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All About Mary

Patio Mary Gardens

Patio Container Mary Gardens

– John S. Stokes Jr., August, 1998

This year one of our new Mary's Gardens Associates has designed and crafted a series of outdoor patio, porch, terrace or deck container Mary Gardens, which are much beloved in her parish as gifts. These small devotional outdoor Mary Gardens are described here that others may "go and do likewise."

The basic concept is to use a soil-filled 10" or 15" wide flower pot, often decoratively painted, in which five or so ever-blooming annual Flowers of Our Lady - one or two of each, with a grassy or ivy foliage foundation - are arranged around a small ceramic figurine of Our Lady. After the danger of spring frost has passed, the container Mary Garden is planted and placed in a sunny corner of a porch, deck, patio or terrace where, watered as needed, it continues to bloom until fall frost.

In the fall, container Mary Gardens planted with several bulbs each of five or six spring-blooming Flowers of Our Lady are then set out for the winter, with protective covering to avoid premature warming of the frozen soil by the sun. When the ground begins to thaw in the area, the protective covering is removed, and the soil moistened if dry, in preparation for the sequence of late winter and early spring blooms. After the spring flowers have bloomed, summer annuals may be added for bloom until the following fall.

Each gift container Mary Garden is accompanied with a string of Rosary beads, a Rosary prayer leaflet, and an attractive, hand-calligraphied, individualized booklet giving the name of the donor and recipient and mentioning that the garden, with its statuette, has been sacramentally blessed for reverential use as a religious object. Additional pages provide an inspirational introduction, a brief Mary Garden history, a list of the actual Flowers of Our Lady used in the particular garden - with their religious names and symbolism - a Mary Garden Prayer, brief instructions on garden care, and sources of further information. For those who have flower beds, seed packets for additional Flowers of Our Lady may also be included with the gift container garden.

Of the container Mary Gardens designed this year, their originator writes:

"The gift giving applications for Mary Gardens are really unlimited. A lovely occasion has been Mother's Day, coming in spring. Also spring birthdays. They have been especially desired as appreciation gifts - particularly for teachers, parish volunteers, nursing home volunteers, school volunteers; and for Sodality/school fundraisers.

"I have had such lovely feedback from these gifts. Some have said that the garden serves as their prayer corner. Many others have requested additional Mary Gardens for gift giving. I am currently working on 11 Container Mary Gardens for persons wishing to give them as thank you gifts."

The small size of container Mary Gardens and their composition with Flowers of Our Lady in bloom or of attractive foliage provide a special opportunity for devotional flower artistry:

"As I do each Mary Garden, I have a strong feeling that I have been given a tremendous gift. It is truly an honor and a privilege to share this devotion with others. Actually preparing the garden is a type of prayer for me! When preparing each garden, I look for guidance from the Holy Spirit and Mary; then I merely do what I am told! Suddenly, I have found ideas, information and craft products that I didn't even know existed! I am humbled by this work!"
St. Louis de Montfort describes true devotion to Mary as "interior, tender, holy, constant and disinterested."

For those of interior, tender devotion to Mary, all flowers, in their purity, beauty and glory, are intuitive symbols of Mary, the "Flower of flowers" - planted in "pretty gardens for our Holy Mother", as one Mary-Gardener expressed it. Container Mary Gardens, are especially expressive of the interiority and tenderness of Marian love and devotion through their intimate size. Prayerfully composed, and blest as holy objects, container Mary Gardens "show forth the Holy Spirit's primal mirth in endlessly renewed diversities", as Liam Brophy says in his poem, "Gardens Give Mary Glory".

Regularly at hand as "prayer corners" in outdoor living areas - as distinct from gardens to which one walks at a distance from the house - container Mary Gardens quicken constant loving devotion to Mary in daily living. As we learn and become familiar with the symbolism of the flowers surrounding Mary's statuette, they habitually serve to lift our hearts and minds to reflection on Mary's prerogatives - prompting recourse to her motherly and queenly spiritual nurturing, and to her mediation of God's graces needed for our work for sanctification and God's kingdom.

We then beseech Mary's advocacy and intercession for our immediate needs, wants, interests and opportunities - "disinterestedly" seeking for our lives the truth, justice, love, freedom, security and material sufficiency which first of all contribute to the building of God's Peaceable Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. In this we pray, "Blessed Mother, use me today" and "Not my will, but God's be done."

From the Mary Garden Booklet given with the garden, the recipient of each container Mary Garden learns how the symbolism of the flowers has come down from the devotional oral traditions of the medieval countrysides. This sense of the time-steeped spiritual unction of the flowers from the Age of Faith is enhanced by the priestly sacramental blessing of each garden after it is composed, heightening its quality of quickening the beholder to pious reflection, meditation and spiritual communion.

Raising our hearts in adoration to the Blessed Trinity as we approach the garden, making the Sign of the Cross, we first view the flowers in awe as the direct creations of God, showing forth and sharing with us the divine goodness, beauty and truth - the purpose of all Creation. While all the flowers blooming on earth together are inadequate to mirror the fullness of God's glory, the beholding of just one flower as God's creature ("Heaven in a wildflower") can raise our souls to contemplation of God.

We then consider how the flowers show forth for us the divine attributes in their forms and colors; thereby symbolizing these attributes as shown forth further, humanly, in Immaculate Mary, full of grace, through her obedient, sublime fulfillment, in imitation of Christ, of the spiritual potential of her and our creation in the image and likeness of God.

As in blessing ourselves at meals we commune with God in rapture through his direct creations - banana and orange - mindful of the scriptural exhortation, "Taste and see how sweet is the Lord,", so do we in the Mary Garden commune with God spiritually through Our Lady's flowers as through the whiteness of the petunia and radiance of the Marygold; then through Mary's immaculate and glorious magnification of the Lord, which they mirror.

