Mary’s Gardens – From Ancient Days to New Ways
Jerry A. Chenault
gardens. I often mention them in presentations on "faith
gardens," but it would seem few of us are familiar with such a
garden type. Is this a new kind of gardening? Hardly. Not unless one
considers the medieval ages as "new." But it would seem Mary’s
gardens may be returning to popularity as more and more realize the
wonderful things faith gardens can do for individuals, groups and
communities. Let’s step back in time and check out a bit more about
this unique gardening venture.
Old Testament times flowers have served as symbols of God’s presence
and of heaven. Man was created in a garden. The flowering staff (almond)
was the sign of Aaron’s election to the priesthood. And there are also
the many legends and traditions involving flowers. For example, lilies
and roses are said to have been found in Our Lady’s (Mary’s) tomb
after her Assumption into heaven. And many, many flowers are named after
her. But where did all of this start? And what is a Mary’s garden? We’ll
get there, I promise.
Mary’s garden provides a place of solitude and rest . This one is in the Biblical Garden section of the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC.
enough, many of the plants which came to be associated with Mary during
the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance had been known for many, many
years … well, before Christianity … and they were often associated
with pagan deities. There were plants associated with Juno, Venus and
Diana of Greek mythology. In fact, almost every common plant was the
emblem of some god. For example, laurel was sacred to Apollo because
Daphne was changed into one while escaping his advances; lily was sacred
to Buddha and Brahma; basil to Vishnu and henna plant to Mahomet (also
When Christianity spread from land to land and
from nation to nation, its early missionaries soon discovered it was far
easier to supplant rather than to try and eliminate pagan customs, rites
and traditions. This happened many times with plants and flowers as
were "adopted" into Christendom. Others were re-named as the
fervor for Christianity spread along with the desire to honor Mary’s
divine purity as the mother of Jesus. None of God’s creatures
surpassed flowers for suggesting the immaculateness of her purity.
this reason flowers were given names like "Mary’s flower,"
"Our Lady’s Flower" or "The Virgin’s Flower." In
medieval times there were entire gardens of these flowers made to honor,
remember and meditate upon Mary. Statues were often included. Now it
makes sense when we hear flower names like "Lady’s
Bedstraw," "Lady’s Slipper," etc. Even ladybugs make
more sense now, don’t they? The names were often shortened down to
"Lady" or "Lady’s" from the previous "Our
Lady." I guess you’ve figured out by now marigolds were
"Mary’s gold." The flowers were all cultivated in gardens in
Mary’s honor. The medieval period was marked by a widespread desire to
venerate Mary, who was invoked under the title of Our Lady, Notre Dame,
the Reformation many of the plants which had previously been dedicated
to the Virgin had their popular names changed again and in such
A close-up of the statue of Mary in the Biblical Garden.
a way as to
refer to any girl or woman, rather than to a specific one. It was a time
of turmoil and upheaval; however, many of those old plant names are
still in use in Europe today (and many here, too), and some publications
list at least 165 of these for use in developing Mary’s gardens.
all faith gardens, Mary’s gardens provide a place of solitude and rest
from a loud and busy world, and a great place for introspection and
meditation/prayer. They can be a great asset to a community or an
individual in so many ways. Want to know more? Check out our web site at
A. Chenault is with the Urban R.E.A., New & Nontraditional Programs.