Planting a Rosary Garden


The Rosary is one of the more familiar devotionals associated with the Catholic faith. It sets forth the entire life of Christ and the unwavering devotion of his holy mother Mary.


The word rosary comes from the Latin word rosarium, meaning “rose garden.” In the mid-1500s, rosaire came to mean “a garden of prayers” from the medieval concept of compiling a collection of items, which could include flowers, into bouquets. This apparently originated in the late 1400s with the printing of a prayer book, Hortulus Animae, that literally meant “little garden of the soul.” Creating a bouquet of prayers eventually led to a string of knots to track one’s praying. Now, isn’t that sentiment just lovely — a Rosary as a prayerful bouquet from the garden of our soul!


October is the month dedicated to the Rosary. It all began in 1571 with a local commemoration on the first Sunday of the month. Several popes encouraged and expanded the devotion to its present place of honor in the life of the faithful. The rhythmic recitation of Rosary prayers and meditation on the mysteries often evokes a sense of calm and peace.


Creating a Rosary garden is a way to express your love of this form of prayer. Autumn is an excellent time to develop this new garden. With the flush of activity needed in spring and summer giving way to the slower time of autumn, planning the garden, laying out the design, and planting are easily accomplished before winter sets in.


When creating a Rosary garden in public spaces, there are a few established customs: a prominent statue of the Holy Mother is placed in the center with a cross at the entrance, and if stepping-stones are used to symbolize the decades, the six pater beads are usually square and the 53 mater beads are round (although another consistent symbolic representation may be used). The pathway can be either circular or linear.


To create a Rosary garden for the home, the options are nearly endless, and more expansive than a Marian garden. It can be located in sun or shade, though consider placing a bench in a shady location if you intend to sit while praying. As in a public space, the reference to Mary should be prominent and represented either by a statue, image, or symbol, and a cross should be included in the design.


In an area with limited space, place items representing the rosary beads or four sets of mysteries around the base of your Marian statue or symbol. You can also create a single stepping-stone with a larger unblessed rosary imbedded in the cement and then set the paver at the edge of a path or existing garden.


A quadrant garden representing the four sets of mysteries works well in any yard. It can be as small or large as space allows, circular, U-shaped, or linear. The equally shaped quadrants represent each set of mysteries: joyful, sorrowful, luminous, and glorious. Each section can have a distinctive monochromatic color scheme.


Those colors can follow the traditional color representations of white for joyful, red for sorrowful, yellow for glorious, and purple for luminous. The other option is to follow the modern-day color associations that stimulate certain feelings or emotions. The newer color theme would be oranges and golds for joyful, purples and burgundies for sorrowful, shades of blue for glorious, and yellows and whites for luminous.


There are no set rules about arrangements of the color groups; it’s a matter of what you find pleasing. A general rule of landscaping is contrast and flow. The arrangement of a circular display representing the mysteries often looks best if each grouping contrasts against its neighbor. Traditional groupings have lighter colors opposite one another, with darks opposite and in between lighter ones; modern colors would flow from blues, white/yellow, gold/orange, and end with burgundy/purple. In a linear or U-shaped garden, you can arrange plantings from light to dark, alternate colors, or use any order you find visually and spiritually pleasing.


Plant symbolism in Christian art is centuries old. You can create a Rosary garden using those same sentiments with plants suited to your USDA Hardiness Zone. Look for information about the “language of plants” or plant symbolism (floriography) from the Victorian or Medieval periods, then select a plant that will grow in your garden with the appropriate sentiment.


The number of plants that can be used symbolically in a Rosary garden is extensive. Listed here are a few suggestions associated with each of the joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous mysteries.


Joyful Mysteries


The Annunciation of Our Lord; humility: Italian bluebells (Hyacinthoides italica) represent humility and constancy. You could also use spring blooming Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

The Visitation; charity: Irish moss (Sagina subulata) represents charitable love.
The Nativity of Jesus; love of God: Clove pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus); the genus name means flower of God, representing Mary and the incarnation of Jesus.

The Presentation in the Temple; spirit of sacrifice: Snowdrops or Candlemas bells (Galanthus nivalis) are said to have bloomed when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple on Candlemas.


The Finding in the Temple; witnessing: Hyssop (Hyssopus sp.) symbolizing clean or pure. 


Sorrowful Mysteries


The Agony in the Garden; repentance: Cyclamen sp. symbolizes acceptance or resignation.


The Scourging at the Pillar; emptying oneself (mortification): Morning glory also known as bindweed (Convolvulaceae sp.) symbolizes self-abasement.


The Crowning with Thorns; moral courage: Sea holly (Eryngium planum) or Globe thistle (Echinops sp.) look similar, with spiny textures.


The Carrying of the Cross; patience: Asters (Aster sp.) symbolize patience.


The Crucifixion and Death; final perseverance: Mums (Chrysanthemum sp.). Legend has it that mums were growing when Jesus was laid in the tomb. As a result, mums have been a part of funerals for centuries.


Glorious Mysteries


The Resurrection of Our Lord; faith: Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) represents everlasting life.


The Ascension into Heaven; hope: Sweet almond tree (Prunus dulcis) symbolizes hope, watchfulness, and promise.


The Descent of the Holy Spirit; zeal: Columbine (Aquilegia sp.) has petals shaped like a dove (columba is Latin for “dove”).


The Assumption of Mary; happy death: Assumption lily (Hosta plantaginea) blooms in most regions around mid-August near the Assumption of Mary — and the bonus is its fragrance.


The Coronation of Mary; love of Mary: Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) is known as Mary’s crown.


Luminous Mysteries


Baptism in the Jordan; gratitude for faith: Trinity flower (Bougainvillea sp.) is known as the trinitarian flower because of its repeating sets of threes in the flower’s construction.


The Wedding at Cana; fidelity: Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), dubbed Lady’s wedding flower, implies the uniting of souls.


The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God; desire for holiness: Ivy (Hedera sp.), meaning “where God has walked.” The plant’s symbolism “fidelity of love” is used to signify the love of humans to each other, humans to God, and God toward his people.


The Transfiguration; spiritual courage: Thyme (thymus vulgaris) is an herb symbolizing strength and courage.


The Institution of the Eucharist; love of Eucharistic Jesus: Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Holy Communion plant. Its name comes from the Greek word for “king,” basileios. Basilicum is also the root word for “basilica,” which is the heart of Catholic Church architecture.


A specific mystery of the Rosary can resonate with a particular event taking place in your life. Be attentive and open to the lessons of faith and virtue that the Holy Spirit may bring to your awareness as you contemplate God’s graces in your garden.

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