Mary's Gardens Grow

Deborah McCarty Smith
University of Dayton Quarterly
Winter 1999-2000

A Review of

Mary's Flowers, Gardens, Legends, and Meditations by Vincenzina Krymow, with illustrations by A. Joseph Barrish, S.M. and meditations by M. Jean Frisk - October 1999, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, and Novalis, Toronto, 192 pages, hard cover, 55 color illustrations.

Sister Jean Frisk '94, Brother A. Joseph Barrish, S.M.,'50 and Vincenzena Krymow stand behind a bed of Mother Love - the Mary name for impatiens.

Consider the lilies ...the marigolds and forget-me-nots, the columbine and the carnations.

Do you see signs and symbols of Mary's presence?

Medieval Christians did. They named flowers after Mary and immortalized her in legends that described her attributes and the significant moments in her life. Chaucer and Shakespeare, popes and saints have all celebrated Mary's Flowers.

That treasury of botanical history and Marian lore and devotion is now accessible to 21st-century readers in Mary's Flowers.

"I think Mary has been guiding me in all this from the beginning," said Krymow, a Dayton freelance writer who each May would submit a story about Mary to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's Catholic-Telegraph newspaper. A 1950's era advertising pamphlet from Mary's Gardens Nurseries in Philadelphia, given to Krymow by a friend, sparked the idea for a feature about Mary's flowers. "It was a lovely little seed catalog with snippets of legends. I thought, 'Isn't that interesting?' and called the Marian Library."

Five years later, Krymow is the author of her first book-length work, painstakingly researched at the Marian Library and published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Sister Jean Frisk '94, an associate of the Marian Library, wrote the meditations, and Brother A. Joseph Barrish, S.M., '50, provided handmade, handcolored prints, creating woodcut images with a silkscreen painting process, to illustrate 30 flowers ranging from the Star of Bethlehem to the Christmas Rose.

"The legends go way back to the second century. They're enchanting to think about," Krymow said. The legend of the Madonna Lily, for example, also called the Annunciation Lily (Lilium candidum), tells of the Archangel Gabriel, who held a lily when he appeared to Mary to tell her she would bear a son. After Mary touched the scentless flower, an exquisite fragrance arose from it.

Lavender, called Mary's Drying Plant (Lavandula officinalis), derives its fragrance from the sweetness of the infant Jesus, whose clothing, the legend goes, Mary spread to dry upon its branches. The Madonna's Juniper Bush (Juniperis) opened its branches to shelter the Holy Family in their flight to Egypt. Marigold blossoms (Mary's Gold) spilled out when robbers grabbed Mary's purse during the flight to Egypt.


Helleborus niger.
Holy Night Rose or Rose de Noel.


White blossoms, flushed with pink, sprang up outside the stable where Jesus was born after the angel Gabriel, seeing the shepherd girl Madelon crying because she had no gift for Jesus, touched the frozen earth with his staff. Madelon filled her arms with the flowers and ran to decorate Jesus' bed and the stable where Mary had borne him.

The book's appendix lists more than 300 flowers named for or associated with Mary. From lily of the valley (one of several flowers named Mary's Tears) to carnation (Mary's Love of God, and Divine Flower). Many of the flowers are associated with the common everyday objects of Mary's life: columbine (Our Lady's Shoes), fuchsia (Our Lady's Ear Drops) and harebell or bluebell (Our Lady's Thimble).

Monks and priests used these flowers and legends to teach about Mary, Krymow said, noting that the same legends and names of flowers appear throughout countries in Europe.

Many of the legends were familiar to Frisk, a member of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, who lived for 12 years in Europe before earning graduate degrees in theological studies and sacred theology at Dayton. "The monastics expressed the symbols of our faith in nature's growing things. It's a rich heritage that's hardly ever raised," Frisk said, noting that many of the names of the Mary flowers and legends were lost during the Reformation. Frisk's role was to take the fantasy of legend and the truth of Scripture and write the meditations that accompany each of the book's 30 Mary flowers.

"Scripture has many holes concerning the daily life of the Holy Family, and the human imagination likes to fill the holes," Frisk said, adding, "the religious imagination has a truth beyond facts."

To Krymow it does not matter whether the legends are factually true. The book will likely appeal to people devoted to Mary as well as to people interested in flowers, legends or art. The book can be used to pray or to begin one's own Mary Garden, which can be created with easy-to-find and easy-to-grow annuals, perennials and herbs. "It's just a matter of being intentional, of using the flowers to think about Mary and her life, and how it relates to our lives," Krymow said.

The book's publication coincides with a resurgence of interest in Mary Gardens, popular in the 1950's in the United States. A three-quarter-acre Mary Garden is being created at the U.S. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by the National Council of Catholic Women and scheduled for dedication in the spring, 2000.

Krymow, who as part of her research, traveled throughout the United States visiting and photographing Mary Gardens in Cape Cod, Mass., Annapolis, MD., and Cincinnati has published those essays on UD's Mary Page at m_garden/mgindex.html

And the Mary's Gardens Nurseries, whose more-than-40-year-old catalog sowed the seeds of Krymow's idea?

The firm, founded in 1951 to research the flowers named as symbols of Mary and to assist in the planting of Mary Gardens, continues as a resource today - on the Web at

When I was young, I was very devoted to Mary, said Krymow, a former social worker, who in midlife experienced a reblossoming of that reverence. "And I've always loved flowers." From her kitchen window, she can see the petunias, stella d'oro day lilies, blue flag irises, mums and marigolds that surround, in their season, a small statue of the Virgin.

Gardeners know the truth of the familiar bit of poetry: "One is nearer God's heart in the garden than anywhere else on earth." Krymow's book shows readers that in a garden of thoughtfully chosen flowers, they can grow nearer to Mary as well.

Mary's Flowers: Gardens, Legends, and Meditations may be ordered by phoning St. Anthony Messenger Press at 1-800-488-0488, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The book is also available through bookstores and

Reprinted with permission of the author and the University of Dayton Quarterly

Photo Deborah McCarty Smith

Illustration Brother A. Joseph Barrish, S.M.

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