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Mary Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio

Mary Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio

Mary Garden, Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati, Ohio

Vincenzina Krymow

Located on a shady hillside on the grounds of the Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration in suburban Glendale, this Mary Garden surrounds a statue of the Madonna and Child which had been placed there sometime in the 1960s.

Development of the Garden

The idea for the Mary Garden came from Miriam Evans, an avid gardener and former president of the Civic Garden Center in Cincinnati, who chose to move to the Johnston House, adjoining the Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration in suburban Glendale, in 1980 after her second husband died and she no longer wanted the responsibility of caring for a home. Behind the convent, the Johnston House and St. Mary’s Home for assisted living were acres of gardens, neglected and overgrown.

Miriam saw the potential for reviving the gardens and when she saw a sculpture of the Madonna and Child behind St. Mary's Home remembered having heard about a Mary Garden in the East. She began to research plants connected with Mary, learned of the work of John Stokes and obtained some of his plant lists and articles.

Using these materials as guides she designed the garden and in 1981, with the help of two high school students and a horticulturist from the Cincinnati Park Board she established the Mary Garden. Episcopal Sister of the Transfiguration Mary Veronica and Todd Robbins helped carry railroad ties to the garden and assisted with the digging and planting. The statue of Mary, which had been uncovered from overgrown boxwood, is the work of Ivy Starr and was the gift of Kathryn Sawyer, a long-time friend of the sisters from Cleveland, Ohio.

On August 15, 1982, the Feast of St. Mary, the garden was formally dedicated by Father Gareth Jones, a visiting priest from Wales. The Mary Garden was one of nine private gardens toured by members of the American Horticultural Society during its annual convention in Cincinnati that year.

During the following years Mrs. Evans developed other gardens on the twenty-two acre property, including an English formal garden behind the Johnston House. Now 91 years old, she is still active in supervising the care of the gardens. In 1996, Sister Mary Veronica's work schedule changed, making it possible for her to devote more time to the gardens.

Many of the original plantings remain, among them the Christmas Flower (winter aconite), Mary's Gold or All Saints Flower (chrysanthemum), Our Lady's Tears (lily of the valley), Mary's Love (English daisies), Mary's Gloves (fox-glove), Eyes of Mary (forget-me-not), Madonna lily, Mary's Tuft (sweet William), Mary's Prayer (tulips), and Mary's Modesty (violets).

Tour of the Garden

About 200 feet in length, this shaded garden is entered from the parking lot next to the chapel of the Convent of the Transfiguration. A concrete walkway slopes gently downhill, leading to a gazebo on the left and a rock garden on the right. Along the path thirteen large shade trees, mostly sugar maples interspersed among elm, oak, locust, hackberry and ash, provide shade from the sun. The garden is a cool refuge on a hot summer day.

Around the gazebo in early spring we are delighted to find Our Lady of the Snow (anemone) and Mary's Star (daffodil). Later we will see Our Lady's Tears (lily of the valley), Our Lady's Slippers (impatiens) and several varieties of the Assumption Lily (hosta). Surveying the garden from the gazebo, we reflect on the Tree of the Cross (yew) which surrounds it.

Water flows through the rock garden and into a pond at a lower level. The Virgin Flowers of vinca and Where God Has Walked (ground ivy) cover the rocks now, and we are in communion with the saints as we see St. Joseph's Lily (day lily), St. Peter's Wreath (spirea), St. Lawrence's Plant (ajuga) and All Saints' Flowers (chrysanthemum). We see Christ's Eye (coreopsis) and a small Judas Tree (red bud). Here also is Lady's Hair (sedum) and in the spring Our Lady's Frills (primrose) and Christ's Cross Flower (mountain phlox) bloom.

The walk now becomes a gravel path, and we see the Madonna statue ahead. On our left we find St. Lawrence's Plant and Our Lady's Shoes (columbine); a park bench invites the visitor to sit a while. On the right a larger area contains a small bird bath and a plaque with the inscription:

This Garden
is dedicated to the
Blessed Virgin Mary
called by Her name in
accordance with a tradition
in the Church dating from
the 15th century and the
rise of Monasticism. Such
gardens were used by the monks
as a means of teaching the
unlettered members of their flocks
to pray and meditate on the life of
Our Lord, His blessed Mother
and the early saints.
May we, too, use this
garden to God's praise
and Glory.

Here we find the large leaves of St. John's Flower (hardy begonia) showing their red color on the undersides. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (comfrey), Ladder to Heaven (Jacob's ladder) and St. Lawrence's Plant join them. We see Mary's Heart (bleeding heart) and Lady's Corn (celandine poppy) as we approach a stone bench at the edge of this garden. The bench is placed in front of the area leading to the Mary statue and we rest here and behold the statue.

Mary cradles the infant Jesus with her right arm. Her left hand is raised toward her shoulder, as if preparing to give something to Jesus, whose arm reaches toward her hand. The statue is surrounded by evergreens and the area is filled with Mary flowers: Our Lady's Bedstraw (sweet woodruff), Mary's Mantle (lady’s mantle) and Assumption lilies.

Approaching a small section to the right, we rejoice with Mary and her flowers - Beautiful Lady (larkspur), Virgin Pink (dianthus), Our Lady's Violet (dame's rocket). We see Our Lady's Earrings (impatiens) and Our Lady's Flannel (brunnera) amidst a background of Lady's Fingers (lambs-ear).

Continuing beyond the statue on the left we find in early spring the Trinity Lily (trillium) and Our Lady's Tears (lily of the valley), Mary's Delight (white violets) and Our Lady's Modesty (sweet violets). Mary's Seal (Solomon's seal) and Blessed Virgin's Seal (false Solomon's seal), Lady's Wedding (white phlox) and Our Lady's Bells (Virginia bluebells) thrive here and we reflect on Mary's wedding day and the promises she might have made.

On the right we see Trinity Flowers (hepatica), St. Lawrence's Plant (ajuga) and the Christmas Rose (helleborus). We find Dragon's Blood (sedum), the Assumption Lily (hosta), the Virgin Mary's Milk Drops (lungwort) and Lady's Hair (maidenhair fern). The flowers remind us of scenes from Mary's life. Here we find also St. John's Flower (hardy begonia), Madonna's Pins (Canadian geranium) and Our Lady's Birthday Flower (wild aster). The latter blooms around the time of her birthday, September 8.

Coming to the end of the garden, we find Lady Fern, Christmas Fern and Mary's Milk Drops (wall fern) towering over Our Lady's Modesty (violets) and St. Lawrence's Plant (ajuga). The Tree of the Cross (English yew) forms a backdrop.

We praise God and glory in the beauty we find here.

Photographs of the garden and statue are by the author; photographs of the dedication and the plaque were provided by Sister Mary Veronica.

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