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John Stokes and Mary's Gardens

Early Mary Plant Lists

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– John S.Stokes Jr.

Queen of the Missions, March 1955.

Paradoxically, the very literature and book learning which destroyed the oral religious traditions of the Christian countrysides during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries took it upon themselves to record the disappearing externals of those same traditions in the nineteenth. It is thus secular lexicographers, not religious tradition, that we are to thank for the preservation of many of the centuries-old popular "Mary" names of plants which have come down to us today. For this reason many religious people unfamiliar with the old religious plant names.

Mrs. Lillie Pioneers

However, it was not from secular dictionaries that the Mary Flower tradition took root and found new life in the United States in the early nineteen thirties. It came as an offshoot from the old popular tradition which still survives in the monasteries and countrysides of England. For it was in England that Mrs. Frank R. Lillie, of Chicago, first learned of the Mary-named flowers, and conceived of the idea of planting a number of them in the "Garden of Our Lady" adjacent to the Angelus Tower she had given to St. Joseph's Church, Woods Hole, Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1929.

Not the Mary names, but the spirit behind them was the important thing to Mrs. Lillie. She saw that in their origin these names were of the heart. She realized that before the invention of printing the people of the countryside had no books telling of Mary. "The flowers were all they had." In their day the Mary named plants may have been more potent than any book of theology. Consider the shamrock. And she believed, as our Mary's Gardens experience has borne out, that they still have such potency today . . . "especially for the children."

Mrs. Emerson Collaborates

In her search for Mary-named plants suitable for use in the Woods Hole Garden of Our Lady, Mrs. Lillie enlisted the assistance of the late Winifred Jelliffe Emerson of Chicago. It was Mrs. Emerson who first tapped the wealth of Mary names of plants lying dormant in secular dictionaries, and it was from her research that the Woods Hole garden was planned by Miss Dorothea L. Harrison, landscape architect, and laid out by Mr. Wilfred Wheeler, distinguished horticulturist, and first Agricultural Commissioner of Massachusetts.

Original Research of Mary's Gardens

As Mrs. Emerson's research papers could not be located for us by Mrs. Lillie, then in her eighties, at the start of Mary's Gardens in 1951, we conducted our own research in the libraries of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the University of Pennsylvania, and also the Philadelphia Public Library, to provide the documentation we considered it prudent to have before we started our public work. It was not until the spring of 1954 that Dr. Emerson came upon the original research while cleaning out the attic of his home. These papers, which he kindly presented to us as a gift, are now part of our Mary's Gardens archives.

After receiving Mrs. Emerson's research we consolidated it with ours in a single documented listing of Mary named flowers, which is first presented below.

Each flower named for Mary is another tribute to her, and another testimony to the everyday recourse to her in reflection and prayer by the people of Christendom. "Of Mary there is never enough." But our primary Mary's Gardens objective is not to accumulate a list of names. It is to discover new Mary-named plants which will contribute horticulturally to the materials available for planting in Mary Gardens today.

Two lists of Mary named plant life are presented below. It is hoped that readers will help build up this list further by sending any names they know of . . . in French, German, Spanish and the Slavic languages, etc., as well as in English.

(1997 Note: See also Mary Flowers in England, Germany, Ireland and Latin America)


Compiled from research by Winifred Jelliffe Emerson, Chicago, Illinois, 1932, made at the suggestion of Mrs. Frank R. Lillie; and from research by Mary's Gardens, Philadelphia, Pa., 1951 1954.

Early Mary plant lists



From longhand notes of Winifred Jelliffe Emerson. Original in Mary's Gardens files.

EMER Recorded, but source not clear (9/7/54)

GRAY "Gray's New Manual of Botany, Seventh Edition, 1908"

JAMES "Jameson, Anno B., Legends of The Madonna, Longmans Green & Co, London, 1891"

S.P.N "Standardized Plant Names, American Joint Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature, Mount Pleasant Press, Salem, MA, 1923"

SKIN "Skinner, Charles M,, Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits and Plants, Lippincott, Philadelphia, PA, 1925 "

THOMAS "Thomas, H. H., The Book of Hardy Flowers, Funk & Wagnalls, New York"

WEB "Webster's New International Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1923"

W S.G, "Wayside Gardens Catalog, Wayside Gardens, Mentor, Ohio, 1932" I, II,III Recorded as volumes I, II and III, but source not clear (9/7/54)


BRITT Britten and Holland, A Dictionary of English Plant Names. London, l878

FOLEY Foley, Daniel J. Foley, Mary Gardens, The Herbarist, Herb Society of America, Boston, 1953, pp 34 42

GYGER Gyger, Thor E, Printer, Adelboden, Switzerland, Flower Post Card

HAIG Haig, Elizobeth, The Floral Symbolism of The Great Masters, Regan, Paul, Trench, Trubnor & Co, Ltd, London, 1913

M.C. Smith, Judith, The Mary Calendar, Ditchling, England, 1930

MOLD Moldenke, Harold N., Flowers of Madonna, Horticulture, Horticultural Hall, Boston, MA, December, 1953, pp 274

OXFORD The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, 2nd Edition, reprinted 1939

PA HORT Unidentified (9/7/54) reference, 1951 Penna Horticultural Society reseorch

PERS Personal report in conversation or correspondence in Mary's Gardens files

PRIOR Prior, R,C.A, M.D., On The Popular Names of British Plants, Frederic Norgate, London, 3rd Edition, 1879

WILDER - Wilder, Louise Beebe, Color in My Garden, Doubleday Page & Co., Garden City, 1918

WOODS Our Lady in Her Garden, St Joseph's Church, Woods Hole, 1932; Revised, 1937


Compiled from research by Mary's Gardens, Philadelphia. PA, 1954 & 1955.

(G) Translation from the German

Early Mary plant lists



CENTURY Whitney & Smith, The Century Dictionary, Century, New York, 1911, Revised

GRIEB Grieb, Dictionary of the German and English Language, Neff, Stuttgart, 1880

OXFORD The Oxford English Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, 1933, vols 1 ­ 12

HUNTER Hunter, The Encyclopedic Dictionary, Syndicate, Philadelphia, l894

WRIGHT Wright, Joseph, The English Dialect Dictionary, G. P. Putnams Sons, New York, 1903.

ZELL Colange, Zell's Popular Encyclopedia, Zell, Philadelphia, 1871

Reprinted with permission

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 2010. This particular entry is archived content original to Stokes' Mary's Gardens website. It is possible that some text, hyperlinks, etc. are outdated.


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