Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Mary Gardens



A plant is something most people rarely, if ever, think about, but, like animals, and seen with the eyes of faith, even the lowliest plant invites wonder.

Looked at thoughtfully, plants are transformed into objects of meditation, symbols and signs of our ultimate end. From their complexity and beauty, to their gratitude-inspiring usefulness as food and medicine, they orient us toward the transcendent if we're mindful enough. So stop and look at the natural world around you, taking it all in and following the lead of St. Basil the Great, who wrote in his fifth homily of "On the Haexemeron":
I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that everywhere, wherever you may be, the least plant may bring to yon the clear remembrance of the Creator. If you see the grass of the fields, think of human nature, and remember the comparison of the wise Isaiah. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." Truly the rapid flow of life, the short gratification and pleasure that an instant of happiness gives a man, all wonderfully suit the comparison of the prophet. To-day he is vigorous in body, fattened by luxury, and in the prime of life, with complexion fair like the flowers, strong and powerful and of irresistible energy; tomorrow and he will be an object of pity, withered by age or exhausted by sickness...

..."Let the earth bring forth the fruit tree yielding fruit." Immediately the tops of the mountains were covered with foliage: paradises were artfully laid out, and an infinitude of plants embellished the banks of the rivers. Some were for the adornment of man's table; some to nourish animals with their fruits and their leaves; some to provide medicinal help by giving us their sap, their juice, their chips, their bark or their fruit. In a word, the experience of ages, profiting from every chance, has not been able to discover anything useful, which the penetrating foresight of the Creator did not first perceive and call into existence. Therefore, when you see the trees in our gardens, or those of the forest, those which love the water or the land, those which bear flowers, or those which do not flower, I should like to see you recognising grandeur even in small objects, adding incessantly to your admiration of, and redoubling your love for the Creator. Ask yourself why He has made some trees evergreen and others deciduous; why, among the first, some lose their leaves, and others always keep them. Thus the olive and the pine shed their leaves, although they renew them insensibly and never appear to be despoiled of their verdure. The palm tree, on the contrary, from its birth to its death, is always adorned with the same foliage. Think again of the double life of the tamarisk; it is an aquatic plant, and yet it covers the desert. Thus, Jeremiah compares it to the worst of characters -- the double character.

"Let the earth bring forth." This short command was in a moment a vast nature, an elaborate system. Swifter than thought it produced the countless qualities of plants. It is this command which, still at this day, is imposed on the earth, and in the course of each year displays all the strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds and trees. Like tops, which after the first impulse, continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves when once fixed in their centre; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the consummation of all things. Let us all hasten to attain to it, full of fruit and of good works; and thus, planted in the house of the Lord we shall flourish in the court of our God, in our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

A Mary Garden is the perfect thing to make in order to help you think of plants in this way.


What is a "Mary Garden"?

A Mary Garden is a garden filled with plants, flowers and trees named for Our Lady and Jesus. They are designed to be places of beauty that remind us of our Lord and Lady, allowing us to experience God's creation, and inviting prayer and contemplation. Because Mary is a type of the Church as Bride, the garden should be enclosed if at all possible, based on the words in the fourth chapter of Solomon's Canticle of Canticles:
My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. 

St. Benedict had a rose garden ("rosary") at his monastery in the 4th c., but the first garden we know of that was specifically dedicated to Mary was one created by the Irish St. Fiacre in the 7th c. The earliest record of a garden explicitly called a "Mary Garden" involves a "fifteenth century monastic accounting record of the purchase of plants "for S. Mary's garden" by the sacristan of Norwich Priory, in England." 1

Before the rise of Christendom, many flowers were associated with pagan deities -- Diana, Juno, Venus, etc. -- but when the "Age of Faith" ascended and superceded the pagan, these
flowers were "christened" and re-dedicated to Christian themes. So many flowers were named for Jesus, Mary, the angels, holy places, etc. -- enough such that you can create a garden focused on specific aspects of Mary and Jesus' lives, such as His Passion or her sorrows. Enchanting names, like "Our Lady's Tears" (spiderwort), "Christ's-Cross Flower" (Summer phlox), "Joseph's Coat" (Amaranthus), "Pentecost Rose" or "Mary's Rose" (peony), and "Our Lady's Mantle" (Morning Glory), abounded. Sadly, during the Protestant rebellion and the rise of secularism, many of these flowers were re-named yet again with more wordly names but, of course, these flowers still exist and to many Catholic gardeners, their religious names are still meaningful.

