Niche Mary Gardens

– John S. Stokes Jr.

Through the years many have written us that they have planted their Mary Garden as a niche or nook in a larger garden; as a recessed corner of a building's landscaping; as an arrangement of terrace or courtyard potted plants; or as some other special or private place, representing Mary as the "Garden Enclosed".

Such a Mary Garden may have a small figure or image of Our Lady or a tiny grotto as a focus just for the niche; or, as a "hidden" garden, it may be composed around a special plant symbol of Mary's presence, perhaps in its own container, such as "The Virgin" (Zinnia elegens), "Mary" (Vriesia mariae), "Our Lady of the Meadow" (Filipendula ulmaria), "Lady-Lords" (Arum maculatum or Spathophillium hybrids), and "Our Lady of the Lake" (Nymphaea alba).

Niche Mary Gardens have been planted by members of religious communities who, not having an opportunity for a larger Mary Garden, have arranged a few plants in a little corner or nook of the community grounds.

We recall our joy in finding such a niche Mary Garden in a corner behind St. Helena's Church in Northeast Philadelphia where in the 1950's we sometimes stopped for morning Mass, while driving past on the way to work. There it was, almost hidden, with one each (it was spring) of "Our Lady's Pincushion" (Armeria maritima), "Mary's Sword of Sorrow" (Iris), "Mary's Humility" (Viola odorata), "Trinity Flower"/"Our Lady's Delight" (Viola tricolor), "Our Lady's Keys" (Primula veris), and several others.

The careful way in which these plants were positioned, cultivated, watered, and the spent blooms removed bespoke great love and devotion. We later learned that the planting had been made by one of the Sisters of St.Joseph in the convent accross the street (Our first school Mary Garden having been planted in a niche beside the classroom building of St. Hubert's Girls' High School, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, also in Northeast Philadelphia).

We discovered another such "hidden" garden while walking past a town house in the Back Bay section of Boston. A little spot of light beneath some shrubs to the left of the entrance steps caught our eye, and there was a little figurine of Our Lady nestled in some ivy, "Where God has Walked" (Hedera helix), with single plants of "Mary's Heart" (Dicentra spectabilis), "Virgin Flower" (Vinca minor) and "Our Lady's Modesty" (Viola odorata). As we walked past this building from time to time throughout the year, we observed the substitution of other Flowers of Our Lady for seasonal bloom. As we would drive past in our car we could not see this niche, but we would say a prayer, knowing that it was there.

In the fall of 1996 our Irish Mary's Gardens Associate, Bro. Sean MacNamara, was transferred to a Christian Brothers monastery at Tullamore, Co. Offaly, where, in the spring of 1997, he was able to plant a niche Mary Garden within the larger community garden, for which on May 26th he constructed a miniature Marian grotto, of which he wrote:

"Behind the small statue of Our Lady of Knock is a small piece from the apparition wall in Knock. Beside the grotto are plants from Fatima and Medjugorge. Our Lady's Mantle and Heathers are in the background. The irregular shaped stones on top are from the Burren, Co. Clare.

"To date I have growing in the Mary Garden: Marygolds, Pinks, Plantain Lily, Pansy, Alyssum, London Pride, Cornflower, Forget-me-not, Wall-pepper, Columbine, Stock, Roses, Begonias, Bugle, Heather, Lady's Mantle, Cowslip, Primrose, Daffs, Tulips, Snow-drops, Wallflowers, Hollyhock, Dahlias."

(We, at Mary's Gardens, know and love the Mary-flowers so well, that in our "in house" communications we often refer to them by their common names for brevity and clarity.)

Copyright Mary's Gardens, 1997


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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