family, while needles on the outside branches grew prickly as spears. Herod’s soldiers could not penetrate the spiky branches of the juniper and passed the family by.

The juniper mentioned in the Bible is thought to be Genista raetum, called White Broom or Juniper Bush in Palestine, which produces a scraggly plant not casting much shade. The common juniper is mentioned in the first European herbal, De Materia Medica, by a first-century Greek physician named Dioscorides. In the Middle Ages it was used in gardens with other scented herbs.

Reflection

Our garden of life includes blessing and despair. We marvel that the two can go hand in hand. Just as we note the splendor of our gardens, we also note the toil and sweat it takes over the years to establish a good garden. Egypt worked hard to make a land where junipers can thrive. Mary, you, Joseph and the child would live there for a while. Sometimes I wonder how you mastered life in the desert. Teach me.

Fuschia

Fuchsia magellanica and hybrida. Our Lady’s Ear-drop.

The gently drooping flowers resemble ear-drops or pendant earrings. It is told that Jesus may have playfully hung flower jewels of ruby and amethyst colors on his mother’s ears.

In Devonshire, England, the old folks said Our Lady’s Ear-drop was the only name they had ever known for the flower. It is said that their forefathers, on first seeing the flowers and noticing how they resembled ear-drops, named them in Mary’s honor. It may be that pious persons named the blossoms Our Lady’s Ear-drops as their way of paying tribute to Mary, who through her ears “heard the word of God, and kept it.”

Reflection

A baby’s fascinated play—tugging at his mother’s ear, exploring ears, mouth, nose and the softness of her skin—brings a smile to those who watch. Lovers, even little ones like this child, deck the beloved with lovely things, tuck flowers in her hair, make wreaths to bring her joy. Mary, nourish my love for you and Jesus.

Lily of the Valley

Convalleria majalis. Mary’s Tears.

It was said that when Mary wept at the foot of the Cross, her tears fell to the ground and turned into the tiny fragrant blossoms of this early spring plant. In England it had the name “Our Lady’s Tears” because when viewed from a distance the white flowerets gave the appearance of teardrops falling.

The lily of the valley was a symbol of the Virgin Mary because of its pure white flowers, sweet smell and humble appearance. It symbolized Mary’s Immaculate Conception and represented the purity of body and soul by which Mary found favor with God.

Reflection

The sacred text does not speak of your tears, Mary, as our legend does. It tells us instead that you stood by the cross and you were not alone. Other women and John were also there. We wonder at the sorrow, the bitterness, the pain of this little community standing by. Fragrant tiny white lily-bells, a thousand quiet tears bowing before the still-cold winter winds, teach me of springtime and the Resurrection just beyond the stone-cold tomb.

Roses and Lillies

Rosa, red rose. Our Lady’s Rose; Lilium, white lily. Mary’s Lily.

About 12 years after Jesus’ resurrection, an angel appeared to Mary to tell her that in three days she would be called forth from her body to where her Son awaited her. Mary asked that her sons and brothers, the apostles, be gathered near her, so that she could see them before she died and so they could bury her. The angel told her the apostles would be with her that day, and they were immediately plucked up by clouds wherever they were preaching and transported to her house.

Then Jesus came for her and her soul went forth out of her body and flew upward in the arms of her Son. As Mary rose, she was surrounded with red roses and white lilies. Three days later, her body came forth from the tomb and was assumed into heaven, accompanied by a chorus of angels.

Thomas, however, was not present and when he arrived refused to believe that this had happened. He asked that her tomb be opened and when it was opened it contained only lilies and roses.

Roses and lilies have been symbols of Mary since earliest times. The rose, emblematic of her purity, glory and sorrow, was her attribute as Queen of Heaven and a symbol of her love for God and for Christ, her son. The lily represented her immaculate purity, her innocence and virginity.

Reflection

Your destiny is our destiny, Mary. Your life mirrors to us what ours is to be, if we but faithfully follow Christ Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. We look forward, Mary, to our gathering in and homecoming; we also look forward to meeting you. Center us as you were centered. May he alone be the norm, form and goal of our lives.

Fleur-de-lis

Iris pseudacorus. Yellow flag iris.

During the 14th century in France, a wealthy knight, Salaun, renounced the world and entered the Cistercian Order. He was very devout but could never remember more than the first two words of the Ave Maria. He kept repeating the two words, “Ave Maria,” as he prayed to the Virgin. He prayed to her day and night, using only those two words. He grew old and when he died was buried in the chapel-yard of the monastery.

As proof that Mary had heard his short but earnest prayer, a fleur-de-lis plant sprang up on his grave, and on every flower shone in golden letters the words “Ave Maria.” The monks, who had ridiculed him because of what they viewed as his ignorant piety, were so amazed that they opened his grave. There they found the root of the plant resting on the lips of the knight. Finally they understood his great devotion.

In Chartres Cathedral in France, the famous 13th-century rose window of the north transept, which depicts the Glorification of the Virgin, includes the fleur-de-lis, said to be a symbol of the Annunciation.

