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How to plant a 'Mary garden' during May

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Celebrating Mary during the month of May seems as natural as blossoms opening in spring. I never actually knew why we celebrated Mary during May, just that it was tradition. It may have had something to do with the arrival of spring, a relief from the bitter cold of winters in Western Massachusetts. The fragrance of spring lilacs reminded us that life was being renewed. Perhaps it was the special crowning ceremony when, as a child at Catholic school, we crowned the beautiful statue of Mary in our church, recognizing her as “Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.”

The custom of dedicating the month of May to Mary actually dates back to the 13th century, when Christians identified plants and their parts as reminders of the Holy Family and in particular, of the life and experiences of Mary. It was not until the 18th century, however, that this practice became popular. Every monastery and convent soon had a special garden area devoted to Mary that also could provide flowers to adorn their church altars as they burst into bloom during May.

This May, however, is different. Now, we are all away from family and friends, forsaking them in order to save their lives and ours. We stay away from coworkers and social gatherings for the same reason. We are away from our church families and religious education groups. We reschedule events, including weddings and birthdays, and we watch Mass on television. And if a family member or friend should die, we say goodbye and mourn from a safe distance, without the consolation of loved ones.

This May is certainly different, and that is why knowing Mary as our mother gives us reason to celebrate and continue to rejoice in the spring. 

As a gardener, I live with the innate hope that life will emerge from the earth at the proper time, just as we will be born again in Jesus when the time is appropriate. But when doubt seeps in — and it will — find your faith again in the garden.

A Mary garden is a garden or section filled with plants, herbs, flowers and trees named for Our Lady and Jesus. It is designed to be a place of peace and beauty that allows us to experience God's creation, inviting prayer and contemplation. 

Traditionally, a gardener uses a statue of the Virgin Mary as the focal point, then groups special plants around. Generally, the plants represent some aspect of Mary’s clothing, home or person, or symbolize aspects of her spiritual life. 

A Mary garden is easy to create, especially if you already have garden beds in your yard. Follow these easy steps:

1.       Choose the location. Sun-to-partial-shade is best for most plants.

2.       Prepare the soil. Amend garden soil with compost and manure.

3.       Find a statue of the Blessed Mother. Choose large or small, whatever pleases you.

4.       Identify the plants for your Mary garden. It’s your choice; see suggestions below.

5.       Design the garden. Start with placing your statue of Mary, then plan where your flowers and herbs should be placed.

6.       Buy the plants or transplant them from other locations.

7.       Add meaningful accents to the garden, such as a bench or decorative stones.

Possible plants for your garden:

Roses — the “queen of flowers” has long been associated with Mary, queen of heaven.

Rosemary — it is in the name.

Marigold — Marigold means Mary’s gold. Early Christians offered Mary these flowers instead of coins.

Sweet alyssum — these have a wonderful fragrance and cross-shaped flowers that remind us of our Lord’s cross.

Lily of the valley — also known as Our Lady’s Tears. This flower has amazing fragrance and tolerates shade.

Impatiens — called Mother’s Love because of their constant blooms, this flower does well in shade.

Bleeding hearts — this plant reminds us of Mary’s heart, which was pierced; it also does well in shade.

Hyacinths — early bloomers, they have gorgeous colors, fragrance and star-shaped flowers.

If you do not have a garden or yard, you can still make a “Mary Dish Garden” using a planter and smaller sizes of a Mary statue and plants. 

Find your strength with Mary this spring. Honor her and her love will sustain you. Encourage your family to work together to create this special garden. Mary will reward you all with her love and peace. And if you may be looking for me this spring, check the garden first.

Emanuel is coordinator for diocesan Special Needs Ministries.

Find out more

For more on Mary gardens, go to bit.ly/MaryGardens.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020