We know it’s been going on at least since the 4th century when Saint Benedict planted a ‘rosary’ of rose bushes in his monastery garden. Saint Fiacre planted one in the 7th century, and in the 15th century the sacristan of Norwich Monastery made a purchase of plants “for S. Mary’s garden” as recorded in their archives. But it wasn’t until 1932 that they began showing up in the United States. Today, it is hard to find a parish or other Catholic institution that does not have one, and many families till and tend their own every year in the spring.
Of course we are talking about Mary Gardens; those delightful parcels of holy ground cultivated with the loveliest plants that erupt with the color and fragrance of blossoms and herbs named after Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A personal favorite is the one that the National Council of Catholic Women donated to our National Shrine, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. during the Jubilee Year of 2000.
Who can look at the delicate Gypsophila, called by the secular world as ‘Baby’s Breath’, and not ‘see’ Our Lady’s Veil (it’s traditional name)?
Or the gaze upon the Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart) and fail to feel compassion for The Woman who stood at the foot of the Cross on Calvary?
And don’t forget the blessing! Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and even Deacons have the power to bless a small portion of land and turn it into a sacramental; a holy thing, to honor the Mother of God. Many tenders of Mary Gardens arrange to have an annual blessing and celebration of their outdoor shrines consisting of official Church prayers, some from as far back as the 9th century.
“The Blessed Virgin Maries feast hath here its place and time, Wherein, departed from the earth, she did the heavens clime; Great bundles then of hearbes to church the people fast do beare, The which against all hurtful things the priest doth hallow there.”
The Second Vatican Council in it’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states,
“The liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in [our] lives… There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” #62
Many religious orders have their own prescribed Mary Garden blessing prayers with special mention going to the Dominicans who have perfected the honoring of Mary since she first gave us the Rosary through their founder, Saint Dominic.
“O God…bless with your holy blessing these roses we offer to you this day…as a token of thanksgiving to you and of love and reverence for the ever blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary. Do you, who have bestowed them as an odor of sweetness for our use and the easing of our ills, pour forth upon them heavenly blessing…that to whomsoever they may be brought in sickness may be healed.” (Dominican Rite for the Blessing of Roses)
We learn from the Catholic Encyclopedia that,
“Sacramental blessings, ecclesiastically administered, extend to the Mary Garden and its objects the holiness of the Church, such that the common experience of this holiness in the Mary Garden – especially in the context of the symbolical Flowers of Our Lady—serves in turn as a witness to the holiness of the Church and of Mary.”
My favorite Mary Garden blessing prayer for both the image of Our Lady and the flowers in her garden comes from the Servites,
“Almighty and eternal God, as often as we look on this image with our bodily eyes, so often do we consider the actions of your saints with our mind’s eye, and ponder their sanctity for our imitation. Be so good, we beg of you, to bless and sanctify this statue, that whoever in the presence of this image humbly pays devout reverence and honor to your only-begotten Son and his Blessed Mother, may through their merits and intercession win grace in this life, and everlasting glory in the world to come….”
“O almighty everlasting God we beseech thee to bless these flowers that there may be in them goodness, virtue, tranquility, peace, victory, abundance of good things, the plenitude of blessing, thanksgiving to God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and a most pleasing commemoration of the glorious Mother of God—that they may put forth an odor of virtue and sweetness.”
Time to get planting! The gardens most pleasing to God are those tilled with loving hearts towards His Mother.
Here is a link to a list of flowers and herbs named after Our Lady, and their history, compiled by Fisheaters: Mary’s Garden flowers and herbs list