Parish Mary Garden: Establishing and Maintaining

Establishing and Maintaining a Parish Mary Garden

– Paula Mucha

1. Before initiating a Mary Garden, pray for discernment. It would seem to me if one is called to starting an initiative such as this, that the Holy Spirit is already at work. Nevertheless, I would suggest praying for proper guidance in the challenges that may ensue.

2. Secure your pastor's permission, present your vision with words and visuals. One can even do a creative Power Point presentation to enhance your communication to the administration.

3. Once the approval is set, ask for help from other parishioners and begin meeting.

4. Have your goals clearly defined, but be flexible to weather challenges, absent staff and life circumstances that occur in the average life.

5. One of the biggest obstacles is finding others who clearly share your goal. This can sometimes be an intangible process. However, sometimes one can readily determine that some persons just do not have the commitment, time and or talent. That is okay, for they are searching for their ministry as well. Be gentle. Encourage and support them for their willingness. Often a benefit of leading these people brings unexpected surprises in itself. As a plus, most in this hobby and profession are never grumpy when working, weeding or cultivating. There is a lot of beauty in working side by side, a real nice spiritual benefit of community and friendship.

6. Now, you are ready to start. Take advantage of the weather when at all possible. Particularly in the spring, the conditions are sporadic and unreliable. Be prepared to engage your workers in spontaneous pursuits. Most gardeners will understand this, but you will be surprised.

7. One important note of caution- discourage the idea of instant gratification. Part of the process of Mary gardening and horticulture in general is the very idea of seedlings fostered and nurtured to maturity. This might bring criticism from innocent parishioners or congregation members. But, be steadfast in this, have faith and trust. There is a majority in the Northeast anyway, where are summers are short to achieve everything NOW, by planting an abundance of annuals.

8. Construct a rough sketch of your design plans, including your new co-workers input and ideas. If you are lucky, you will receive benefits of a professional designer. That is ideal, but not always possible. Sometimes, however local nurseries will offer that service free; do some legwork and check around.

9. Be aware and scope out the proposed area, taking note of light conditions, microclimates and position of those pre-existing structures, light poles, telephone poles and utilize the DIG SAFE method and call the Gas company to be aware of underlying pipes, depths, etc.

10. Once you are thoroughly familiar with the site, you are ready to break your back in the most fascinating labor of love. Congratulations!

11. With your design plan for the physical area in hand, consult www.mgardens.org for the comprehensive list of flowers pertaining to the life of Mary, Jesus and other historical biblical figures, prophets, servants, apostles, and the like.

12. Plant and have fun. When you are planting, it is almost like a form of prayer and praise, much like singing, verbal worship, or interior prayer thoughts. You can add a common prayer to your efforts at the beginning of each outing, or whatever seems appropriate to your group. In our case, the Rosary was included as an outdoor service, and of course a dedication appropriate to the Catholic Church.

13. Now, that your plants are in place, and you are experiencing the initial flush of honest labors of love. Rest, just as in nature, people need to rest as well.

14. Label your plants with the common name, botanical name and Mary Garden name. Labels and markers are available at most garden shops, and by mail order.

15. Take lots of pictures, record your data on disk, paper and keep a record on file with the church archives, even videos, and websites. This will help in future years if you have moved or no longer can charter this ministry.

16. Now, comes the hard part: Maintenance.

17. In my experience, our small community of believers fled during the hot and dry summer spells, leaving a few to do the picking, watering, deadheading, etc. Try to incorporate a schedule for these tasks, and if possible an underground watering system. Keep in mind your area of the country and local rainfall, etc. The single most important thing is lack of staff during school vacations, particularly summer. We had many parents of school-age children helping us, so try to enlist the aid of older parishioners who are less time constrained.

18. More on maintenance, make a schedule for the autumn months to perform routine tasks, such as raking leaves if you live in that type of climate. Again, initiate those tasks that are indicative of your particular area.

19. Once your garden has been established for a full cycle of the seasons, you will begin to notice where growth has been inhibited or experienced spurts of abundance. Take measures to act appropriately in these cases. This part of constant attention is part of the natural life cycle and is one of the most rewarding I think.

20. Check your markers for wear and tear as well, sometimes the elements can do unexpected damage, so your vigilance in obtaining a good marker in step 14 will pay off in the long run.

21. If you have newly erected statues and other permanent garden structures, ensure that they are secure in their position and need paint, washing or other housekeeping tasks.

22. Have your dedication service. Your pastor will have the appropriate readings, music, etc.

23. Publicize and promote this ministry. By meeting new associates, the garden will have a love of its own. People not even in your parish will visit and find comfort and peace. That is one of the garden's main purposes. Be glad and rejoice.

24. Print brochures and flyers depicting the design and flowers included, so visitors can know what plants are for what purpose, etc., not just visually feeling the spirituality of the site.

25. Brainstorm with your gardening angels and this will be a lifelong ministry in your life and that of the church. New and exciting ideas will inspire you to achieve the Mary Garden that is unique to your parish.

26. Now, that your garden has it's brand of appeal, minister to it and the people, being constantly aware of the initial focus.

27. On dealing with Administration. Each particular unit works differently I imagine, but I only offer patience as a guide. Church politics is something I was naive about, and learned. Even sometimes having all the pieces in place, the puzzle of communication gets fuzzy when much is happening within the church regarding other areas. Do not expect in later years, that attention will always be granted. It's a hard sell to some parishes to maintain the importance of flowers. However, it is a vital ministry in my opinion and flourishes in people's heart and soul who visit.


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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