Finding Mary in Your Garden

By: Deacon Marques Silva

The best memories my grandmother formed with me all revolved around working with her in her gardens. In fact, the majority of her backyard was a garden. It is probably for this reason why I love working in gardens (even though I have little time to do so lately) and have developed a great appreciation for so many different flowers – all of which my wife appreciates every two weeks. I also do not find it a coincidence that I was given a lifelong penance during my sophomore year of college to meditate on John 15 (Vine and the branches) every time I work in my yard or garden.

As you know, May is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a special way. I thought I would provide a few nuggets concerning the long tradition of Marian Gardens. Maybe you might consider planting a Marian Garden with your kids this year while teaching them about our Lady.

The first recorded purposeful organizing of a “Marian Garden” is from the 15th century by a sacristan of Norwich Priory in England. Although, it should be noted that St. Benedict in the fourth century speaks of a rose “rosary” garden at his monastery and St. Fiacre explicitly called his garden a Mary Garden in the seventh century.

Prior to the rise of Christendom, many of the plants and flowers were named after pagan deities. Once Christianity became “the law of the land,” the majority of these flowering plants were renamed for Jesus, Mary, Saints and the angels. In fact, it was very popular to plant your gardens organized around various life events or mysteries of Jesus or Mary. Mr. John Stokes, Jr., provides a great historical perspective for those who desire more information in an article he wrote entitled, Mary Gardens Historical Perspective. Mr. Stokes, in detailing a history of U.S. Mary Gardens, states that the first recorded U.S. Mary Garden was “at Woods Hole on Cape Cod founded in 1932.”

Most are familiar with the Yellow Flag Iris as a fleur-de-lis and the Rose are common enough for us recognize its symbolism. Additionally, here are some my favorites[1]:

Common Name Scientific Name Medieval Name and/or Religious Meaning
Amaryllis Amaryllis belladonna Beautiful Lady
Baby’s Breath Gypsophila panicul. Lady’s Veil
Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis Mary’s Heart
Blue Phlox Phlox divaricata Lady’s Wedding
Daffodil Narcissus pseudo-narc. Mary’s Star
English Holly Ilex aquifolium Burning Bush
German Iris Iris germanica Mary’s Sword of Sorrow
Impatiens Impatiens Wallerana Our Lady’s Earrings, or Mother Love
Jasmine Jasminum officinale Mary
Lily-of-the-Valley Convallaria majalis Our Lady’s Tears
Morning Glory Ipomoea purpurea Our Lady’s Mantle (September)
Orchid Brassavola nodosa Lady-of-Night
Pansy Viola tricolor Trinity Flower, Our Lady’s Delight
Periwinkle Vinca rosea Virgin Flower
Petunia Petunia hybr. Lady’s Praise
Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus Rose of Sharon
Sunflower Helianthus annus Mary’s Gold
Tulip Tulipa gesneriana Mary’s Prayer
Violet Viola odorata Our Lady’s Modesty (March)
Water Lily Nymphaea alba Lady-of-the-Lake (July)
Wisteria Wisteria frutescen Virgin’s Bower

There you have it! I hope that you are able to get out into your garden and have some fun constructing a Marian Garden. It is a great opportunity to teach your children and/or grandchildren as well as give a simple witness to your devotion to Our Lady.


[1] “Mary Gardens,” Fish Eaters, accessed May 6, 2014, http://www.fisheaters.com/marygardens.html.

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