The dedication booklet for Pennsylvania's St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish's Mary Garden includes the following, which will give you an idea about how Mary Gardens recall the lives of Mary and Jesus. The booklet asks the reader to visit the garden and think of Mary:

"Picture her eyes (Forget-Me-Nots), her hair (Maidenhair Fem), her five fingers (Potentilla). Think about her apparel: her smock (Morning Glory), her veil (Baby's Breath), her nightcap (Canterbury Bells), her gloves (Foxglove), and her shoes (Columbine). Remember her attributes: Mary's humility (Violet), the fruitful virgin (Strawberry), Mary's queenship (Virgin Lily), Mary's Flower of God (English Daisy), Mary's glory (Saint John's Wort), and Our Lady's Faith (Veronica).

Think about her life: The Bethlehem Star (Bellflower), the Christmas Flower (Poinsettia), Lady's Bedstraw (Dianthus - Mary used bedstraw to prepare a bed for Jesus), the Epiphany flower (Chrysanthemum), the Flight into Egypt (Fig Tree - legend says that the Holy Family ate the fruit of this tree during their flight into Egypt), Our Lady's Tears (Lily of the Valley - tiny white nodding bell-shaped flowers can be likened to a train of tears), Our Lady's Tresses (Asparagus Fern - legend holds that at the foot of the cross, Mary, in. deep agony, tore out a tress of her hair which Saint John preserved), Mary's Bitter Sorrow (Dandelion), and the Assumption (Hosta - Plantation Lily blooms at the time of the Feast of the Assumption)."

You can plant flowers whose names and form evoke the Fourteen Stations of the Cross or the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary so that by walking through your garden you not only enjoy its natural beauty, but practically "make the Stations" or "walk the Rosary," turning your backyard , schoolyard, or churchyard into a holy shrine (especially when accented with beautiful statuary).

If you don't have lots of room, you can make mini-gardens on your patio or apartment's balcony, or grow miniature plants in dishes or terraria for inside your home (nice gifts for the homebound!). If you do have lots of room, especially if you live in the country, consider setting up a little roadside shrine and garden so people passing by can stop and rest at a beautiful sacred place.

Below is a table of modern common names, scientific names, and medieval, religious names and meanings of flowers, plants, and shrubs, along with a few other plants relevant to our Lord's life. Separately below in the table, you'll find the same for herbs. The month associated with those flowers deemed as "birth flowers" have the birth months rendered in (italicized parentheses):

