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What is a Mary Garden?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Mary Garden is a devotional garden planned around a shrine to the Virgin Mary. This style of devotional garden is most closely associated with Catholic tradition, although people of other Christian denominations may also construct Mary Gardens. The concept is closely linked with the medieval hortus conclusus, or "closed garden." Mary Gardens can be found in private homes and around Catholic churches, community halls, and other gathering places.

The practice of making Mary Gardens appears to date back to the medieval period, when monks and nuns constructed closed garden shrines to Our Lady, as Catholics sometimes call the Virgin Mary. By tradition, a Mary Garden is in an enclosed area, referencing her purity. When enclosed space is limited, it is certainly possible to put a Mary Garden in an open area; sometimes boundaries of low fences or walls are used to create a partially enclosed feel.

In a Mary Garden, people plant a variety of flowers, trees, and shrubs associated with the Virgin Mary. Some flowers most often associated with Mary include marigolds, foxgloves, trefoil, and columbine. Violets, irises, and roses are commonly planted, as are zinnias, snapdragons, Sweet Alyssum, and cornflowers. Impatiens, larkspur, forget-me-nots are often included, along with other flowers, such as poppies, morning glories, petunias, and sweet scabious are also associated with the Virgin Mary in Catholic folklore.

Other plants one might see in a Mary Garden include laurel trees, mayweed, maidenhair ferns, ribbongrass, and peonies. Some people plant strawberries, ladyslipper orchids, lily of the valley, and bachelor's buttons, as well as Amaryllis, begonias, bellflowers, bluets, and buttercups.

A statue of the Virgin is common in a Mary Garden. Some statues depict the Madonna and Child, while others simply show the Virgin Mary alone; other religious figures may also be included. Commonly, a bench or patio is included so that people can sit in contemplation, and gardeners may use a water feature to muffle outside noise, or a birdbath to encourage birds to visit. There may be a space to light candles while saying prayers.

The layout of a Mary Garden can vary considerably. Some people set the garden up in the shape of a cross, while others make patterns with raised beds. Since some Catholics attach specific meanings to various flowers, the Mary Garden may also be laid out with a winding path which allows people to contemplate various aspects of the Virgin Mary. Overall, the design is meant to be peaceful and pleasant, with the goal of promoting deep thought and providing a space for prayers and contemplation on religious issues.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By julies — On Aug 05, 2012

I was raised a Catholic and we attended a large church in the city. Behind the church was a large Mary Garden which was meticulously cared for.

This garden was like a sanctuary in the middle of the large city, and you truly felt like you were in the midst of a garden and not a large metropolis.

We were always taught that planting a Mary Garden was an act of faith, and it was a place to go to meditate and reflect. There were several benches scattered throughout and even one place where someone could light a candle if they desired.

The focal point of the garden was a large statue of the Virgin surrounded by all different kinds of colorful flowers. If I were to return to that church today, I wouldn't be surprised to see the same Mary Garden looking just as beautiful today as it did many years ago.

By myharley — On Aug 04, 2012

@John57-- Your comments reminded me of the Mary Garden what we had at our church when I was growing up. My mom was on the committee that was in charge of this garden.

I never paid much attention to this as a kid, but I remember how emphatic she was about making sure that zinnia flowers were always in the Mary Garden. She said when someone looked at that flower they were to be reminded of The Virgin.

By John57 — On Aug 04, 2012

Having a Mary Garden was something that was very important to my grandma. She had a large yard with a lot of old fashioned flowers, but her favorite spot was her Mary Garden.

As she got older and had a hard time keeping up with everything, so she created a patio container Mary Garden. This way she didn't have to bend down so far to plant and weed all the flowers.

She had very specific reasons for the types of flowers she had in her garden. I remember her talking about impatiens being referred to as Mother Love. Marigolds were another flower that she never left out of her garden and she would call them Mary's Gold.

By sunshined — On Aug 03, 2012

My mother-in-law was a very devout Catholic, and she had a small Mary Garden in the corner of her yard. This was a partially secluded place where she enjoyed reflecting and praying.

She had a statue of the Virgin Mary and a bench where she could sit. There were several shade trees around the garden which gave you a feeling of privacy while you were there.

I don't remember all the different flowers she had there, but I do know it was a very peaceful place where many prayers for the family were said.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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