Reflection

Mary, more countless than the drops in an ocean or stars in the firmament are the repetitions down the ages of those gracious words: Hail, ave, full of grace, the Lord is with you. I add my chant, my prayer, my roses and lilies to the wellspring of praise.

Planting a Mary Garden

A Mary Garden is a garden dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. In a Mary Garden, which can be as small as a clay pot or as large as a city block, a statue of Mary is surrounded by herbs and flowers which have special significance for her, through legends or naming.

Your personal Mary Garden can grow in a secluded corner of your garden or backyard or open to the neighborhood in front of your house. It can be in a pot on your windowsill, on a patio or on an indoor table.

A Mary Garden can be formal or wild, sunny or shady, containing annuals and perennials, herbs, ground covers and shrubs. It can be planted with bulbs to bloom in the early spring, plants that continue into the fall and evergreens that give color in winter.

Mary’s image might be a statue, plaque, holy card or icon. Ann Duffy of Annapolis, Maryland, painted the likeness of Mary’s face from a holy card on a piece of wood and waterproofed it for her outdoor garden. A large concrete statue of Mary, found in a garden ornaments shop, graces my Mary Garden.

The location, size and soil of the site will determine what can be planted in an outdoor garden. After that, personal preference, and sometimes Divine Providence, is the guide. Since the Mary names of hundreds of flowers and herbs have survived, your garden may contain many of your favorite flowers, planted with the intention of honoring Mary and representing her many attributes. An indoor garden might be planted in a dish, planter, glass or fishbowl.

Pilgrimage to Mary Gardens

Five large Mary Gardens, each with an original statue of the Madonna and all connected with religious institutions, are located east of the Mississippi River. To walk through the gardens is to take a sensual and spiritual tour. We smile at Our Lady’s Delight, smell the fragrant lavender with its tiny florets and imagine Mary’s purse spilling forth marigolds. Thyme and bedstraw, violets and columbine all tell of Mary’s life and inspire us to prayer and meditation.

A pilgrimage might include one or more of these gardens:

The Garden of Our Lady, across Millfield Street from St. Joseph Church in Woods Hole on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, grows behind a six-foot-tall yew hedge. The oldest known Mary Garden in this country is the “garden enclosed” of medieval times.

The Mary Garden at St. Mary’s Church, Annapolis, Maryland, is located behind the church in the quadrangle formed by the church, rectory and historic Carroll House on Duke of Gloucester Street in the heart of old Annapolis.

The Mary Garden at the Shrine at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at Mount Saint John is located near Dayton, Ohio. The grotto is a proportional model of the Lourdes Grotto at Massabielle in France.

Mary’s Garden at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Portage, Michigan, runs along the front of the church, high on a hill. Both church and garden can be seen from the road. The sun beats down on the garden most of the day and the many-hued plants and blossoms form a cool oasis.

The Mary Garden at the Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration covers a shady hillside on the grounds of the convent in the Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb of Glendale. This tranquil Mary Garden grows under huge shade trees and is filled with shade-loving plants.

International travelers might visit the Mary Gardens at the Knock Shrine, County Mayo, and the Artane Oratory of the Resurrection, Dublin, Ireland; the cloister of Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln, England; Our Lady’s Parish, Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia; and the Church of Our Lady of Akita, Akita, Japan.

Vincenzina Krymow (1930-2015) is the author of Mary’s Flowers: Gardens, Legends & Meditations. Sister M. Jean Frisk, Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, has a master’s in theology with a Marian concentration and a licentiate in sacred theology.

Flowers for the Fairest

by Daniel J. Foley

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 is are some easy to grow plants which can well provide the start for a Mary Garden.

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 transplants 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’ Tears.

Another denizon of shade is the tiny Cyclamen europaeum 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, the 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 angle of its blooms on their 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.

Not Only A Rose

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 Our Lady spread her coat on a rosemary bush to dry, and was known as Rose of Mary.

The old-time pansies with small flowers, known as Our Lady’s delights, 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 the 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. In pre-Christian times, the rose was dedicated to Flora. Almost any rose, bush or climber, singly or in groups fits nicely into a Mary Garden.

Your 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.

For those who would make a formal garden, here is a sketch of a small knot pattern as well as a suggestion for a simple border plan which can be adapted to most home grounds or a convent garden.

Group No.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 replaced with the dwarf French marigolds (Mary’s Gold) and petunias (Our Lady’s Praises) which will flower until frost.

Group No.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), hollihocks (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.

Reprinted with permission of the author and The Pilot, May 19 & 26, 1956.

This article was taken from Mary’s Gardens Home Page on the World Wide Web. (http://www.mgardens.org)

Mary’s Gardens was founded in 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to research the hundreds of flowers named in medieval times as symbols of the life, mysteries and privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus – as recorded by botanists, folklorists and lexicographers; and to assist in the planting of “Mary Gardens” of “Flowers of Our Lady” today.

Communications and requests for further information may be addressed to:

Mary Statues & Statuary

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