Holy Family Garden in Huntley is a living, growing shrine of the Virgin Mary.
The Marian garden designed by Janness Abraham of Forever Gardens for St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntley is full of purpose and life, even as we close in on winter. Dubbed the Holy Family Garden, this sacred place is a living shrine of the Virgin Mary – and there is significance around Christmastime.
“The garden incorporates flowers and plants that are dedicated to the Virgin Mary in simple and peaceful surroundings,” Abraham said.
The project was part of a larger church addition that included a new parish center, classrooms, offices and an adoration chapel.
The practice of Marian gardens originated among monasteries and convents during medieval Europe, Abraham explained. “The first known Marian garden was planted by St. Fiacre in Ireland during the 7th century. During this time, people saw reminders of Mary in flowers and herbs. As devotion to Mary became widespread, hundreds of flowers were renamed for her, along with the legends and folklore related to each flower. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was known for his love of nature is thought to be responsible for many of the legends. These stories flourished in the during the 13th and 14th centuries, and were carried from one part of the Christian world to other places through missionaries, Crusaders and wandering minstrels.”
Tour of the Holy Family Garden
Explore the significance and symbolism of plants featured in the Holy Family Garden – and plan a visit to this special place next spring or summer when flowers are in bloom.
The rose symbolizes Mary herself – she is known as “The Mystical Rose." Roses and lilies were said to have filled Mary’s empty tomb when it was opened by the Apostles. St. Mary’s has white Iceberg roses and the yellow Julia Child roses, which are both everblooming. Rose colors bear significance: White for Mary's purity, yellow for her joy and red for her sorrow.
The white lily is a symbol of Mary’s immaculate purity. The white lily – often called the Madonna Lily – has been used since the early 14th century in paintings of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel came to her to announce that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ. In the statue in the garden, Joseph is holding this lily. There are many varieties of white lilies in the garden, blooming at different times during the summer. The Easter lilies were planted there as well, and surround the Holy Family statue.
The shrub, Boxwood is called the “purification plant." Mary went to the temple for a ritual purification ceremony thirty days after Jesus’ birth. It is also called Candlemas greens, which was when Christ was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem on February 2, the 40th day after his birth. The boxwood surrounds the adoration chapel.
Berberis Thunbergii Maria
This bright golden yellow plant is also known as Our Lady’s Sorrel, Our Saviour’s Thorns and Mother of God.
Lady’s Mantle – or Mary’s Mantle – was associated with the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages and the lobed leaves resemble the scalloped edges of a cloak or mantle, as worn by the Virgin in medieval paintings. With the morning dew on the foliage, it looks like tiny diamonds in the sunlight.
Geranium "Rozanne" blooms from June through October. The pretty blue and white flowers represent our Lady's colors. The pointed pods are called Madonna's pin. Geranium means "God's grace."
Our Lady’s Bells, Mary’s Crown and Mary’s Star Church Bells are all names associated with this beautiful star-like flower. Their blue color represents Mary. The name Our Lady's Bells refers to the Angelus, a short practice of devotion in honor of the incarnation repeated three times each day.
There are many white and yellow daisy varieties, but the Nipponanthemum nipponicum is especially significant, since it doesn’t start blooming until October, and can bloom well into November. It is especially significant during Christmastime when the Three Kings, following the Star of Bethlehem, looked for a further sign. Suddenly, King Melchior saw a strange white and gold flower that looked like the star. As he bent to pick it, the door of the stable opened and he saw the Holy Family. "For me, this flower symbolizes hope," Abraham said. "The gardener always has the spring to look forward to knowing – after a long, cold dark winter – spring always comes. Like the Wise Men and the legend of the Oxeye Daisy, the door of the stable will open again, and Jesus' birth brings us hope."
Finally, the ladybug has a legend that the Virgin Mary assisted farmers who prayed to her. Keeping fields safe from harm, the ladybug was sent and saved the crops. A ladybug’s life is short. She teaches us to release our worries and live life to the fullest. "When a ladybug appears in our lives, it is telling us to let go and let God," Abraham said.