Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mary Gardens and More . . .

John Stokes must have been at my shoulder, encouraging me on, as I surfed the web the other day looking for Mary Gardens! There must be more than we know of, I thought, as I clicked here and there. And sure enough, I found two (there may be more, yet to be discovered) as well as a Hospitallers’ garden and a saint’s garden.

First are the medieval gardens at the Church of St. Mary de Haura, Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex, England. They include the Mary Garden, planted for the 900th anniversary celebrations in May, 2003, and the Hospitallers’ Garden, established as part of the anniversary celebrations in June, 2003. The web site describes the Mary Garden:
In medieval times, a garden could have a symbolic and spiritual dimension. The hortus conclusus or 'enclosed garden' was a sacred area which might represent the Christian soul, enclosed in the body, or the Church, formed of the body of the faithful. It was also, in the late Middle Ages, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, identified with the bride in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. In the 15th century, depictions of the Virgin in a Paradise Garden were frequent, in particular in Flemish and German painting. In these images, the flowers all have a symbolic meaning, representing Mary's virtues. By growing these flowers in a bed outside our own church dedicated to St Mary, we have created an area of colour and interest, and also linked ourselves with the medieval inhabitants of Shoreham, who would have understood very well the spiritual significance of these lovely plants.
The Hospitallers’ Garden offered treatment for the sick, the aged and the poor of the area, but, above all, it provided a caring environment for weary and under-nourished pilgrims and gave them the opportunity to recover their strength and to continue their journey. The use of herbal remedies was very important and the Hospitallers relied on the abundance of healing herbs growing in the garden. 

The saint’s garden is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. It is in Boston, on the grounds of the historic Old North Church, also known as Christ Church, built in 1723. It is Boston’s oldest church building. On the steeple of the church, the tallest in Boston, Robert Newman used lanterns to signal the approach of the British regulars: “One if by land, and two, if by sea.” Paul Revere was one of the neighborhood bell ringers.

The Chapel of St. Francis at Christ Church was built in 1918 to meet the needs of Italian immigrants who belonged to the Waldensian Reform movement. When the small community moved on, the building found new use as the Old North Church Museum and Gift Shop. In the 1970’s the St. Francis of Assisi Garden was established, to remember the Waldensian presence and commemorate the links between the 1723 church and the 1918 chapel. 

The present garden began in 1995 as a volunteer project of the Old North Church Gardeners – members of the church’s congregation and their North End neighbors. The plants and shrubs are similar to the ones used in the late 18th century and are suitable for the partial shade and clay soil of the setting. 

Finally, my search took me to the web site for the Mary’s Garden of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Huntingdon, PA. The Christian Mothers and Ladies Guild began the planning for the Mary’s Garden in the fall of 1999. The new officers, looking for a project for the church and also a way to honor Mary, decided to pursue the idea of a Mary Garden after two of its members, who had attended a horticultural class, got the idea for the garden. The garden was dedicated on May 19, 2002. I know there are more Mary Gardens out there, and I urge you to send information about them to me – either as a comment at the end of this blog, or in an e-mail to - so they may be included on the Mary’s Gardens web site.


  1. I think I have some pictures of this garden taken by a nun several years ago. I will look for them and let you know. Nice blog.


    1. I'm praying that you find the pictures and look forward to seeing them.

  2. Hello;
    In planning my own Mary's garden, I'd like to have two trees as focal points. One is a cedar, representing Christ. What would be a tree symbolizing the Virgin Mary ?
    thanks !

    1. In Germany, there's one we called Goldregen [Golden Rain]. It has weeping willow like features. Blossom trees are also considered "feminine."
      from Sister Jean