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The Inspiration Behind Mary's Gardens

By Olivia Gillingham, Library Specialist in the Marian Library

“And brightly the lady looked forward to a day when ‘the right man' would turn up ... a gardener who would make it the passion of his life to choir Our Lady’s glories in blossoms, so that with each week a new crop of lady-flowers would open from the mid-weeks of March till the first frost.”

In 1929, Frances Crane Lillie, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, gifted the parish a stone bell tower and later developed a garden dedicated to Our Lady on the tower grounds. Installed in 1932, it is believed to have been the first public Mary Garden in the United States. In 1946, John S. Stokes Jr. read an article about it in Our Lady’s Digest, “Lillie Tower,” by J. J. Galvin. The article, and the quote above, particularly, brought tears to his eyes and inspired his work over the following decades to promote the creation of other Mary Gardens, conduct research into the history of plant names, and reinstate the Marian names of flowers.

Stokes not only inspired other efforts to create Mary Gardens, but also was instrumental in restoring America’s first Mary Garden in Woods Hole to its former glory. A hurricane in 1938 had destroyed the garden, and subsequent plantings had been made simpler in order to save on costs and care. For the 1982 centennial of St. Joseph’s Church and the fiftieth anniversary of the garden, Stokes worked with parishioners to redevelop the garden to reflect the splendor that Francis Lillie had imagined for it.

You can learn more about Woods Hole and see photos and documents from Stokes’ own collection on the second floor of the Roesch Library as part of the Mary’s Gardens exhibit.  

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