Medieval man planting a tree

Common Name Scientific Name Medieval Name and/or Religious Meaning
Amaryllis Amaryllis belladonna Beautiful Lady
Amaryllis Hippeastrum hybr. St. Joseph's Lily
Anemone, double-flowered Anemone coronaria St. Brigid
Árbol de San Pedro (or Hierba de San Pedro)
Tecoma stans Called Yellow Elder in English (also yellow bells, yellow trumpetbush, and Esperanza), its Spanish name means "Tree of St. Peter."
Aster Aster nova-belgii Michaelmas Daisy (September)
Baby's Breath Gypsophila panicul. Lady's Veil
Bachelor's Buttons Centauria cyannis Mary's Crown
Bean caper plant Zygophyllum dumosum ? Found on Shroud of Turin. See footnote for more information on the flowers of the Holy Shroud.
Begonia Begonia fuchsioides Heart of Jesus
Begonia Begonia fuch. rosea Heart of Mary
Bellflower Adenophera Lady Bell
Bird of Paradise Streliztia reginae Bird of Paradise
Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta Golden Jerusalem
Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis Mary's Heart
Blue Phlox Phlox divaricata Lady's Wedding
Bluets Houstonia caerul. Madonna's Eyes
Bougainvillea Bougainvillea gen. Trinitaria
Buttercup Ranunculus acris Lady's Locks
Buttercup Ranunculus sp. Our Lady's Bowl
Camelia Camellia (japonica) (Purity)
Calla Lily Zantedeshia aethiop. St. Joseph's Staff
Canna Canna generalis Rosary Beads
Canterbury Bells Campanula medium Our Lady's Nightcap, Mary Bells, Our Lady's Smock
Caper, Caper bushes Capparis spinosa (var. aegyptia) ? Found on Shroud of Turin. See footnote for more information on the flowers of the Holy Shroud.
Carnation Dianthus caryophyllus Mary's Love of God. These flowers are said to have bloomed at Christ's Nativity, according to a German legend. (January)
Castilian roses (Damascus Roses or Damask Rose) Rosa damascena I am not sure of the medieval name for these native-to-Spain flowers, but these are the variety that St. Juan Diego found after the vision of Our Lady at Guadalupe.
Chrysanthemum (mum) Chrysanthemum All Saints' Flower. Chrysanthemums in general are associated with death and are used and funerals and to adorn graves (Chrysanthemum coronarium is believed by scientists to have been present when Christ was laid in the tomb. See footnotes). (November)
Clematis Clematis virginiana Virgin's Bower
Clematis Clematis (flammula) Cross
Columbine Aquilegua vulgaris Our Lady's Shoes, Lady's Slipper. Said to have sprung up under Our Lady's feet as she went to visit Elizabeth. The dove-shaped petals of this flower invited -- and invites -- its use for decoration on the Feast of the Pentecost. It is also representative of Our Lady's Sorrows.
Corn Marigold Chrysanthemum segetum Mary's Gold (November)
Cosmos Cosmos sp. St. Michael's Flower (September)
Costmary Chrysanthemum bals. Mary's Leaf
Cowslip Primula veris St. Peter's Keys
Crocus Crocus vernus Penitent's Rose
Cross Vine Bignonia capreolata Cross Vine
Crown Daisy Chrysanthemum coronarium ? I don't know the medieval name for this flower, but "Crown Daisy" is appropriate: this flower shows up on the Shroud of Turin. See footnote for more information on the flowers of the Holy Shroud.
Daffodil Narcissus pseudo-narc. Mary's Star
Dahlia Dahlia (hybrids) Churchyard Flower
Day Lily Hemerocallis flava St. Joseph's Lily
Dieffenbachia Dieffenbachia sao ant. St. Anthony Dieffenbachia
Dog Rose (general)
Rosa canina Mary's Thorn
Dog Rose Rosa canina Assisiensis This specific Dog Rose cultivar is named after the dog roses growing in Assisi -- the rose bushes St. Francis flung himself into in order to subdue his body. This is the only dog rose that now has no thorns, said to be attributed to the roses giving up their thorns when they touched the Saint's flesh
Dutchman's Breeches Dicentra cucullaria I don't know the medieval name for this interesting flower, but it has sentimental interest for me so I would love to discover it if anyone happens to know and cares to write.
Edelweiss Leontopodium alp. Purity
Easter Lily Lilium longiflorum Easter Lily
English Daisy Bellis perennis Mary-Love
English Holly Ilex aquifolium Burning Bush
Evening Primose Oenothera biennia Easter Candle
Fern Asplenium ruta-mur. Lady's Hair
