A Garden for Mary: Marian Flowers Foster Love for the Blessed Mother
How tending brings families to prayer as they cultivate creation.
For Sarah Mergen, who co-owns Little Way Flower Farm with her husband, Ryan, her work reflects the beauty of Marian flowers and gardens in a hands-on way.
Mergen shared with the Register how her mother’s penchant for gardening inspired her to follow in her footsteps.
As a Catholic convert who entered the Church at Easter 2014, St. Thérèse is her conformation saint. “As I matured in my faith, reading Story of a Soul and digging into her way of life, her special way, I found her to be a nice place to rest, with my life as a mom of little kids — how the little things of God bring glory to God and his kingdom,” Mergen told the Register.
In addition, the family has been the recipients of the Little Flower’s “shower of roses,” following prayer novenas.
Consequently, the Little Flower was a perfect namesake for their North Carolina-based flower-farming venture.
So Sarah and Ryan, active-military-turned-reservist, embarked on their farming endeavor, including their young sons in the effort. Last year, during the pandemic, was the first season they were able to sell their blooms. “It went really well,” Sarah reported.
This year, they have a new property for growing flowers. “It is a tremendous blessing. I have truly found God in the garden,” Mergen said.
“Flowers are such a part of our life and world,” she shared, mentioning floral occasions from everyday life to baby showers and weddings to funerals.
Mergen loves the tradition of the Mary garden. “More and more people are realizing this is a really neat tradition,” she said. “To physically do something that has spiritual fruits is so good, for my kids especially.”
And for the last 18 months or so, she has researched flowers that have Marian connections. “There are so many flowers!” she explained with enthusiasm, citing around 600 or more, adding that the tradition of Marian-themed gardens came from Europe. People coming to America brought such plants with them as well as catalogued new ones they found here, and they gave indigenous plants Marian names, too.
Roses are the No. 1 Mary flower, of course. “All roses are symbolic of Mary. She is the ‘Mystical Rose.’”
But Mergen loves marigolds, too. “Aside from the rose — for obviously reasons, marigolds are next on my list.”
Marigold literally means “Mary’s gold” and reflects Mary’s dowry in heaven and her queenship. This flower also repels snakes. “God is cool like that!” Mergen remarked.
The Mergen family plants marigolds around their chicken coop to keep their chickens safe.
She also mentioned Star of Bethlehem, a “white, dainty flower” that blooms around Christmastime. “That’s a favorite.”
Mergen recommends three colors of roses for Mary gardens: white to reflect Mary’s purity, immaculate example and joy; red, to reflect her sorrows; and yellow, to honor her glory and her place as Queen of Heaven.
White lilies also have an association with Mary, “a famous symbolic flower,” Mergen explained.
Daisies, especially the ox-eye daisy, have significance, too, shared Mergen.
One that is less well known is the aster, which blooms in the fall, around Mary’s birthday, Sept. 8. In fact, it is called “Mary’s birthday flower.”
Mergen has found in her research that, with enough searching, “anything can have a Marian name.”
She encourages would-be gardeners to be creative in their efforts.
“People think Mary gardens have to be super elaborate, like those at parishes, but Mary statues with pots of flowers around them are really special.”
“For honoring Mary every day, a garden is a practical way to do it — cultivating that relationship with the Blessed Mother; when tending, it’s a really practical way to spend time, to give her time, and to pray, too.”
In addition to being a special devotion, Mergen sees Marian flowers as a way to reflect on beauty.
“The world doesn’t put emphasis on true beauty, but God moves souls when they see true beauty. It’s hard to deny God when you watch flowers grow.”
This truth was affirmed by Noelle Mering of The Theology of Home Project, who commented to the Register, “There is rich meaning to be found in a garden — from the care of the gardener, to the hidden but vital processes happening in the soil, fed by water and sunlight. The flower emerges and testifies to that great effort of earth and toil, but also to the glory of God manifest in his creation. It is no wonder that Our Lady, his greatest creation, is symbolized by so many varieties of flowers. In our book Theology of Home II, we write, ‘The rich imagery of the gardener and his garden makes it easy to see that Mary is rightfully called the greatest flower among created beings. St. John Newman describes her as ‘the choice, delicate, perfect flower of God’s spiritual creation.’”
Katrina Harrington of RoseHarrington.com loves Marian flowers and gardens, too.
In fact, the California-based artist’s tagline on Instagram is “Your home for all things Mary gardens.”
“Nature is the art of God. People talk about mountains as nature’s cathedrals. With their religious names, flowers are nature’s stained glass, full of stories about the life of Christ and the Blessed Mother. Mary gardens are then like little chapels, full of nature’s stained glass that show our love and devotion to our Mother, who brings us to her Son,” Harrington commented to the Register.
She, too, has her favorite flowers.
“I love any flower associated with the Flight to Egypt, such as juniper or lupine. There are stories that, as the Holy Family fled from King Herod, they took refuge in juniper plants or lupine fields. The image of Our Lady embracing the Christ Child as a juniper tree hugged the Holy Family is a striking image to meditate upon.”
She continued, “Morning glories have the religious name of Our Lady’s Mantle. Their beautiful blue hue and soft pedals remind me to seek refuge in the loving protection of Our Lady.”
“Flowers associated with the sorrows of Our Lady bring me to the foot of the cross,” she added. “Lily of the valley (Our Lady’s Tears, for the tear-like buds), nodding ladies’ tresses (Our Lady’s Tresses, for the braid-like pattern) that reminds us of Our Lady tearing at her hair while bowing in agony watching her Son’s sacrifice, and irises (Our Lady’s Sword of Sorrow) tell me to unite my day with the cross, as Mary did.”
In terms of tips for families who want to plant their own gardens, here is Harrington’s advice:
“Just plant! Don’t be too intimidated by getting the plants to tell a story just right. The beautiful plants you choose will create a prayer first through work and then through contemplation. How happy Jesus must be seeing you offer his Mother such a gorgeous gift! And how happy the Blessed Mother must be to bring you to her Son!”