Devotional Parish Gardens

Parish Mary Gardens of Devotion and Prayerful Work

– John S. Stokes Jr.

Through the years since the first U. S. Parish Mary Garden was planted at St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1932, by Frances Crane Lillie, numerous Mary Gardens have been planted at other parishes - many with assistance from Mary's Gardens of Philadelphia, founded in 1951, with the blessing of Mrs. Lillie, to spread the custom of growing Mary Gardens world-wide.

As at Woods Hole, such Parish Mary Gardens have mostly been established - with approval of the Parish Council and/or pastor - through the initiative, work and funding of a few parishioners, who have undertaken full responsibility for their planting and care.

Now that the Flowers of Our Lady and Mary Gardens have become an increasingly familiar part of Catholic culture, and books describing them have been written, Parish Mary Gardens are coming to be more fully incorporated into parish spiritual life, as accepted aspects of devotion and prayerful work.

Those taking initiative in the planting of early Parish Mary Gardens have been typically experienced gardeners who, on learning of the Flowers of Our Lady, first planted Mary Gardens at their homes around a back yard sculpture or shrine of Our Lady; and then undertook, or were asked to undertake, the planting of such a garden at their parish church or school. While these Mary Gardens were combined expressions of the love of Mary and of gardening for those planting and caring for them, they often were not generally conceived of, and adopted as, integral to the devotional life of sodalities or other Marian parish societies.

On the other hand, those writing to Mary's Gardens of Philadelphia, after learning of the Flowers of Our Lady through word of mouth, or through reading press notices or articles, have typically been members of parish Marian societies with loving, interior, tender, holy, devotion to Mary, our Mother - who kneel before her statue in church in prayer; place flowers and light candles before it; and enter into spiritual communion with her in veneration and supplication. In further devotion to Mary, they pray the Rosary and novenas; attend sodality prayer meetings; and may have consecrated themselves to Mary's Immaculate Heart or wear the Miraculous Medal or a Marian scapular; and may undertake works of mercy such as those of the Legion of Mary.

What is now to be desired is a fuller marriage of such traditional parish Marian devotion and Mary Gardening. According to the teaching of St. Louis de Montfort, true devotion to Mary - simple or highly educated - is in its foundations interior, tender, holy and constant. But, for those whose devotion is interior, there is an unending search for further exterior expression of their interior devotion - "of Mary there is never enough" (de Montfort) - for which Mary Gardening affords new and ever fresh opportunities.

Two Parishes where Mary Gardens have become integrated into overall parish life and devotion are St. Mary's Parish, Annapolis, Maryland and St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Portage, Michigan.

For the introduction of the Flowers of Our Lady and Mary Gardens, for home or parish, to those of simple faith and devotion we recommend the presentation at parish lectures or sodality meetings of the "Introductory Slide Lecture", now being converted to computer projection format, with distribution of print copies of the "Introductory Annuals Mary Garden Pamphlet" - of brief background information, color photos of 12 popular Flowers of Our Lady with accompanying traditional meditations for each; a 'planting' of these around a statue of Our Lady in a virtual Mary Garden; and simple planting instructions for a small annuals Mary Garden.

For those who would like to start with an even simpler home Mary Garden we offer the illustrated article, "Patio Container Mary Gardens". For those who already garden, an example of loving, imaginative, childlike reflection on the flowers of Our Lady in a home Mary Garden is found in the article, "In Mary's Garden". For those who would like to grow a larger Mary Garden, we offer the "Lists of 100 and 200 Popular Flowers for Mary Gardens".

For those more highly educated, intellectual, Catholics who may see, or are concerned that others of their acquaintance will see, simple devotion to Mary, including that of the Mary Garden, as unlettered or exaggeratedly sentimental or pious, we offer the more historical and theological articles, "Flower Theology I" and "Flower Theology II" and "Flower and Human Symbols of the Trinity".

In these articles we carry the intellectual approach to Mary to its culmination in the theological demonstration that through her fidelity to the divinely bestowed graces, privileges and prerogatives of the Immaculate Conception, Annunciation, Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Spiritual Motherhood, Assumption, Advocacy, Intercession, Mediation and Queenship, Mary is blessed with the fullest personal fulfillment of the divine loving purpose of Creation, for which we are all created in the divine image and likeness: the human sharing, showing forth and magnification of the divine goodness, attributes and action.

Once Mary is seen in accordance with her ordained and accepted exalted place and participation in the divine plan of Creation, Redemption and Kingdom, intellectual-minded persons are liberated from the critical and scrupulous blocks to Marian devotion and are enabled to see that in all her divine exaltation Mary remains our loving spiritual Mother whom we approach simply, directly and intimately in interior, tender, holy and constant devotion - with emulation of her life and mysteries, in praying the Rosary or as symbolized and quickened for our reflection, meditation and imitation by the Flowers of Our Lady.

For those who may have experienced a falling off of simple, constant, everyday, interior Marian devotion and practices through exerior devotional preoccupation with Our Lady's appearance shrines, or apocalyptic 'end of times' private revelations, we affirm the return to the simple practices as a response to Mary's appearance exhortations, as supported by Flowers of Our Lady symbolism in the Mary Garden.

Guadalupe - Mary, Ever-Virgin and heavenly Woman Clothed with the Sun, with the moon at her feet.

La Salette - Mary, Sorrowful Mother weeping over the weight of sins, calling for repentance.

Lourdes - Mary, Immaculate Conception, mediating healing grace, calling for praying of the Rosary.

Knock - Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, with a rose at her forehead beneath her crown, and her hands channeling prayers rising from earth to the heavenly Altar of the Lamb.

Paris - Mary, Our Lady of Grace, Miraculous Medal

Fatima - Mary, Immaculate Heart, Rosary prayers of reparation for world conversion and peace

For those who have made the de Montfort consecration to Mary, in which all the spiritual merits of our actions are offered to Mary for distribution as she sees fit in the world, this consecration gives heightened meaning to all our prayers, acts and work in the Mary Garden - serving as a model for all life's activities. Those wishing to make this consecration are referred to St. Louis de Montfort's book, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

For those who have set out on the ascetical/mystical illuminative way to God, the wide variety of flower symbols of Mary's life and mysteries offers supports for reflection and meditation as they work in the Mary Garden, and elsewhere as they lovingly embrace them in their hearts and imaginations. This spiritual path is described in the article, "Gardening With Mary".

Finally, there are those in unitive spiritual mode, whose every thought and act, in communion with Mary, is directed, with recourse to all her spousal, motherly, and queenly priveleges and prerogatives, towards the Divine Plan for the world - the building of God's Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven - and who direct all their thoughts, prayers, acts and works, including those of Mary Gardening, and their merits, to this end through Mary.

All these modes of Marian devotion build on the simple, tender, interior, holy and constant beginnings learned in Catholic chidhood, and through the years engender an increasing sense of spiritual communion with Mary, and of her presence as Mediatrix in all places where grace is distributed. With this in mind, Frances Crane Lillie, foundress of the first U. S. Parish Mary Garden in Woods Hole entitled her garden booklet, "Our Lady in Her Garden."

Those thus motivated to participate in the devotion or work of the Parish Mary Garden, then join together to this end in a self-perpetuating Parish Mary Garden Guild, as described in "Parish Mary Garden Care."

Copyright, Mary's Gardens, 1999


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.

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