Field Bindweed Convolvulus arvensis This lovely flowering plant -- closely related to, resembling, and sometimes called the same name as the Morning Glory -- is pervasive once planted and, so, is generally considered a weed. Its old common name according to the Grimm's short tale of the same name is "Our Lady's Little Glass." The story in its entirety: "Once upon a time a waggoner's cart which was heavily laden with wine had stuck so fast that in spite of all that he could do, he could not get it to move again. Then it chanced that Our Lady just happened to come by that way, and when she perceived the poor man's distress, she said to him, 'I am tired and thirsty, give me a glass of wine, and I will set thy cart free for thee.' 'Willingly,' answered the waggoner, 'but I have no glass in which I can give thee the wine.' Then Our Lady plucked a little white flower with red stripes, called field bindweed, which looks very like a glass, and gave it to the waggoner. He filled it with wine, and then Our Lady drank it, and in the self-same instant the cart was set free, and the waggoner could drive onwards. The little flower is still always called Our Lady's Little Glass."
Forget-me-not Myostis scorpoides, Myostis sylvatica Eyes of Mary
Forsythia Forsythia suspensa Easter Bush
Foxglove Digitalis purpurea Our Lady's Gloves
Fuchsia Fuchsia speciosa Christ's Blood Drops or Our Lady's Eardrops
Geranium Pelargonium (dom) Lady Beautiful
Geranium Pelargonium sp. Heart of Jesus, Gentle Virgin
German Iris lris germanica Mary's Sword of Sorrow
Gladiolus Gladiolus sp. Twelve Apostles, Ladder to Heaven
Golden Rod Solidago canad. Lady's Plant
Grape Hyacinth Muscari (gen) St. Joseph's Bells
Grape Hyacinth Muscari botryoides Church Steeples
Ground Ivy Nepeta hederacea Madonna's Herb
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna Mary's Mayflower(May)
Hawthorn Crataegus oxyacana Mary's Berry (May). The Crataegus Oxyacantha praecox variety is the plant of England's "Glastonbury Thorn" -- a plant of Mediterranean origin but which, in Somerset, blooms twice: at Easter and at Christmas. It, therefore, has become a symbol of Christmas. The Glastonbury Thorn is said to have arisen when St. Joseph of Arimathea thrust his hawthorn staff into the ground in Somersetshire. The original plant was destroyed by Puritans (the soldier who did the chopping is said to have been struck in the eye by a large splinter from the tree), but shoots from it were taken, and England's Glastonbury Thorn lives. Since 1929, blossoms from the Glastonbury Thorn are sent to England's Monarchs for their table on Christmas Day.
Heather Calluna vulgaris Lady's Adversary
Holly (Christmas Holly) Ilex opaca. var. Christmas Holly (December)
Holly (English Holly) Ilex aquifolium Burning Bush
Hollyhock Althea rosea St. Joseph's Staff
Honeysuckle Lonicera caprifol., Lonicera (japonica) Lady's Fingers (June)
Honeysuckle Lonicera xylosteum Lady's Stick (June)
Hosta (Plantain Lily) Hosta plantaginea Assumption Lily
Hyacinth Hyacinthus oriental. Lily-Among-Thorns, Lily-of-Valley
Hydranga var. Hydranga macro. mar. Ave Maria
Impatiens Impatiens Wallerana Our Lady's Earrings, or Mother Love
Iris sibirica White: virgnity, purity
Purple: royalty
Ivy Hedera helix Where God has Walked
Jasmine Jasminum officinale Mary
Job's Tears Coix lachryma-jobi Job's Tears (Job 16:20). The seeds of this plant are often used for Rosary beads.
Jonquil Narcissus jonquilla (December) St. Joseph's Staff
Judas Tree Cercis siliquastrum Said to be the tree upon which Judas hanged himself after betraying Our Lord. It is a beautiful tree, with lovely pink flowers in the Spring.
Lady's-slipper Orchid Cypripedium calceolus Lady's Slipper
Larkspur Delphinium ajacis, Delphinum (grandif.) Mary's Tears (July)
Lavender Lavendula (offic.) Flight into Egypt
Lilac Syringa vulgaris Ascension Flower
Lily-of-the-Valley Convallaria majalis Our Lady's Tears. These flowers are said to have blossomed from Mary's tears for her Son as she stood at the foot of the Cross. (May)
Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis Mary's Milkdrops, Our Lady's Milk Herb, The Virgin Mary's Tears
Madonna Lily Lilium candidum Annunciation Lily, Virgin Lily or Mary's Lily