We then may consider the symbolism common to all flowers: - The upreaching of flowers to the light of the sun - symbols of the turning of hearts and souls to God, the illuminating Holy Spirit. - The blossoming of flowers - symbol of the miraculous virgin birth of God, the Son, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the "Rod of Jesse" of prophecy. - The seasonal death and rebirth of flowers - symbol of the death and resurrection of our redeeming God, the Son. - The sowing and germination of seed - symbol of the hearing and keeping of the word of God in hearts and souls; and of the rooting and cultivation there of the supernaturally infused virtues and gifts, as in the Parable of the Sower. - The total dependence of flowers, for their growth, on earth, water, air and sun - symbol of total human abandonment to God's providence ("Consider the Lilies") - Vines, symbolizing that we are all to be branches of the vine, Christ. Further, the symbiosis of vines with trees on which they grow symbolizes the intimate union and close cooperation of Mary with Christ, the redeeming Divine Son - as Mother, Co-redemptrix, Advocate, Intercessor, Mediatrix and Queen.

In gardens composed with a view to color, white flowers are symbolic, for our meditation, of Mary's immaculate purity; red of her love of God; blue of her fullness with the waters of grace; purple of her sorrows at the foot of the Cross; and gold of her glorification as heavenly Mother and Queen.

Or the composition may be a selection of specially loved flowers. Thus the heart-shaped buds of red begonias recall the love of Mary's Immaculate Heart. Petunias, known as "Our Lady's Praises" in Germany, recall the original Communion Verse for the Mass for the feast of the Rosary of Mary (October 7th), established in 1573, which we are to emulate:

Send forth flowers as the Lily,
and yield a fragrance,
And bring forth leaves in grace,
and praise with canticles,
And bless the Lord in his works."

Sirach 39:13-14 (Ecclesiasticus 39:18-19)

The flowers of impatiens from their constancy of bloom are known as "Mother Love" and, from their curved flower stems, as "Our Lady's Earrings" - pure adornments for the ears of Mary, who "heard the word of God and kept it." Miniature roses are symbolic of the virgin birth of Christ, as in the carol, "Lo How a Rose 'ere Blooming". Plants with spearlike foliage recall the sword of sorrow piercing Mary's heart. Tuberous begonias (the tubers coming to life in nature when watered), bring to mind the Resurrection.

For those desiring to construct such Container Mary Gardens, our Associate has prepared the following descriptions of the three gardens illustrated here:

Garden #1: Hand-painted pot

  • 10 inch terra cotta pot painted with "DecoArt's Patio Paints" (these paints are meant for terra cotta and are weather resistant)
  • pot has a drainage hole, so no absorbing material is necessary
  • 8 inch saucer (also hand-painted with "Patio Paints")

First I filled the pot with moist professional potting soil to 2/3 full. I start planting with the largest plant in the back of the pot and continue filling in the pot with the annuals as follows:

  • Back: Red Geraniums (Mary's Heart); Individualized Booklet
  • Middle: Red and white striped petunias (Our Lady's Praises)
  • Right and Left sides: Variegated ivy (Where God has walked)
  • Front: White Alyssum (Mary's Flower of the Cross) filled in around the pot.
  • A statue of Mary is in the center of the flowers. Spanish moss is added around the edges of the pot for a finishing touch. The statue is held in place with a floral pick (I use two - they look like large green toothpicks with wire - just place the pick in the soil and wrap the wire around to secure the statue). At the rear is an individualized booklet. Ribbon.

Garden #2: 12 inch terra cotta pot (commercial design)

Potting as in #1.

  • Background: Dracaena Spikes (Mary's Tresses)
  • Rear: Salmon Geraniums (Mary's Heart)
  • Middle: Petunias (Our Lady's Praises)
  • Sides: Creeping Dusty Miller (Mary's Sprig)
  • Front Middle: Ageratum (St. John's Flower)
  • Front: White Alyssum (Mary's Flower of the Cross)
  • Individualized Booklet. Ribbon

Garden #3: 16 inch commercial pot

Potting as in #1.

  • Background: Dracaena Spikes (Our Lady's Tresses)
  • Rear : miniature white rose (Mary's Flower)
  • Middle: Purple pansies (Our Lady's Delight, Trinity Flower)
  • Sides: Creeping Dusty Miller (Mary's Sprig)
  • Front middle: Dark pink begonias (Mary's Heart)
  • Front: White Alyssum (Mary's Flower of the Cross)
  • Ribbon

This garden also included a rosary; rosary booklet; seed packets for Forget-me-nots (Eyes of Mary), Shasta Daisy (Mary's Flower of God), Marigolds (Mary's Gold) and Morning Glory (Our Lady's Mantle); and a small spade.

As the first U.S. parish Mary Garden at St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole, envisaged and developed by Frances Crane Lillie in 1932, has become the inspiration for contemporary Mary's Gardens throughout the United States and now the world; and as the indoor dish Mary Gardens, created by Bonnie Roberson in Idaho in the early 1960's, have inspired the making of such miniature Mary Gardens everywhere; now, this inspired development of Container Mary Gardens shows the way for a whole new mode of Mary-Gardening.

Copyright, Mary's Gardens, 1998, 2005

The John Stokes and Mary's Garden collection was transferred to the Marian Library in May 2013. In addition to his archives, manuscripts, artwork, and personal library, John S. Stokes also donated his extensive website. It was transferred to the Marian Library in early 2010. This particular entry is archived content original to Stokes' Mary's Gardens website. It is possible that some text, hyperlinks, etc. are outdated.

All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


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