GENERATIONS of toik worldwide have heralded the coming of spring with medieval customs, and one variation was the ancient habit of planting, "Mary Gardens".
This was a special devotion, and in honour to "The Blessed Virgin Mary", this charming custom prevails to this day with devout Catholics, especially in European countries.
A Mary Garden is usually built around the statue of 'Our Lady', occupying the place of honour in the garden, surrounded by a number of plants of historical and religious associations to The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Some gardens are in the form of a Grotto complete with bird baths, plants, shrubs, and flowers; creating a blend of both spring and summer flowers to inspire people, and as a living reminder of our Christian faith.
Flower legends date back in many instances to biblical days and include a dozen plants. Usually well cultivated "Mary Gardens" have flowers associated with Jesus and Mary from biblical times.
One plant is the lily, a flower associated with Mary, and throughout Europe referred to as, "The Madonna Lily;" the blossoms are said to symbolise the radiance of Our Lord's Risen Life.
It was frequently used at the feast of the visitation held on July 2. The lily has an ancient traditional symbolism representative of innocence, purity, and virginity.
Violets are another flower dedicated to Mary as symbols of her humility, and traced back to biblical days.
The snowdrop too, often the first to herald spring blossoming, is sighted between patches of melting snow as early as February 2. Bouquets of snowdrops were the first floral tributes of the spring at the numerous wayside shrines dedicated to the Madonna. Snowdrops were emblematic of Mary's purity and freedom from sin.
Columbine and Trefoil areknown as Our Lady's shoes or slippers, as legends say that these plants spring forth from the earth at the touch of Mary's foot.
Marigolds are used at the feast of the Annunciation on March 25 and throughout May. Legend persists that the Madonna's clothing was adorned with marigold, and so it was named "Mary's Bud".
The rosemary plant blossoms in spring and according to ancient fables the plant was originally white in colour, but turned blue in return for services rendered to Mary when she looked for bushes to hang up her child's clothes. With time the bushes thickened and superstition still persists that rosemary never grows past the height of the living Christ.
Lily of the valley, was planted and known as Our Lady's Tears. It was used extensively to decorate the many Mary Shrines in the month of May, especially in Europe. No Mary Garden ought to be without it.
Foxgloves blossoms comes in many colours and was another plant used in the many Mary Gardens in byegone days. Due to the shape of their clusters of bell-like flowerings they became known as the thimbles of Our Lady.
Roses too were associated with the Madonna and accredited to St Dominic who, it is reputed, introduced the rosary, translated to mean rose garden. The white rose was a symbol of joy; red roses the suffering of Mary, and the golden rose represented Mary's triumphant glories.
Other flowers are grown too, subject to personal choice. However, a true and original garden would include the plants mentioned as being emblematic of the Madonna. The gardens were popular in ancient times across Europe during the many colourful festivals celebrated annually, and the custom was maintained by devoted Christians everywhere of both • catholic and non-catholic faiths.
An ancient custom, it gives harmless pleasure to many, at the same time keeps alive the faith, and so is worthy of being continued into the 21st century.