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Mary Garden, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Mary Garden, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Garden of Our Lady

Vincenzina Krymow

St. Joseph's Church, Woods Hole, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

The Garden of Our Lady established in 1932 in Woods Hole on Cape Cod is thought to be the first U.S. Mary Garden. A Mary Garden is a garden dedicated to Mary, wherein plants named after Mary surround a statue or other representation of Our Lady. During the Middle Ages, the faithful saw Mary in life around them and named many plants after her. More than a thousand Mary-names of plants have survived.

From the early years of Christianity, Mary was associated with the hortus conclusus (garden enclosed) from the Song of Songs, 4:12: "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse," and artists depicted her in enclosed gardens to symbolize her purity. St. Jerome wrote: "Hortus conclusus ... similitudinem habet Matris Domini, matris et Virginis."

The Garden of Our Lady and adjoining Angelus Bell Tower were a gift of Chicagoan Frances Crane Lillie, who first came to Woods Hole in 1894 to study at the Marine Biological Laboratory. She married Frank R. Lillie, who later became president and director of the MBL, and spent summers at Woods Hole until her death in 1958.

Following her conversion to Catholicism in the early 1920s, Mrs. Lillie gave gifts to her Chicago church and to St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole. The bell tower, designed by Boston architect Charles Coolidge, was built in 1929 of rough-cut pink granite blocks. Alfeo Faggi created the bronze doors to the tower--six panels depicting scenes from the life of Saint Joseph with Mary and Jesus. Inside the tower is a small oratory. Small, irregular-sized Stations of the Cross by Faggi are on the walls. Mrs. Lillie named the bells for Mendel and Pasteur, two Catholic pioneers in the study of life. The bells could be seen by workers at MBL, across Eel Pond, and she hoped that they would be reminders to the workers of the presence of God.

A bronze plaque on the wall of the bell tower reads:

St. Joseph's Bells

The large bell is named


its inscription reads



The smaller bell is named


its inscription reads



During her travels in Europe Mrs. Lillie had learned that English monastery gardens once included flowers with names associated with Our Lady. She wanted to create a garden in the "tradition of Mary Gardens throughout the world" and asked a friend, Winifred Jelliffe Emerson, to search early plant literature for plants with religious and Mary names. Mrs. Lillie's original plan for the twenty-foot-square garden included sixty-one plants. Of these thirty-three were "Her Flowers," seven "Flowers of the Saints," and twenty-one "Other Religious Flowers," many of them English wildflowers. This 1932 list was modified as some plants thrived and others fared poorly in the wind and rain-swept site; the 1937 final plan contained forty-eight plants. Prominent were roses, lilies and irises, all emblems of Mary. Hurricanes in 1938 and 1944 damaged the garden and each time it was replanted, but with fewer plants. The garden was restored to the 1937 plan for the parish centennial in 1982 by Jane McLaughlin and other parishioners.

The bell tower and garden are located behind a six-foot-tall yew hedge across Millfield Street from St. Joseph Church. A short wooden gate in the middle of the hedge invites the visitor to "Please enter and close the gate." The bell-tower is now to the right and the Garden of Our Lady to the left. St. Joseph's Garden is beyond the bell tower. A low wooden stockade fence separates the gardens from the waters of Eel Pond.

Perennials in the garden include Madonna lilies, several species of roses (Her Flower), Mary's Slipper (bicolor aconite), Our Lady's Glove (foxglove), Her Flower (blue Japanese iris, also known as Mary's Sword of Sorrow, and white Japanese iris), Ladder-to-Heaven (Lily of the Valley), Eyes of Mary (forget-me-not), several varieties of thyme (Lady's Bedstraw), Our Lady's Mantle (morning glory) and Virgin's Bower (clematis). Annuals include Mary's Gold (marigold), Our Lady's Praises (blue and white petunia) and Madonna's Pins (geranium).

The garden plan and names of the plants (Mary names, botanical name and common name) are shown in a wooden information box. As we enter the garden, we begin to reflect on Mary's life and we know this is a sacred place. There is a silence here, alongside the quiet waters of Eel Pond, and we no longer hear the sounds of the nearby street. The statue of Our Lady in the middle of the garden draws us into her place. It is the "garden enclosed" of medieval times.

Mrs. Lillie referred to the garden as her garden and for her it was "a very special kind of place ... making all the work of caring for it, with all the thoughts and meditations evoked by its symbolism and beauty, potentially a very special kind of prayerful work."

Plants at the entrance to the garden include Lady by the Gate (soapwort) and Our Lady's Birthday Flower (Italian aster), St. George's Herb (heliotrope), fragrant Sweet Mary (lemon balm) and Where God Has Walked (ground ivy) in huge mounds. We can feel that God has walked here and we are aware of Mary's presence as we smell Sweet Mary's balm, perhaps the same balm mentioned in the bible. The aster is named Our Lady's Birthday Flower because it blooms at the time of her birthday, September 8.

