Mary Gardens Historical Background

The Flowers of Our Lady are flowers which were named devotionally as symbols of the life, virtues and mysteries of the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son in the popular oral religious traditions of the medieval countrysides.

Largely passed over by the writers of the first printed gardening books in favor of secular common names, these old religious names for wild flowers - many also cultivated in gardens - were largely unknown to gardeners for several centuries, although providentially they were preserved through their re-discovery and recording in the field research of folklorists and botanists.

Through Alfred Dowling's Plants of the Sacred Nativity (1900) and Judith Smith's The Mary Calendar (1930) these flower names were once more brought to public attention. Learning of them from English monastery gardens, Frances Crane Lillie in 1932 established a Mary Garden of some 40 flowers so named beside the Angelus Tower built by her several years previously for St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

In the Woods Hole Mary Garden, where the flowers were identified by plant markers and were listed in a leaflet available in the small library room at the base of the Angelus tower, visitors were introduced to another dimension of the medieval piety of the Age of Faith of the great cathedrals. Through Mary's symbolic flowers, an insight was restored as to how the Marian devotion of church altars, home rosaries and Our Lady's appearance sites can be quickened also in daily life.

Inspired by the Woods Hole Mary Garden, two Philadelphians, with Mrs. Lillie's blessing, established the spare-time project, Mary's Gardens, in 1951 to undertake further research into the Flowers of Our Lady in various countries; and - through lectures, magazine articles, press notices and exhibits - to inspire the planting of Mary Gardens, large or small, at homes, schools, parishes and shrines. The work was subsequently moved to Idaho and then to New England.

Now, with the establishment of the Mary's Gardens Internet web site (http:/www.mgardens.org) in 1995, we are able to make our over 45 years of written materials and flower and garden photos more widely and currently available. Historically this is a continuation in the present-day "global village" of the original spread of this devotional custom in medieval villages - by itinerate preachers, mendicant monks, wandering minstrels, roving players, pilgrims and other travelers.

A key link in the spread of flower devotion to Our Lady today is, as in medieval times, the initiative of individuals who are personally attracted to it upon learning of it from the broader culture, and who are inspired to spread it among others in their own communities. For this all are welcome to download, print out, and photocopy texts and photos of their choice from the Internet Mary's Gardens web site for distribution informally or at meetings.


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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