Create a simple garden space to honor Mary
We know it’s May when we see our gardens and neighborhoods beginning to burst with flowers. What a bounty for bees, brides — and, best of all, bestowing honor on Mary, the Mother of God.
May is a month for devotions to the Blessed Virgin: special prayers and hymns, a May crowning or praying the rosary more often. Through these “more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration … a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne,” Pope Paul VI said in his 1965 encyclical Mense Maio.
In medieval times, some churches and monasteries created formal Marian gardens, usually surrounded by fences and featuring flowers or herbs associated with Mary’s qualities. The long list of flowers connected to Mary include the well-known roses (with different meanings based on color), forget-me-nots (eyes of Mary), larkspur (Mary’s tears), and carnations (Mary’s love of God).
I’ve attempted to design a Marian garden before, but between the deer, poor soil and my lack of time to tend the plot, it failed. (I like to say my six children are my garden.)
Last year, I was inspired to try again, but I knew the idea needed some modifications to be successful. The garden had to be small enough to manage, and located where my family could frequently enjoy its beauty and peace for prayer and reflection.
Deck pots turned out to be the perfect solution. Since my deck is mostly shady, I selected plants that would thrive in low light and emphasized qualities I wanted for the prayer space: begonia (heart of Jesus), bleeding heart (Mary’s heart) and impatiens (Mother love). I used Mary’s traditional colors of blue and white as the anchor: two blue pots, one planted with white bleeding hearts, the other with white impatiens. For a pop of color, I added orange begonias to both. (See a list of plants at NWCatholic.org/maryplants.)
The final and most important touch was choosing a statue of Mary as the focal point. After searching online, I chose an 18-inch white statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus, and stood it in front of my planters.
A Mary garden doesn’t have to be complex — the result is what’s important. As I planned, dug and planted, I thought about the gift that I was making for Mary, like a child picking flowers for her mother. Now, viewing the finished garden on my deck and using it as a space for prayer, I am honoring my heavenly mother, while being led more deeply to the Son she carries in her arms. Ad Jesum per Mariam!
Marian deck garden
Photo: Janis Olson
- 1–3 outdoor pots
- Potting soil
- 4–6 plants in varying heights for each pot (choose plants for your deck’s sun/shade level)
- Small rocks for drainage
- Statue of Mary or laminated holy cards of Mary
Set pots in desired location. Place rocks in the bottom of the pot, covering the drainage hole so soil doesn’t escape. Fill each pot nearly to the top with soil. Gently remove plants from their containers and place as desired in the pots, spacing according to the directions on the plant tags. Fill in potting soil around the plants, firmly tamping as you go. Water when finished. Check the soil level again, and add more if necessary. Place a statue of Mary near the pots, or put a laminated holy card in each pot.
Customize your garden
- Choose one of Mary’s many titles to guide your garden design. A Star of the Sea garden can include accents of shells and sand, or feature roses in an Our Lady of Guadalupe garden.
- Love to cook? Create a Mary herb garden with rosemary (Mary’s nosegay), thyme (the Virgin’s humility) or parsley (Our Lady’s little vine).
Mary flowers for your garden
Flowers as ordinary as the buttercup and as exquisite as the rose have been given common names to describe and honor Mary, Mother of God.
Extensive lists of Marian-named flowers are maintained by The International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton.
Here are just a few from the university’s lists to consider for your own Mary garden:
Baby’s Breath — Our Lady’s Veil
Bachelor’s Buttons — Mary’s Crown
Bearded Iris — Mary’s Sword of Sorrow
Bigleaf Hydrangea — Ave Maria
Buttercup — Lady’s Locks
Camelia — Purity
Carnation — Mary’s Love of God
Clematis — Virgin’s Bower
Columbine — Lady’s Slipper
Daffodil — Mary’s Star
Fern — Lady’s Hair
Foxglove — Our Lady’s Gloves
Fuchsia — Our Lady’s Eardrops
Geranium — Gentle Virgin
Honeysuckle — Lady’s Fingers
Hosta — Assumption Lily
Lavender — Mary’s Drying Plant
Lily-of-the-Valley — Our Lady’s Tears
Meadow Sage — Mary’s Shawl
Pansy — Our Lady’s Delight
Scabiosa — Mary’s Pincushion
Shrub Rose — Mary’s Sorrow
Tulip — Mary’s Prayer
Wild strawberry — Fruitful Virgin
Northwest Catholic - May 2017