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The Annunciation and Lent: Celebrating New Life through a Mary Garden

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Mar 23, 2014

March 25 marks the second solemnity that falls during the Lenten season, the Annunciation of the Lord. God chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, having prepared her without sin to be a worthy vessel for His Son. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she shall be the Mother of God. At the moment Mary said her "Fiat", Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the moment of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, when God assumed human nature without changing or losing His divine nature.

Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God."  Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings "the mystery of our religion": "He was manifested in the flesh." (CCC #463)

In this scientific age, this is truly a "pro-life" feast day. With this feast we recognize new life at its very beginnings. Science has helped to confirm how life begins at the first moment of conception. We know that the Incarnation happened at that moment Mary said "Be it done to me according to Thy word."  The Divine Seed was planted. Nine months later at Christmas, Jesus will be born and revealed publicly to the world. But at the Annunciation, even though His presence in the secrecy of Mary's womb has only been revealed to a few souls, Christ has entered the world and begun His Redemptive mission.

Why does the Annunciation fall during Lent? The Solemnity of the Annunciation is tied back to the feast of Christmas, since it is nine months before Christmas, the traditional time of gestation. It is traditionally called a "Christmas feast". But the Annunciation also points directly to the Paschal Mystery. Archbishop Fulton Sheen explains that

...every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. [Jesus] came into it to die....[T]o Christ, death was the goal and fulfillment of His life, the goal that He was seeking. Few of His words or actions are intelligible without reference to His Cross. He presented Himself as a Savior rather than merely as a Teacher. It meant nothing to teach men to be good unless He also gave them the power to be good, after rescuing them from the frustration of guilt.

The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last. The Scriptures describes Him as "the Lamb slain as it were, from the beginning of the world." He was slain in intention by the first sin and rebellion against God. It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His Life and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to His birth. His has been the only life in the world that was ever lived backward.  (Life of Christ, pp 4-5)

Archbishop Sheen further elaborates that Christ is the New Adam, and Mary is the New Eve (emphasis mine):

What He did, therefore, was to ask a woman, representing humanity, freely to give Him a human nature with which He would start a new humanity. As there was an old humanity in Adam, so there would be a new humanity in Christ, Who was God made man through the free agency of a human mother. When the angel appeared to Mary, God was announcing this love for the new humanity. It was the beginning of a new earth, and Mary became a "flesh-girt Paradise to be gardened by the Adam new." As in the first garden Eve brought destruction, so in the garden of her womb, Mary would now bring Redemption. (Life of Christ, pp. 8-9)

The word Lent is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word lengthen or lencten meaning "spring." The Northern Hemisphere has entered the spring season. We are seeing the newness of life, a rebirth, culminating in the Resurrection of Christ on Easter. To our eyes, the earth becomes new and fresh, as if a new Eden.

As the days gets warmer and longer, thoughts turn outdoors and for many to gardening. The seed dying to create new life is the perfect example of the upcoming Passion and Resurrection. Jesus gives a prefigurement of His Passion and Resurrection in the grain of wheat:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

The Annunciation is a perfect launching point for the planting of seeds and establishing a garden to celebrate the newness of life. Right now we are only in the initial stages of starting the spring garden. For our area, we are still experiencing hard frosts and the garden is too muddy to prepare. Some seeds can be started indoors, but it will be closer to Easter before we really start to work and see the rebirth of life.

With our thoughts on our Lady and her cooperation with Redemption, a very beautiful garden tradition is establishing a Mary Garden. The purpose of a Mary Garden or incorporating plants named after Mary is to honor God's mother and have reminders to think of Mary. It is through Mary that we can grow closer to her Son.

This is an especially wonderful ongoing project to do with children. It is a fascinating process of planting seeds, watching them grow, tending the plants and harvesting the fruits of the labor. My sons enjoy identifying the different seeds and plants, learning the names, including the religious ones. Incorporating perennials means minimal maintenance and the return of a Mary Garden every year.

There are thousands of plants named in honor of Mary or tied with other religious symbolism. The most comprehensive online information is at Mary's Gardens at the Mary Page, in particular the page on annuals and also see Mary Garden at St. John's University. It is easy to get overwhelmed, but there are easy ways to begin a Mary Garden. First of all, while it is lovely to have a dedicated space for a Mary Garden, it is not necessary. There are so many common plants named after the Virgin that are used in herb or vegetable or flower gardens that almost any planting area can become an area that turn our thoughts to Mary.

It isn't necessary to have a Mary statue before the garden is established. If there is a dedicated space, there are numerous ways of marking the plants or the garden area. A waterproof monogram of Mary or other symbol of Mary could be used as the main centerpiece. If plants are interspersed throughout the garden, a small marker with the Marian name might be included to help others think of Mary.

Here are just three simple "themes" to incorporate in present gardens:

Herbal garden with Marian themes:

Herbs have always been prominent in gardening for food, flavoring and medicinal purposes. Almost all the most common household herbs are named after Our Lady. If there is no outdoor garden space available, a few potted herbs can be an indoor Mary Garden.

