In 2012, when we started our first Mary Garden, our family knew very little about the rich tradition and symbolism that a Mary Garden represented. What began out of curiosity turned into a school project and greater appreciation and devotion.
History of the Mary Garden
The practice of planting a dedicated Mary Garden was born during the Middle Ages in the monasteries and convents of Europe. It is believed that people saw reminders of Mary and biblical events in the flowers and herbs that were growing around them.
The first dedicated Mary Garden is believed to have been tended by Saint Fiacre, the Irish patron saint of gardening. The first reference to a flower named in Mary’s honor is found as early as 1373, in an English recipe to ward off the plague.
Our Very First Mary Garden
Anyone can grow a Mary Garden without much knowledge or effort. When we planted our very first Mary Garden in our teeny, tiny backyard, I didn’t know anything about growing flower gardens.
I grew up on a farm and knew how to grow some vegetables, but I never planted any flowers. I don’t even know where we got the idea to start a Mary Garden. To be honest, I have a pretty bad case of mommy-brain.
All I know is that some time at the beginning of 2012, the seed had been planted and I began my quest to plant our family’s very first Mary Garden. I found a beautiful statue and waited impatiently for the snow to melt.
As you can see from the image above, our very first Mary Garden was simple and pretty plain. We placed our Mary statue along the fence to the neighbor’s yard and put a pot of annuals beside it.
At the time, I was expecting our 5th child and didn’t have the energy to do much more that summer. A potted flower basket and a Mary statue is a great way to start your own Mary Garden.
Over the years, as we (my oldest daughter and I) learned more about Mary Gardens, we started collecting more and more flowers and placed Mary in a more prominent place in our garden.
Starting a Mary Garden today!
So you want to start a Mary Garden, but have no idea where to start. Perhaps you have limited space, time and money. Maybe you’ve heard that some flowers are poisonous and are afraid your toddler might get into them.
These were some of my main concerns, too. We have lived in apartments and in houses with tiny yards our whole married life. We have also had babies or toddlers for most of those married years as well.
Many of the most beautiful flowers are poisonous (foxgloves, lily of the valley, bleeding hearts…) and some are invasive (blue cornflowers and lily of the valley). This is why I put together a list of child-friendly, ‘easy-to-grow in a wide variety of climates’ flowers to help you start your very own Mary Garden today.
11 Child-friendly Mary Garden Flowers & their meanings
RED ROSE: Mary’s Sorrow
Although the rose may not be the most child-friendly flower due to it’s thorns, it is the most common flower associated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is not poisonous, and the petals can be used for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Pansy: Our Lady’s Delight
This sweet little flower grows without much attention at all. The flower petals are edible and can be grown in pots or in the ground.
Marigold: Mary’s Gold
These are cheerful little garden helpers. They are often grown in vegetable gardens to repel garden pests. There is a legend that states that the Holy Family was accosted by thieves on their flight to Egypt. When the thieves took Mary’s purse and opened it, marigolds fell out.
Poppy: Christ’s Blood
There are several different types of poppies. They are annual flowers that self-seed. They will come back year after year.
Zinnia: Little Mary
The zinnia is a wonderful cut flower. To extend the season, the zinnia flowers can be started from seeds indoors during the late winter. This can be a fun way to learn how flowers grow in your homeschool.
Dahlia: Churchyard Flower
The dahlia comes in a variety of colors and sizes. Like the zinnia, they are wonderful cut flowers. These flowers are popular in seed catalogs. To plant dahlias, you need to purchase tubers. The smaller varieties can be planted in pots or directly in the ground.
Lavender: Flight into Egypt or Mary’s Drying Plant
Lavender requires a sunny and hot spot in the garden. Legend has it that the lavender plant acquired it’s scent when Mary laid Jesus’ clothes over a lavender bush on the flight to Egypt. Children can dry the flowers to make sachet’s so that their clothes can smell like Jesus’ clothing, too.
Petunia: Our Lady’s Praise
Petunia’s are an inexpensive and very prolific annual flower. The petunia is symbolic of Mary’s trust in God’s promises and grace. The petunias are beautiful in pots or in garden beds. They come in a beautiful array of colors and sizes, too.
Daisy: Mary’s Rose
The daisy is another flower that is easy to grow from seeds indoors in the late winter. In spring, you can plant the seedlings in your garden or in pots or planters. The daisy makes wonderful cut flower bouquets and can be used to make a little crown of flowers for your Mary statue.
Phlox: Cross Flower
Phlox flowers come in a variety of sizes and hues, and attract birds and butterflies to the garden. Phlox are pretty hardy and prefer a sunny location.
Sunflower: Mary’s Gold
Sunflowers are one of the most child-friendly flowers of all time. They are easy to grow from seeds directly sown in the garden. If you are short on space, there are dwarf varieties to choose from that can be grown in pots. They attract bees and birds, too. In the fall, you can dry the flower heads and harvest the seeds to roast and enjoy as a snack.
I have a terrible time remembering things unless I have a list. I know I am not alone in this. That is why I created a simple printable reference chart with the flowers listed above to save you the trouble of trying to remember them all.
You can Pin the Reference Chart for later or download your copy now.
Making Your Mary Garden Special
Once you have decided to plant a Mary Garden with your children, you will want to consider a few things to make this a special place of devotion.
Begin by choosing a Mary Statue for your garden. There are different types and a variety of sizes of garden statues.
We bought a simple Mary statue made of resin since 2012. We live in a very crazy climate that experiences extreme frost in winter, hot sun, plenty of hail, and wind storms in the summer. This statue has stood the test of time and I always recommend it.
There are other options like stone, concrete, marble, resin, and combinations of the above. In the spring, my husband bought us a new Mary statue for our yard.
It is made of stone and I hope that it can stand up to the crazy weather as well as our other statue. Now we have a statue in the front yard as well as in the backyard.
If you can, be sure to ask people in your area what types of statues they have in their yards to find the best suitable one for your garden.
When choosing a statue, you might want to consider where your garden will be. If you have a small statue, you can place it with some flowers in a planter on your porch or patio.
If you have a larger statue, you might want to consider whether or not you would like to put it under an arbor or in a homemade grotto. Consider how much space you have and plan accordingly.
Solar lights and patio or Christmas lights are nice additions to a Mary Garden. The solar lights are so pretty when the sun goes down.
My husband likes rigging up lights and the Mary Garden was an excuse to keep lights up all year. He put the lights on a timer that goes on at dusk. Sometimes husbands want to get involved, too.
You may want to consider a birdbath or water feature in the Mary Garden. Water is so symbolic in Catholicism and water creates an ambient atmosphere. A water feature can be a safety hazard around children as I am sure that you are aware, so it may not be suitable depending on your situation.
A garden bench or somewhere to sit and pray is nice to have, but not necessary. Garden path stones can be placed in a rosary formation or in a few convenient locations to help you reach every corner of the garden.
If you or your child is interested in going deeper and learning the Latin names and Marian names of flowers, I have a list of websites and books that we have found helpful.
a Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy A Garden of Visible Prayer by Margaret Rose Realy University of Dayton - Annuals Mary Gardens St. Mary de Haura website printable PDF leaflet of Mary Garden flowers Fisheaters.com Medieval plant names and modern corollaries
In addition, I updated the notebooking pages that I created for my daughter years ago. Using the lists from the books and websites, my daughter used notebooking pages to document what she learned about several flowers.
I created these to match the Garden Journal in the TpT store. You can mix and match to create your own unique journal.
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let me know if you have a Mary Garden or if you are planning on starting one.