Mary Garden Design Philosophy

(Excepted from a letter)

– John S. Stokes Jr.

With respect to the meaningfulness of the Flowers of Our Lady, the symbolism of the each flower as recognized from its name first of all quickens devotional reflection as it blooms - as flowers must have in the medieval countrysides, and as we found in our first Mary Garden, described in the 1955 article, "In Mary's Garden" - indexed on the website under GARDENING Home Mary Gardens.

However, in selecting flowers for a Mary Garden, they can be considered more broadly from the perspective of our overall approach to our life as Christians, which has been reflected on extensively in 57 years of articles, posted on the website under OVERVIEW > "Developmental Articles", and summarized in HOME & SCHOOLS EDUCATION > "Home School Mary Garden Projects" and "Background Reference/Index for Teachers" - and as condensed in the following.

A summary of some length is made here because of the special contribution Mary Gardening makes to Marian devotion through the comprehensive scope of its visual symbolism.

As we clear our minds of worldly concerns and distractions on entering the garden, the flowers first of all as creatures turn our thoughts to Creation, and its purpose: to show forth and share the divine goodness, beauty, truth and action with us humans, created to this end "in the divine image and likeness" - as revealed in the Bible, preserved in the creedal deposit of faith, taught by the Church, and mirrored in creatures.

Our devotion to Mary is to her both as the blessed mother of the Jesus, Divine Word Incarnate through the conception of the Holy Spirit - and as given to us by Jesus from the Cross, our spiritual mother, advocate, intercessor and mediatrix; but also more basically to her for her union with God ("the Lord is with you") through her Divine Maternity and co-parenthood with God the Father, and through which union God was enabled likewise to share with her the fullness of divine action as Co-Redemptrix, with God the Son, in his redemption of the world; and, assumed into heaven, as universal Mediatrix with God the Son and Holy Spirit of all grace; as Queen of heaven and earth, with Christ the King; and even, in the "retroactivity of eternity", as Co-creatrix with God the Father in the very creation of the world (per Proverbs 8: 22-31) - all in an unique fulfillment of God's desire and will for the fullness of divine/human sharing.

Accordingly, each prayer we raise to Mary for her intercession and mediation affords God with a further opportunity for sharing the divine action with and through her, for accomplishment of the purpose of Creation; and this is the ultimate warrant for our Marian devotion, which otherwise Protestants see as detracting from our devotion to Jesus, and Deists see as a diversion from our direct relation to God.

From this basic view of Marian devotion, each of the Marian Gospel passages and Rosary Mysteries, symbolized by her flowers, is thus seen to be a further fulfillment, to God's greater glory, of his sharing purpose for Creation, as well as an incentive to our further meditation on Mary, emulation of her virtues, and recourse to her blesses motherly privileges in prayer.

In detail, then,

Basic to flower meanings is the belief that flowers, like all creatures, were created by God to show forth and share with us the divine goodness, beauty and truth - to be perceived physically through our senses; and intellectually through their "signature" mirrorings of divine revelation. In the Mary Garden this perception is quickened by their planting around a Marian sculpture - so as to symbolize a range of Mary's mysteries, life and prerogatives, for a fullness of reflection and prayer.

The culmination in Creation of the divine/human showing forth and sharing is revealed to be the building in grace, and coming, of God's Peaceable Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven" - for which we pray each day in the "Our Father" - which kingdom is to be transfigured on the last day, with the General Resurrection, into the new heaven and new earth of eternal divine/human sharing.

But, as we learn in Genesis, immediately following upon Creation our first parents fell from harmony and grace through the viewing and use of creatures for their own gratification, rather than for the building of the Peaceable Kingdom in grace.

However, God, in his continuing desire and will for divine/human sharing through Creation, prophesied, and then initiated, the divine plan for the redemption of the world, likewise fully to be shared in by us humans in grace. In this, God - revealing himself as the Trinity of divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - sent the Divine Son, Incarnate as Jesus Christ, to redeem the world by taking upon himself all its sins and through his suffering and death sacrificially banishing them into the nothingness of the outer darkness in offsetting satisfaction to the Father; and by taking upon himself all the human sufferings of the fallen world repairingly, to dissolve the temporal effects of sin circulating in the world, that the work for Kingdom might be resumed in restored grace.

God has revealed that for our human sharing in this, we are enabled to continue and to re-enact Christ's sacrifice until the end of the world in the celebration of the Mass, in continuing satisfaction to the Father for all sins through the years; and in this also to join with Christ in repairing for all the continuing temporal effects of sin in the world, by sacrificially offering with him all our duties, tasks, frustrations, sorrows and sufferings as he ever take them upon himself with those of all the world.

In discerning the mirroring of spiritual truths in creatures - the basis of all poetic figures - the Church Fathers perceived flowers to be the signature symbols of the Blessed Virgin Mary - from Isaiah's prophecy of the virgin birth of the redeeming Messiah as the miraculous blooming of a flower from the "Rod of Jesse".

Accordingly, flowers were seen and named as symbols of Mary's immaculate purity, her utter humility, and her total fidelity to the word of God, enabling the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, to indwell in her, and to conceive in her the Incarnate Redeemer - St. Bernard thus speaking of Mary as "the rose of charity, lily of chastity, violet of humility and golden gillyflower of heaven".