Marian Herbal Garden
Common Name Religious Name Botanical Name
Chives Our Lady's Garleek Allium schoenoprasum
Dill Devil-Away Anethium graveolens
Pot Marygold Marygold Calendula officinalis
Lavender       Mary's Drying Plant Lavandula angustifolia
German Chamomile Mary's Plant Matricaria chamomilla
Lemon Balm Sweet Mary Melissa officinalis
Sweet Marjoram Mother-of-God's Flower Majorana hortensis
Spearmint Mary's Mint Mentha spicata
Bee-Balm       Sweet Mary Monarda didyma
Catnip Mary's Nettle Nepeta cataria
Basil Holy Communion Plant Ocimum basilicum
Rosemary Mary's Nosegay Rosmarinus officinalis
Dandelion Mary's Bitter Sorrow Taraxicum officinalis
Creeping Thyme Mary's Bedstraw Thymus serphyllum
Thyme The Virgin's Humility Thymus vulgaris
Sage Mary's Shawl Salvia officinalis
Parsley Our Lady's Little Vine Petrosolenium crispum cv.

One of the earliest plants to be named for Mary is the dandelion. It is considered a common and pervasive weed, but it is edible, and considered to be one of the "bitter herbs" of the Old Testament.

For more herb plant ideas, see Culinary and Fragrant Herbs of Religious Symbolism.

Annunciation and Marian Flowers:

A second Mary Garden can be a few flowering plants named after Mary. The first asterisked flowers (*) are particularly known as Annunciation flowers, found in many paintings of the Annunciation.

Common Marian Flowers
Common Name Religious Name Botanical Name
*Carnation (gillyflower) Mary's Love of God and Divine Flower Dianthus caryophyllus
*Gladiolus Incarnation Gladiolus hybrids
*Lily Madonna Lily; Virgin Lily; Mary Lily Lilium candidum
*Iris Mary's Sword of Sorrow; Fleur-de-Lis Iris germanica
*Violet Our Lady's Modesty Viola odorata or Viola riviniana
*Pot or English marigold Mary's Gold; Marygold

Calendula officinalis

Saffron Crocus Saffron Crocus sativus
English Daisy Mary-Love Bellis perennis
Clove Pink Virgin Pink Dianthus plumarius
Wild Pansy Our Lady's Delight Viola tricolor

I have personally snubbed Carnation flowers for many years, but after considering how the name itself reminds one of the Incarnation, I find it the perfect flower for display on the Feast of the Annunciation.

It is still in dispute if the Fleur-de-Lis symbol is either from the Iris or the Madonna Lily. I tend to think it is the Iris by the shape, but both flowers are symbols of Our Lady.

Manger Herbs

A final idea is planting "Manger Herbs". Legends and traditions connect these herbs with the Holy Family in Bethlehem or other part of Christ's Infancy. An example is rosemary or lavender, both having the legend attached that Our Lady dried Jesus' garments on these bushes on their way to Egypt. After that "service" the plants were rewarded with fragrance and beautiful royal colored flowers. Many of these plants overlap ones suggested in the Mary herb garden. Planting seeds and discussing some of the legends really ties in Annunciation with the feast of Christmas, and extends level of preparation and expectancy just as one prepares for the birth of a child.

To use these herbs at Christmas, the flowers or leaves need to be harvested and dried during the growing seasons.

Manger Herbs
Common Name Religious Name Botanical Name
Rosemary Mary's Nosegay or St. Mary's Tree Rosmarinus officinalis
Rue Herb of Grace Ruta graveolens
Pennyroyal (small creeping mint) Our Lady's Flavoring Mentha pulegium
Horehound (bitter herb) Mother-of-God's Tea Marrubium vulgare
Star of Bethlehem Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbelatum
Lavender Mary's Drying Plant Lavandula angustifolia
Wild or Creeping Thyme Our Lady's Bedstraw, Cradlewort Thymus serpillum
Sweet Woodruff Our Lady's Bedstraw Asperula odorata
Sage Mary's Shawl Salvia officinalis
Yellow Bedstraw Our Lady's Bedstraw Galium verum
Marjoram Mary's Bedstraw Origanum vulgare

 

Other ways to "Garden"

Mary's Gardens do not all have to be planted in the soil. My sons and I have lately been inspired to do more drawing and painting now that spring is arriving. Besides drawing at home, we use a small nature journals or art journals to record what we see on walks and in our backyard. Using field guides and art books on flowers as inspiration, one could create a Mary Garden portfolio with pencils and brushes. One could also use the camera to compile a Mary Garden in photos.

Most of the flowers suggested above are cultivated and do not include the vast variety of wild plants, many medicinal and edible. For example, there is a knotweed called "Lady's Thumb", but the religious name is "Mary's Thumb" or "Our Lady's Thumbprint". The warmer weather invites one to get out of doors, and identify new Marian plants that grow in the wild (and perhaps keeping a journal).

The Annunciation truly celebrates new life in many ways: Christ's moment of Incarnation, when he begins to dwell in Mary's womb at her "Fiat"; recognizing life begins at the moment of conception; Mary becoming the New Eve cooperating in Christ's work to establish a New Eden; the upcoming Paschal Mysteries celebrate our new life in Christ -- and the Annunciation begins that active part of Redemption; and the new life of spring reaching its height at Easter with the Resurrection.

May Our Lady bring us closer to this new life in Christ.

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