A Garden for Mary
English Parish Creates Marian Oasis for Prayer — and Evangelization
CELEBRATING OUR LADY. The priests and parishioners alike enjoy the Mary Garden at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in New Malden, Surrey, England, which is cared for by Malcolm and Felicity Surridge and other volunteers. Courtesy of the Surridges
England has many ancient medieval churches, but St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in New Malden, Surrey, England — about half an hour by rail from the center of London — is not one of them. It is a red-brick church, built in the 1930s for this busy suburb.
St. Joseph’s is a busy and thriving parish — 1,000-plus people fill the pews at Mass on Sundays — and stands on the main road leading to the busy town of Kingston-on-Thames. Traffic roars past steadily.
But its particular claim to fame is its Mary Garden, the first created on the grounds of an ordinary parish church since the Reformation.
The Mary Garden is the work of parishioners Malcolm and Felicity Surridge, with the enthusiastic help and support of the former parish priest, Father Peter Edwards, who will now be part of a new oratory in the Portsmouth Diocese.
It all began when Malcolm volunteered to restore the statue of Our Lady that stands outside the church, facing the busy road.
“The garden surrounding the shrine was looking very neglected, and we thought it would be a lovely idea to create a proper garden in her honor, to complement her restored statue,” said Felicity.
“We wanted to do something different from just the usual lilies and roses, which are associated with Our Lady, so I did some research on the Internet to see what other flowers had links to Mary.”
“I was astonished to find out just how many plants and flowers had been named after Our Lady by our medieval Catholic ancestors and what a wealth of beautiful legends and traditions were associated with these flowers,” she added, noting that library information was also key.
“So the Mary Garden project at St. Joseph’s became a wonderful way of reviving a missing piece of our pre-Reformation Catholic history, celebrating our faith and honoring Our Lady all at the same time.”
The flowers’ names include Our Lady’s earrings (fuschia), Our Lady’s gloves (foxgloves), Our Lady’s modesty (violets), Infant Jesus’ Shoes (snapdragons) and others, including marigolds and Lady’s Slippers.
Following King Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 16th century, devotion to Mary was strongly discouraged in Britain. Her shrines and statues were destroyed, including the famous ones at Walsingham, Ipswich and Caversham.
And as the years went by, the ancient names of flowers that echoed Mary’s name were forgotten, and new names took their place.
Then, in the 20th century, a revival began: At the Anglican cathedral at Lincoln, a Mary Garden was created, and there was also some interest in America.
But St. Joseph’s at New Malden can claim to be the very first post-Reformation parish that has such a garden.
Felicity Surridge is currently working on a book that will help other people to create their own Mary Gardens.
The Surridges have worked hard on the garden but are emphatic that it is not a chore.
“Once the garden is planted, there is obviously some maintenance work to keep it looking at its best … but this needn’t be onerous,” Felicity said, advising the aid of volunteers. “To be honest, we find it an absolute joy to work in the Mary Garden, and I’m sure Our Lady smiles on our efforts.”
The garden attracts a great deal of interest. Children love to drop in to see the flowers and learn about them. People often stop to pray before the statue and sometimes leave a posy of their own.
And as Felicity explained, it is a wonderful opportunity for evangelization.
“There’s a bus stop right outside, with buses arriving every 10 to 15 minutes. When a bus arrives at the stop, we notice how many of its passengers are already craning their necks to see what is happening in the Mary Garden and to admire the flowers, so much so that we have nicknamed the 131 bus the ‘Evangelization Special.’ Passersby frequently stop to ask questions about the garden, and we enjoy telling them that it is a revival of the ancient Mary Garden tradition and share with them some of the ancient names and legends.”
She encourages other churches to create their own gardens.
“The beauty of Mary Gardens is that they can be tailored to fit the space you have available. You just need to pick your plants carefully to ensure that they don’t outgrow the plot. It’s even possible to plant a Mary Garden in a container or two, using some of the smaller Marian shrubs as a starting point (e.g., a small lavender or fuchsia and then surrounding this with appropriate Marian annuals, such as petunias, marigolds or pansies.”
“It’s a wonderful project for a family,” she added. “My advice would be to start small and develop the garden as the children’s interest grows. Mary Gardens can also be wonderfully practical, from a culinary point of view. Many of the herbs that we love to use in our cooking have Marian names and connections, e.g., rosemary, thyme, chives and sage. Even fruit trees can be included in a Mary Garden: The apple, for example, has links with the Garden of Eden, the grape vine symbolizes the Eucharist, and the pear is an ancient symbol for Christ. So Mary Gardens can be a wonderful way of teaching children about the faith and their Catholic heritage.”
Father Philip Andrews, newly ordained this year, celebrated his first Mass at St. Joseph’s in July and says he owes his vocation, under God, to Father Edwards.
He has seen the Mary Garden grow and flourish year after year, with new flowers and plants appearing each summer, when he returned to the parish from studies in Rome.
“The Mary Garden is a most wonderful feature of the parish and is a tribute to the enthusiasm and commitment of Father Peter Edwards, the Surridge family and the parishioners. The Surridge family has worked hard and created something really beautiful — we are all very proud of it,” Father Andrews said.
“Growing up in the Anglican tradition [he was received into the Catholic Church in 1989], I learned something of the old names for flowers and traditions, such as not eating blackberries after Michaelmas — as the devil has turned them sour. Then I slowly came to understand the full richness of our English Catholic history, and it is something that is so important to share and so beautiful for each new generation to know.
“We like to think of New Malden as a very special place, and the Mary Garden has helped to make it so.”
writes from London.
Want to know more? Contact the Surridges via email at [email protected].
DID YOU KNOW?
Mary’s birthday is Sept. 8.
- August 12-25, 2012