The Mary Garden: A Popular Devotion With a Heavenly Aroma

This year, the Museum of Family Prayer is again encouraging families to work together to create their own peaceful Mary Gardens, as a center of respite and prayer.

“A Garden For Our Lady”
“A Garden For Our Lady” (photo: Dae Jeung Kim / Pixabay/CC0)

Catholics sure do have a lot of ways to pray!

Of course, the central prayer of the universal Church is the Mass, given to us by Christ himself, where we can receive him Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Next on the list of important devotions would be the Liturgy of the Hours, that great prayer of the Church which clergy and religious (and many lay Catholics) recite morning, noon and night. Add the Rosary, by which we ask Mary, the Mother of God, to intercede for us with her divine Son. And litanies, and the Angelus, and the Morning Offering, and Grace Before Meals.

“Pray always,” Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians. So when we’re wandering around in the garden, or sitting on a bench with our coffee and enjoying the fragrant blossoms, prayer comes naturally to the heart.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries and convents devised another way to gather our hearts toward heaven, by establishing an enclosed prayer space in the yard which they called a “Mary Garden.” Central to the Mary Garden would be a statue of Mary, perhaps holding the Christ Child, or a shrine dedicated to Our Lady. And circling the statue, devout Catholics would plant a variety of flowers and plants that reminded them of Jesus’ mother.

Many of the flowers that are named for Mary will be familiar to you: Daffodil (which resembles the Star of Bethlehem); forget-me-not (their light color is said to resemble Mary’s eyes); gladiolus (also known as “Sword Lily,” glads call to mind the seven swords that pierced Mary's heart). Lily of the Valley, snowdrop, rose, iris, wisteria, buttercups, carnations, columbine — all have ties to Mary, and are common additions to a Mary Garden. You can find a full list of flowers, herbs and fruits that recall aspects of Mary’s life here.

Create a Beautiful Mary Garden – Win a Prize!

The Museum of Family Prayer is a project of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which was founded by Father Patrick Peyton. In 2020, when families were home because of the pandemic, the Museum began a Mary Garden Contest to encourage families to create and use a prayer space in their own yards.

This year, the Museum of Family Prayer is again encouraging families to work together to create their own peaceful Mary Gardens, as a center of respite and prayer. And to generate excitement about Mary Gardens as a creative way to share the faith, Holy Cross Father James Phalan, the national director of Family Rosary and the Museum of Family Prayer, has announced the second annual Mary Garden Contest. Father Phalan explains:

“Since the Middle Ages, people have created Mary Gardens to provide beautiful and peaceful places for prayer and to honor Our Lady. We love this tradition, and also think it's a great way to bring a family together. They can work to create it and then can pray together.

“At the Museum of Family Prayer, we are continually looking for ways to help families come together to pray. We think many will love creating Mary Gardens, especially now. We can brighten up our yards and the world with beautiful places that speak of hope, where families can pray, be at peace — and have fun!”

The contest, Father Phalan hopes, will encourage children’s groups, gardeners, gardener-wannabes and families to create a sacred space in their own yard. If a person does not have available garden space, an interior Mary Garden can be created in a corner of the home.

Entrants in the 2021 contest must submit a photo of their Mary Garden to the Museum of Family Prayer by July 26. Winners will be chosen in two categories: Private/family gardens, and community/church gardens. The top three entrants in each category will win a gift package from the Museum of Family Prayer including items for the whole family to enjoy and embrace your faithful prayer life. The winners will be announced Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption.

The Museum of Family Prayer website offers information about prizes and helpful gardening tips, and includes inspiring photos from last year’s winners. There's still time to plant your own Mary Garden, and to watch it blossom as your family gathers for prayer.