Monday, 21 April 2014

Mary Garden

"My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.
The fountain of gardens: the well of living waters, which run with a strong stream from Libanus. Arise, O north wind, and come, O south wind, blow through my garden, and let the aromatical spices thereof flow."
The Song of Songs 4:12

"Hortus conclusus....similitudinem habet Matris Domini, matris et Virginis."
St. Jerome

Today I got started on my Mary Garden. This is something I have been planning for a while since I saw the idea on the internet. I bid on a vintage chalkware statue of Mary on ebay, which I got for £21, cleared some ground and planted some plants and flowers associated with Our Lady.

In medieval England many flowers and plants were associated with Mary. There are some obvious ones such as the Lily and the Rose, ones like the Marigold, which become obvious as soon as you think about the name, and then lesser-known ones like the Forget-Me-Not, which is also known as Mary's Eyes - blue with yellow in the centre.

The fact there are very many plants and flowers associated with her is testimony to the power of popular piety and the folk imagination in weaving the everyday world into religious stories. Perhaps it also reflects the fact that England was called Mary's dowry, and seen as sacred to Mary from as long ago as the reign of Richard II. In fact a painting called the Wilton Dyptich depicts this idea:

The flowers beneath her feet are recognisably Marigolds, Roses and Irises I believe. For me there is a deep connection between my native soil and the figure of Our Lady. Anciently this land was called the Enclosure, or Prydein, and being an island, could properly be said to be enclosed. The climate, and temperament of the people, have also made it a land of gardens. It seems that the title 'Enclosed Garden' applies equally to Mary and England.

From my teenage years I was obsessed with the Glastonbury legends that tell of a voyage of Mary to these isles after Christ's death with Joseph of Arimathea. Supposedly a very early church of wattle and daub was set up there and dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

Of course, reading of Lorien and Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings with these things in mind will help many to see that these things were probably a part of Tolkien's vision! Lorien in particular is a kind of 'enclosed garden' which is impossible to get to in any normal way, and which doesn't seem affected by time and seasons in the same way as the rest of Middle Earth.

Although the idea of having flowers in gardens named after Mary goes back originally to monasteries, it seems that typically, it's the Americans who have properly got to take credit for the Mary Garden as we currently know it. John Stokes, a Quaker who had a sudden conversion to Catholicism in a garden, became inspired to create one after reading an article about a garden created by a lady called Frances Crane Lillie, and subsequently the idea spread.

Here is an excerpt from that article:
During her travels in Europe Mrs. Lillie had learned that English monastery gardens once included flowers with names associated with Our Lady. She wanted to create a garden in the "tradition of Mary Gardens throughout the world" and asked a friend, Winifred Jelliffe Emerson, to search early plant literature for plants with religious and Mary names. Mrs. Lillie's original plan for the twenty foot square garden included sixty-one plants. Of these 33 were "Her Flowers," seven "Flowers of the Saints," and 21 "Other Religious Flowers," many of them English wildflowers. This 1932 list was modified as some plants thrived and others fared poorly in the wind and rain-swept site; the 1937 final plan contained 48 plants. Prominent were roses, lilies and irises, all emblems of Mary.

I don't have nearly as many flowers as this. But this is what I have planted so far:

I plan to add:

and many more in the long term!

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