What’s a Mary Garden?
The origin of a Mary Garden can be found in Medieval France and its surrounding countries. The basic concept, known as a hortus conclusus in Latin, is an enclosed garden containing a collection of very specific flowers.
Since medieval times, artists and poets have imaged Mary as an enclosed garden. The garden is enclosed as a reference to the Virginity of Mary and each flower represents one of Mary’s virtues. Entire gardens were designed with the intention of honoring Mary by representing her legendary attributes through various specimens of nature.
A chapel garden dedicated to Our Lady, located on the campus of the Basilica of Saint Mary in the city of Minneapolis. It was designed as a quiet urban space to be visited by parishioners and the public. This enclosed garden is meant to reflect the virginal aspect of the young Mary.
Featured at the top of the fence is a circle reminiscent of the Basilica’s round “rose” windows. There are many interpretations of a circle, but here at the Basilica of Saint Mary, it is sought to represent the cycle of birth, death and resurrection.
The narrow bands of black granite running parallel to the fence acting as thresholds for the garden represent Mary’s experience of sacrifice and sorrow.
Plants named after Mary:
Fragrant herbs and flowers reflect Mary’s spiritual sweetness, soothing and healing herbs reflect her heavenly mercy, while bitter and sour herbs mirror her bitter sorrows.
Roses are associated with Mary, the Mystical Rose of Heaven
Lemon balm is called Sweet Mary and thyme is the Virgin’s Humility
Rue is the Herb of Grace while meadow rue, with its little blue flowers, is called Our Lady’s Rue, because of the association of the color with sorrow and mourning
Deep purple blue blossoms and the sword-pointed leaves of blue flag iris gave the plant the name Mary’s Sword of Sorrow
Dandelion and sorrel are known as Mary’s Bitter Sorrow
Rose and lily, sacred symbols of Venus, became Mary’s flowers
Capillus Veneris became maidenhair fern or Our Lady’s Hair
Frauen-schuhli became Our Lady’s Shoes; Fraua-menteli became Our Lady’s Mantle
Bugloss: Our Lady’s Flannel
Sweet William: Our Lady’s Cushion
Cuckoo flower: Our Lady’s Smock
Honeysuckle and lamb’s ear: Our Lady’s Fingers
Morning glory symbolizes her garments
Sea pink or thrift symbolizes her household articles
Sweet violet symbolizes her qualities
Lily of the valley symbolizes aspects of her life
Italian aster: Our Lady’s Birthday Flower
Monks and poets compared Mary to lilies, roses, violets and many other flowers.
Saint Bede wrote that the translucent whiteness of the petals of the white lily symbolized the purity of Mary’s body and the gold of its anthers the glory of her soul as she was assumed into Heaven.
The month of May is traditionally dedicated to Mary, the "flower of flowers,” because May is considered the season of the beginning of new life, the month of flowering. Visit the Mary Garden on the Northwest side of the Church. Spend some time in the Mary Garden this spring and learn about the many flowers of Mary and plant some in your own gardens!