Note: The Venerable Bede (A.D. 672-735) described the white petals as symbols of Mary's body, and the golden anthers as symbols of the glory of her soul. Roses and lilies were said to have filled Mary's empty tomb when it was opened by the Apostles. While lilies' association with purity cause them to be depicted with many Saints, such as SS. Francis and Claire, they are most strongly associated with St. Joseph, whose rod is said, in the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, to have blossomed to prove he was worthy to guard Mary and become her spouse; with St. Anthony of Padua, because lilies left in chuches on his Feast Day miraculously remained fresh during the French Revolution; and with the archangel Gabriel, who is depicted as presenting Mary with the lily at the Annunciation (hence the name "Annunciation Lily"). Lilies are also associated with Solomon's Temple (III Kings 7:19-22), and their beauty is commented on by Christ Himself (Luke 12:27).
Maltese Cross Lychnis chalcedonica "Maltese Cross" (or "Jerusalem Cross"). The shape of these flowers' petals strongly evokes the Maltese Cross, and they are said to have been introduced into Europe, from Russia and Siberia, by the crusading Knights of Malta.
Marigold Calendula officin. Mary's Gold (October)
Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmar. Our Lady's Belt
Millfoil Achillea millefolia Christ's Back, Our Lord's Back
Mistletoe Viscum album Cross
Moonflower Calonyction acul. Lady-of-Night
Morning Glory Ipomoea purpurea Our Lady's Mantle (September)
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus St. Joseph's Flower
Orchid Orchis purpurea Lady Orchis
Orchid Brassavola nodosa Lady-of-Night
Orchid Orchis maculata Gethsemani
Oriental Poppy Papaver orientale Christ's Blood, Crucifixion Blood-Drops (August)
Ox-Eye Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum Mary's Star. The legend told is that the Magi followed the star to Bethlehem but weren't sure where to go once there. King Melchior then saw the ox-eye daisy growing, which looked very much like the star they'd followed. He picked it, and the door to the stable opened revealing the Holy Family.
Pansy Viola tricolor Trinity Flower, Our Lady's Delight
Passion Flower Passiflora Passion Flower, whose 5 stamens symbolize the Five Wounds of Christ; the outer fringe, the crown of thorns; and stigmas, the nails. See more here.
Periwinkle Vinca rosea Virgin Flower
Petunia Petunia hybr. Lady's Praise
Peony Paeonia officinalis Pentecost Rose (does anyone know of any name or meaning associated with Paeonia lactiflora?)
Pink Dianthus (gen) Mary's Pink. St. Rosalia is said to have appeared to a  priest and promised him healing. When she did, her dress was sown with pinks (likely Dianthus rupicola, which grows in the cliffs of Sicily).
Poet's Narcissus Narcissus poeticus Lady's Rose
Poinsettia Euphorbia pulcherima Nativity Flower, Christmas Star
Pot Marigold Calendula officinalis Mary's Gold
Primrose Primula elatior Mary's Candlestick (February)
Primrose Primula vulgaris Lady's Frills (February)
Quaking Grass Briza Lady's Tresses, Our Lady's Braids
Ranunculus, double-flowered Ranunculus I don't know the medieval name for this flower, but it's a gorgeous blossom.
Rose Rosa White: Mary's Purity
Red: Mary's Sorrow and the Blood of Christ. Also martyrdom.
Gold: Mary's Glory
Red and White: Visitation