The fullness of Mary's divine union with the God the Holy Spirit ("the Lord be with you") for her Divine Maternity - in co-parenthood with God the Father - was subsequently manifested in her union with God the Son as Co-Redemptrix in his sacrifice; and in her union, assumed body and soul into heaven, with God the Son and Holy Spirit in the mediation and distribution of all grace - in personal human fulfillment of God's creational desire for divine/human sharing, to be fulfilled ultimately in the endless number of humans, her spiritual children, each like her, showing forth and sharing the divine attributes and action in an unique way in the Creation-culminating earthly Peaceable Kingdom.

By medieval times many flowers of the countryside were seen to be symbols of Mary's virtues, life, mysteries and divinely bestowed prerogatives of her union with God - enabling us to compose them devotionally today in Mary Gardens to honor her, to quicken our meditation on her special place in the Divine Plan for the world, and to quicken our prayerful recourse to her as our protecting, nurturing and counseling spiritual mother and our advocate, intercessor and mediatrix with God.

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Our desire therefore for the Mary Garden is thus both to honor Mary through the planting and tending of an attractive arrangement of her flowers around her statue; and also to have a comprehensive flower imaging of her life and mysteries for the quickening of our ever fuller meditation on them and our constant recourse to her in prayer for her protection, spiritual nurturing, and counsel and for her divine advocacy, intercession and mediation.

In this, as stated, the flowers as such show forth and share God's goodness and beauty; and our composition of them and care for them in the garden honors God's will for the care and enhancement of all Creation in the building of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Symbolism of Mary can begin with "her flowers": white lilies for her immaculate purity at the Annunciation; roses for her Divine Motherhood at the Nativity; Iris spears for the sword of sorrow piercing her soul at the Passion and Crucifixion, and marigolds for her heavenly queenship and mediation. More generally, white roses and all white flowers are seen to represent the Rosary joyful mysteries; red roses and flowers the sorrowful mysteries, and gold and yellow the glorious mysteries.

According to Apocryphal legend, in the opening of Mary's emptied tomb following her bodily assumption into heaven, there were found roses and lilies. The titles, "Rose of Sharon" and "Lily of the Valleys" were applied to her from scripture by the Church Fathers.

Roses were especially identified with Mary's Divine Maternity in medieval times, in their adoption by the Church as representing Isaiah's miraculously flowering Rod of Jesse prophecy of the virgin birth of the Messiah - "miraculous" in that the blooms of roses, like those of other shrubs and vines, characteristically are from upper and pruned branches and not from new rods shooting up from the roots. This symbolism of the rose was expressed by Dante as "the rose wherein the divine word was made incarnate", and was shown forth in the central rose windows of the cathedrals, and celebrated in the Christmas Carol, "Lo, See How a Rose 'ere Blooming". As mentioned, white, red and gold roses came to be seen, respectively as symbols of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries; and Mary herself appeared at La Salette adorned with with three rose garlands, and at Lourdes with a rose adorning each of her feet.

Especially important for our troubled times is our quickening by the flower symbols of Christ's passion and crucifixion regularly to offer all our daily hardships, oppositions, frustrations, sorrows and sufferings sacrificially for and with him, through Mary's immaculate and sorrowful heart - as he takes them upon himself, together with those of all the world - in reparation for the temporal effects of sin in the world; that, through deliverance from the evil of these effects, all, and especially world leaders and dissidents, may, in their innate created goodness, be responsive to the graces of reconciliation, peace and Kingdom beseeched through the Rosary prayers and sacrifices of all the faithful, in consecration to and with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

There is much talk in the media of the need for the de-escalation of violence, and for reconciliation, dialogue, compromise, cooperation, freedom, democracy and diplomacy - but little call for the sacrificial sharing, "Making up what is wanting in the sacrifice of Christ (Col., i, 24), God desires, in the fullness of divine/human sharing desired for Creation, to repair for the effects of sin in our world environment of values blocking reception of the graces of peace, as called for by Our Lady at Fatima. In the Gospel Jesus speaks of those evils which must be repaired by both prayer and sacrifice (fasting).

Meditation on the Rosary Mysteries and aspects of Mary's life is quickened by the symbolism of the numerous other Flowers of Lady, as signified by their names. Reflection on the many flower symbols of the features, clothing, and Nazareth household articles of Mary serves to quicken our viewing of the same in relation to our own work, action and prayers in grace for Redemption and Kingdom.

Thus, as we enter the Mary Garden familiar with all Our Lady's Flower symbols surrounding her sculptured image, we are first quickened by them to reflection on God; on the divine plan of Creation, Redemption and Kingdom; and then on Mary's divinely established central motherly, queenly and mediational place in this plan.

Quickened by Mary's flower symbols to emulation of her Annunciational virtues of immaculate purity, utter humility and total fidelity to God's will, word and grace, we open ourselves to the graces prompting our recourse in prayer and sacrifice to her divinely established co-redemption, advocacy, intercession and mediation.

In this way we continuously enable the extension of God's desired sharing of the divine action in the world through Mary, and through ourselves and all, as we make recourse to and participate in her divinely established spiritual motherhood, nurturing, counsel, co-redemption, advocacy intercession, mediation, mercy and healing.

Ever primary, as requested by Our Lady at Fatima, is - to repeat - the sacrificial offering of the duties, work, adversities and sufferings of our daily lives for and with Christ, through her immaculate and sorrowful heart, in reparation for the temporal effects of sin in the world - in which we are assisted through the quickening to reflection by her flowers.

And, finally, as to begin with, we have a lovely garden honoring Mary by surrounding her statue with her flowers.


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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