A Marian garden is the most popular Catholic garden. The first garden known to be dedicated to Mary was planned by St. Fiacre in France during the 7th century.
Catholic gardeners have looked to other garden themes to honor Mary, and a Rosary garden is at the top of the list. There are nearly 50 plants connected to legends about Mary’s life or symbolic of her joys and sorrows.
There are many ways to create a Rosary garden, and here I present five possibilities. Four of the Rosary gardens can be matched to a set of the Mysteries—Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious.
Selecting a single Mystery for the theme for your garden, as well as considering the climate you live in, will narrow the focus of plant selection. Within each Mystery are five events, for which you will look for plants symbolically relevant to each one.
An example of a Sorrowful Mystery: the First Mystery is the Agony in the Garden, and you could select the butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. This plant’s symbolism is “letting go,” and Jesus’ agony in the garden is his letting go of everything to do God’s will.
Another example is for the third Glorious Mystery, the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Here you could incorporate the trinitarian shrub Bougainvillea spp. into your garden. It is known as the Trinitarian flower because of the repeating sets of threes in the flower’s structure.
The colors associated with each Mystery are another way — the fifth in this article — to create a Rosary garden. Each Mystery has a traditional color associated with it (that will be expounded upon here) and in more recent years, a modern color scheme related to the psychology of color.
Traditional colors are:
Joyful/white, Luminous/purple, Sorrowful/red, and Glorious/yellow.
Modern colors are:
Joyful/gold and orange, Luminous/white and yellow, Sorrowful/deep burgundy and purple, and Glorious/blue.
To create a Rosary garden inclusive of all four sets of Mysteries, divide a garden space into quadrants — linear, circular, or parallel — where each quadrant is a different color, using flowers or colored leaves.
Let’s begin with green, the most abundant color in the garden.
Green symbolizes the virtue of Hope and represents growth, fertility, renewal, restfulness, and balance. It is an alluring and enticing color in that it can make us pause and mentally “breathe” before we are even conscious we need to do so. Be sure as you create your space to allow for the textures and prominence of green that will enhance the color elements you’ve selected.
White is the color of truth and sanctity. It represents purity, innocence, and kindness. White teaches us about relationships because, in our perceptions of colors, it tints how we see. White is in itself not a color but the complete revealed energy (manifestation) of all the colors. A very nice explanation of the completeness of God.
Here for the Mysteries of Light, purple is associated as a meditative color, a color of purpose. It combines the calmness, coolness, and expansiveness of blue with the focus and energy of red. It is a creative color we associate with inspiration, and in the Catholic tradition it symbolizes preparation. In the order of the Rosary the Mysteries of Light fall after the Joyful Mysteries, and these events prepare us for the Sorrowful Mysteries to come.
This is a primary color, bold and vibrant, and tied to stronger emotions — symbolizing energy and intensity. In the Catholic tradition red symbolizes sacrifice (literally the blood of life), the Lord’s Passion, and martyrdom. When creating a Rosary garden dedicated to the Sorrowful Mysteries, use dark pinks along with saturated reds to reduce the intensity and avoid appearing garish. Keep in mind the autumn color of leaves to add another dimension to the garden space.
This color reveals well the Glorious Mysteries. Yellow is full of intellectual energy, symbolizing wisdom, joy, happiness, attentiveness, and illumination. It brings awareness and clarity to the mind. In the color spectrum it is considered invigorating and exciting, pure, bright, and the easiest of all colors to see. We can easily see how the glory of God is revealed through the Christ.
Creating a quadrant Rosary garden is one of the easiest ways to honor our Holy Mother Mary. If you choose to create a garden dedicated to each Mystery and select symbolic plants, a Christian-based resource for plant symbolism is the book A Garden Catechism: 100 Plants in the Christian Tradition and How to Grow Them.