In the center of the garden a statue of "The Virgin" by artist Vinol M.S. Hannell stands tall above the sword-like iris leaves and the waving branches of old rose bushes gone wild and threatening to envelop it. Both the white Japanese iris and the rose are known as Her Flower. The early white rose to the left of the statue is the first to bloom in the spring.

The concrete statue depicts Mary as she might have appeared at the moment of the Annunciation. It was designed to weather slowly and has resisted the elements well. Rain, snow and salt have not changed the details of Mary's face and the statue looks much like it did when it was installed more than sixty years ago. The humble and serene expression on Mary's face is reflected in the tranquil garden.

The cross-shaped center area where the statue stands looks untended, as do the borders of the garden, but the natural look is said to be more in keeping with the names and nature of the flowers than a cultivated look. Plants are thriving since a new sprinkler system was installed a few years ago.

In late spring, pink and lavender blooms of Our Lady's Cushion (thrift) shoot up in the corners of this center area to provide patches of color. By August the blooms are gone but the careful viewer finds the green cushions in the corners and Dear Mother's Love (wild thyme), some of it in bloom, in the back. In the front is Our Lady's Bedstraw (rosy thyme) and some young rosemary (St. Mary's Tree). To the right are Lady's Mite (Germander thyme) and more wild thyme. The plants recall the legends about Our Lady's Bedstraw and the makeshift crib where the infant Jesus lay, and Mary hanging Jesus' clothes to dry on the rosemary bush.

The border to the right is bright with the blooms of Our Lady's Gold (marigold) and Our Lady's Praises (blue petunias). Branches of rambler rose, Her Flower, climb along the fence. We can sing Mary's praises with the petunias and rejoice in the beauty of "her flowers."

Each plant is cause for reflection - Mary, the young mother, the housewife, taking care of Jesus, perhaps watching her pennies, loving her son. She is a model for us in our daily lives.

On the top, a small statue of St. Dorothy, patroness of gardens, is surrounded by foliage of Michaelmas daisy (heath aster) and Her Flower (speciosum lily). Along this border we find Ladder to Heaven (Lily-of-the-Valley), Eyes of Mary (forget-me-not) and Our Lady's Mint, in profusion. We know that Mary will never forget us and wonder when we too will climb the ladder to heaven.

The right border continues to the rear with wild roses and the blue and white blooms of Assumption Lily (plantain lily or hosta) in the corner. Along the left border we find in bloom Lady's Delight (viola tricolor) and in the corner, more wild rose and Mary's Slipper (bicolor aconite).

Blue and deep pink blooms of Virgin's Tears (spiderwort) greet us as we approach an arched white trellis, which leads to the newer garden. Our Lady's Mantle (morning glory) and Virgin's Bower (clematis) climb the sides of the trellis. On each side we see the pale blues of Our Lady's Resting Place (Germander Speedwell) and Madonna's Pins (wild geranium). We wonder how many tears Mary has shed for us.

Tall, magenta stalks of Cross-wort (purple loosestrife) grow to both sides of the trellis in the new area. Here the plantings are around the periphery and the center is grass-covered. Numerous annuals, including impatiens, snapdragons, zinnias and strawflowers, mix with perennials to provide color.

In the center a bench of pink granite, to complement the pink granite bell tower, and three rustic cedar chairs face Eel Pond, inviting visitors to rest and meditate or visit with each other. Here the mood is more relaxed. We might say the Hail Mary when we hear the Angelus bells, which ring morning, noon and evening in a salute to Mary.

On the bottom we find pink phlox, cowslips, pinks, mums, tulips and daffodils, Victoria blue salvia, ferns and tiny yellow daisies. The tiny blossoms of deep blue and white lobelia edge this area, forming a border. Tall bachelor buttons send up their blooms. On the left we find more salvia, yellow and white daisies, pansies, tri-color, impatiens, orange day lilies and bleeding hearts.

The back of the garden contains heather, which blooms all winter, bleeding hearts, forget-me-not, yellow zinnias, strawflowers, pansies, dahlias, ferns, snapdragons, hosta, mums and roses, Johnny jumpups, yarrow and white daisies. Almost all of these plants have religious names.

This area is enclosed on the street side and in the rear by a six-foot high wooden stockade fence and on the pond side by a three-foot high stockade fence.

Material for this page was prepared by Vincenzina Krymow, whose book, Mary's Flowers in Legends, Gardens and Meditations, was published in 1999 by the St. Anthony Messenger Press. Photographs are by the author, with the exception of those of the bell tower and bronze door, by Carmen Garrett.

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