Note: The Rose symbolizes Mary herself (she is known as "The Mystical Rose," see Litany of Loreto) and is described in Dante's Paradiso when the guide asks him to contemplate Mary, "Why are you so enamored of my face that you do not turn your gaze to the beautiful garden which blossoms under the radiance of Christ? There is the Rose in which the Divine word became flesh: here are the lilies whose perfume guides you in the right ways."

Roses and lilies were said to have filled Mary's empty tomb when it was opened by the Apostles.

Roses are also associated with SS. Dorothy and Thérèse of Lisieux (who both send roses from Heaven), Elizabeth of Hungary, and Rose of Lima. St. Francis once threw himself on the thorns of a rosebush as penance. Since then, the rosebushes in that garden (near the cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi) have no thorns. See also the entry for Castilian Roses. (June)
Rock Rose Cistus (landanif.) Rose of Sharon
Rock Rose Cistus creticus ? Shows up on Shroud of Turin. See footnote for more information on the flowers of the Holy Shroud.
Rose of Jericho Selaginella lepidophylla


Anastatica hierochuntica
This desert plant survives in a curled up, dormant, brown, dessicated state for years, and then opens up and turns green with a bit of water. After returning to a lovely green, it goes dormant again when its water source is removed. Because of this fascinating property, it is often kept dormant in the home and brought out at Christmas time to blossom and then close in order to symbolize the opening and closing of Mary's womb. The plant is also known as the Resurrection Plant, Siempre Viva ("Everlasting"), and Dinosaur Plant. Read more about this plant on the Rose of Jericho page off the Chrismastide Overview page.
Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus Rose of Sharon
Scabiosa Scabiosa columbaria Mary's Pincushion
Scotch Thistle Onopardon acanthium Judas' Cloak
Sea Pink Armeria maritima Our Lady's Cushion. These flowers are said to have made a place for Mary to sit during the Flight into Egypt.
Shamrock Trifolium dubium or Trifolium repens
a symbol of St. Patrick and his evangelization of Ireland, and of Ireland itself -- but St. Patrick used it as a symbol of the Trinity, with each leaf representing a Divine Person while the plant remains one plant. For decorative purposes, wood sorrel from the Oxalis plant family can be used and grows well indoors.
Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus Infant Jesus' Shoes
Snowdrop Galanthus nivalus "Candlemas Bells" or "Purification Flowers." These flowers are said to have bloomed on Candlemas, when Mary took Jesus to the Temple for His "redemption." (January)
Spanish Moss Mentha requienii Mother-of-Thousands
Spiderwort Tradescantia zebrina (Zebrina pendula) Wandering Jew. The name for this plant -- often used as a houseplant -- derives from an old legend about a Jew who mocked and hit Christ during His Passion and so was condemned by Him to wander the earth until the Last Judgment. Two other species of this plant are also known by this name: Tradescantia fluminensis and Tradescantia pallida (Setcreasea purpurea, Purple Heart).
Star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum symbol of the star that led the Magi to Christ
Stock Mathiola incana Our Lady's Violet
Strawberry Frageria vesca Fruitful Virgin
Summor Phlox Phlox paniculata Christ's-Cross Flower
Sunflower Helianthus annus Mary's Gold
Sweet Alyssum Lobularia maritima Blessed by Mary, Mary's Little Cross
Sweet Pea Lathyrus odoratus Our Lady's Flower (April)
Sweet Pea Lathyrus pratensis Mary's Foot (April)
Sweet William Dianthus barbatus Lady Tuft
Tournefort's gundelia Gundelia tournefortii ? Found on Shroud of Turin. See footnote for more information on the flowers of the Holy Shroud.
Tuberose Polianthes tuberosa St. Joseph's Staff
Tulip Tulipa gesneriana Mary's Prayer
Violet Viola odorata Our Lady's Modesty (March)
Water Lily Nymphaea alba Lady-of-the-Lake (July)
Winter Rose (Snow Rose) Helleborus niger Christmas Rose, or Lent Rose. A German Christmas symbol.
Wisteria Wisteria frutescen Virgin's Bower
Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa Candlemas Caps, Lady's Nightcap
Yellow Flag Iris Iris pseudocorus Fleur-de-lis of French royalty, Mary as Queen, the Immaculate Conception
Yucca Yucca treculeana St. John's Palm
Zinnia Zinia elegans The Virgin, Church Flower
Zinnia Zinnia multiflora Little Mary, The Virgin


Parsley Petrosolenium crisp. Our Lady's Little Vine
Sage Salvia officinalis Mary's Shawl
Rosemary Rosmarinus officin. Mary's Nosegay
Thyme Thymus vulgaris The Virgin's Humility
Chives Allium schoenopras. Our Lady's Garleek
Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus its botanical name means "Little Dragon" and evokes St. Martha's slaying of the dragon known as La Tarasque
Dill Anethium graveolens Devil-Away
Coriander Coriandrum sativum St. John's Head
Sweet Bay Laurus nobilis St. Bridget's Flower
Basil Ocimum basilicum Holy Communion Plant. Pots of basil are used to decorate homes and to give away as gifts on St. Anthony of Padua's Day.
Marjoram Origanum vulgare Mary's Bedstraw
Cumin Cummin cyanum Cross-Cummin
Fennel Foenlculum vulgare Our Lady's Fennel
Anise Pimpinella anisum Our Lady's Sprig, Lady's Tobacco
Spearmint Mentha spicata Mary's Mint
Chicory Cichorlum intybus Heavenly Way
Horehound Marrubium vulgare Mother-of-God's Tea, Mary's Nettle
Sassafras Sassafras (albidum) Virgin's Tree
Hyssop (Syrian Oregano) Origanum syriacum I am unable to find a medieval name for this plant, but include it because of its importance in the Passover, Psalms and Passion. The variety of hyssop properly called Hyssopos officinal, and known as St. Joseph's Plant in the Middle Ages, is not the variety spoken of in the Bible and at the Mass. The Biblical plant is Origanum maru.
Rue Ruta graveolens Rue was once used by priests to sprinkle holy water. Ophelia, in Hamlet, calls the herb "grace o' Sundays" in the scene in which she hands out flowers. It is a symbol of repentance and regret, the word itself having come to mean "regret" ("you'll rue the day you do that!").
Catnip Nepeta cataria Mary's Nettle
Feverfew Chrysanthemum parth. Mary's Flower
Feverfew Parthenium hystero. Santa Maria
Chamomile Anthemus cotula Maiden Weed
Chamomile Matricaria chamom. Lady's Flower
St. John's Wort Hypericum perforatm St. John's Wort, Fuga Daemon ("Devil's Flight"), John's Blood, Jesus' Blood Drops, Christ's Sweat, Mary's Glory
Spikenard (or "Nard") Nardostachys grandiflora (or Nardostachys jatamansi) The portion of the plant just above the roots has a patchouli-like scent which was used by Mary Magdalen in the ointment she used to annoint Christ.
Dandelion Taraxicum officin Mary's Bitter Sorrow
Valerian Valeriana officin. Lady's Needlework
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium Lady's Flavoring

