Mary Garden, Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration
in Cincinnati, Ohio
Located on a shady hillside on the grounds of the Episcopal
Convent of the Transfiguration in suburban Glendale, this Mary
Garden surrounds a statue of the Madonna and Child which had been
placed there sometime in the 1960's.
Development of the Garden
The idea for the Mary Garden came from Miriam Evans, an avid
gardener and former president of the Civic Garden Center in
Cincinnati, who chose to move to the Johnston House, adjoining the
Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration in suburban Glendale, in
1980 after her second husband died and she no longer wanted the
responsibility of caring for a home. Behind the convent, the
Johnston House and St. Mary’s Home for assisted living were acres of
gardens, neglected and overgrown.
Miriam saw the potential for reviving the gardens and when she
saw a sculpture of the Madonna and Child behind St. Mary's Home
remembered having heard about a Mary Garden in the East. She began
to research plants connected with Mary, learned of the work of John
Stokes and obtained some of his plant lists and articles.
Using these materials as guides she designed the garden and in
1981, with the help of two high school students and a
horticulturist from the Cincinnati Park Board she established the
Mary Garden. Episcopal Sister of the Transfiguration Mary Veronica
and Todd Robbins helped carry railroad ties to the garden and
assisted with the digging and planting. The statue of Mary, which
had been uncovered from overgrown boxwood, is the work of Ivy
Starr and was the gift of Kathryn Sawyer, a long-time friend of the
sisters from Cleveland, Ohio.
On August 15, 1982, the Feast of St. Mary, the garden was
formally dedicated by Father Gareth Jones, a visiting priest from
Wales. The Mary Garden was one of nine private gardens toured by
members of the American Horticultural Society during its annual
convention in Cincinnati that year.
During the following years Mrs. Evans developed other gardens
on the twenty-two acre property, including an English formal garden
behind the Johnston House. Now 91 years old, she is still active in
supervising the care of the gardens. In 1996, Sister Mary
Veronica's work schedule changed, making it possible for her to
devote more time to the gardens.
Many of the original plantings remain, among them the
Christmas Flower (winter aconite), Mary's Gold or All Saints Flower
(chrysanthemum), Our Lady's Tears (lily of the valley), Mary's Love
(English daisies), Mary's Gloves (fox-glove), Eyes of Mary
(forget-me-not), Madonna lily, Mary's Tuft (sweet William), Mary's
Prayer (tulips), and Mary's Modesty (violets).
Tour of the Garden
About 200 feet in length, this shaded garden is entered from
the parking lot next to the chapel of the Convent of the
Transfiguration. A concrete walkway slopes gently downhill, leading
to a gazebo on the left and a rock garden on the right. Along the
path thirteen large shade trees, mostly sugar maples interspersed
among elm, oak, locust, hackberry and ash, provide shade from the
sun. The garden is a cool refuge on a hot summer day.
Around the gazebo in early spring we are delighted to find Our
Lady of the Snow (anemone) and Mary's Star (daffodil). Later we
will see Our Lady's Tears (lily of the valley), Our Lady's Slippers
(impatiens) and several varieties of the Assumption Lily (hosta).
Surveying the garden from the gazebo, we reflect on the Tree of the
Cross (yew) which surrounds it.
Water flows through the rock garden and into a pond at a lower
level. The Virgin Flowers of vinca and Where God Has Walked (ground
ivy) cover the rocks now, and we are in communion with the saints
as we see St. Joseph's Lily (day lily), St. Peter's Wreath
(spirea), St. Lawrence's Plant (ajuga) and All Saints' Flowers
(chrysanthemum). We see Christ's Eye (coreopsis) and a small Judas
Tree (red bud). Here also is Lady's Hair (sedum) and in the spring
Our Lady's Frills (primrose) and Christ's Cross Flower (mountain
The walk now becomes a gravel path, and we see the Madonna
statue ahead. On our left we find St. Lawrence's Plant and Our
Lady's Shoes (columbine); a park bench invites the visitor to sit a
while. On the right a larger area contains a small bird bath and a
plaque with the inscription:
is dedicated to the
Blessed Virgin Mary
called by Her name in
accordance with a tradition
in the Church dating from
the 15th century and the
rise of Monasticism. Such
gardens were used by the monks
as a means of teaching the
unlettered members of their flocks
to pray and meditate on the life of
Our Lord, His blessed Mother
and the early saints.
May we, too, use this
garden to God's praise
Here we find the large leaves of St. John's Flower (hardy
begonia) showing their red color on the undersides. Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob (comfrey), Ladder to Heaven (Jacob's ladder) and St.
Lawrence's Plant join them. We see Mary's Heart (bleeding heart)
and Lady's Corn (celandine poppy) as we approach a stone bench at
the edge of this garden. The bench is placed in front of the area
leading to the Mary statue and we rest here and behold the statue.
Mary cradles the infant Jesus with her right arm. Her left
hand is raised toward her shoulder, as if preparing to give
something to Jesus, whose arm reaches toward her hand. The statue
is surrounded by evergreens and the area is filled with Mary
flowers: Our Lady's Bedstraw (sweet woodruff), Mary's Mantle
(lady’s mantle) and Assumption lilies.
Approaching a small section to the right, we rejoice with Mary
and her flowers - Beautiful Lady (larkspur), Virgin Pink
(dianthus), Our Lady's Violet (dame's rocket). We see Our Lady's
Earrings (impatiens) and Our Lady's Flannel (brunnera) amidst a
background of Lady's Fingers (lambs-ear).
Continuing beyond the statue on the left we find in early
spring the Trinity Lily (trillium) and Our Lady's Tears (lily of
the valley), Mary's Delight (white violets) and Our Lady's Modesty
(sweet violets). Mary's Seal (Solomon's seal) and Blessed Virgin's
Seal (false Solomon's seal), Lady's Wedding (white phlox) and Our
Lady's Bells (Virginia bluebells) thrive here and we reflect on
Mary's wedding day and the promises she might have made.
On the right we see Trinity Flowers (hepatica), St.
Lawrence's Plant (ajuga) and the Christmas Rose (helleborus). We find Dragon's Blood (sedum), the Assumption Lily (hosta), the
Virgin Mary's Milk Drops (lungwort) and Lady's Hair (maidenhair
fern). The flowers remind us of scenes from Mary's life. Here we
find also St. John's Flower (hardy begonia), Madonna's Pins
(Canadian geranium) and Our Lady's Birthday Flower (Italian aster).
The latter blooms around the time of her birthday, September 8.
Coming to the end of the garden, we find Lady Fern, Christmas
Fern and Mary's Milk Drops (wall fern) towering over Our Lady's
Modesty (violets) and St. Lawrence's Plant (ajuga). The Tree of the
Cross (English yew) forms a backdrop.
We praise God and glory in the beauty we find here.
This article was written by Vincenzina Krymow. Photographs of
the garden and statue are by the author; photographs of the
dedication and the plaque were provided by Sister Mary Veronica.
Copyright Vincenzina Krymow, 1998
Posted with permission of the author and The Marian
Library/International Marian Research Institute.