As you plan your garden, consider planting, depending on where you live, the following to help the liturgical year come alive:

See the page on the Customs of the Liturgical Year for more information on these practices.

Make your garden a place of peace and beauty. Make it a place where you can rest comfortably, perhaps with windchimes or a fountain to make for a relaxing soundscape, a fire pit so you can enjoy it at night and when things get cooler, etc.

See also this site's Catholic Library to find "The Mystical Flora of St. Francis de Sales," a collection of the Saint's musings on plants.


When you plant your Mary Garden, let's hope it comes to be visited by some of "Our Lady's Birds" -- ladybugs, named for Mary when, according to medieval legend, they miraculously came to save crops from aphids. The red color of the "Lady Beetle's" body is symbolic of her red cloak, and the 7 black spots found on some species in Europe represent her 7 Sorrows. Lady Bugs are almost universally considered symbols of "good luck" because of the benefits they bring to man. 2 You might want to pray to St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners, for God to send some of these critters your way...

Idea: my father, R.I.P., was a great lover of trees, and when his children were little, he planted a tree for each of us (sugar maples). This is a lovely idea, and one that is likely to make your children more attentive to the natural world.

Tip: you can make flower pots and cement objects, like statues, look more ancient and interesting by inviting moss to grow on them. To do this, mix a quart of buttermilk, a pint of pulverized wood-land moss, a pint of composted manure, and a little Miracle-Grow. Paint onto object with a paintbrush and set the object in a cool, shady place. Keep it moist by spritzing with water or stale beer.


1 Some of the information for this page comes from Mary Gardens website, now found at the University of Dayton's Marian Library.

2 Just for fun: "They say" that the nursery rhyme most in the English-speaking world grew up with (see below) comes from medieval farmers burning their fields to clear them for the next sowing season:

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children all gone.
All except one whose name is Anne
Who hid herself under the frying pan. 

3 The evidence of many plant species have been found, either visibly, in pollen form, or both, on the Shroud of Turin. Six of these are below:

Chrysanthemum coronarium

The "Crown Daisy" was laid on His Body when He was entombed. It's the most prominent flower seen in the Shroud, and it blooms between March and May when the Crucifixion took place. The flower appears in many Jesus icons (ex. the 6th c. Pantocrator icon at St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt and a 7th century solidus coin minted under Justinian II).

Zygophyllum dumosum

Zygophyllum dumosum leaves and flowers are visible in the image, too, and its pollen has been found in the Shroud also. This is the second most prominent flower found in the Shroud's image.

Capparis aegyptia

Flowers of this plant open up between Noon and sunset. The flowers visible in the Shroud indicate a time of around 4PM.

Cistus creticus

Many pollen grains of this lovely flower, also known as "Rock Rose," have been found on the Shroud, which support the identification of an unclear image of what appears to be this flower on the Shroud.

Gundelia tournefortii

Gundelia tournefortii pollen is found in abundance on the Holy Shroud. It is believed by some experts to be one of the plants that, when dried, made up the crown of thorns. 

Sarcopeterium spinosa

This plant, too, is thought to make up the crown of thorns.

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