Container Mary Garden for Mother’s Day and My Favorite Shortbread Cookie

IMG_7546My Mary Garden

Each week I chat with Matt Swaim of the Sonrise Morning Show. Today, since Mother’s Day is this next weekend, we talked about Mary Garden’s. Here’s some fun information.


Mary Gardens were started during medieval times and were usually gardens that were enclosed, often in monasteries. 

I have always felt that an herb garden needs a statue of Mary, even before I had ever heard about Mary Gardens.  You’re right – from what we know Mary Gardens date back to medieval times and were enclosed.  They were places of quiet beauty, reflective areas where one could pray and think about our Mother. 

And you don’t need a plow and the lower 40 to plant a Mary Garden. Any container will work well, as long as it has good drainage and decent soil.

When you think about Medieval Christians,  their search was for the most exact likeness of Mary.  How did flowers and herbs fit into this?

The Christians figured out early on that out of all God’s creations none could rival the flowers in representing Mary purity, her holy beauty and her glory.  So, fragrant herbs and flowers remind us of her spiritual sweetness, the soothing and healing herbs remind us of her heavenly mercy and compassion and we even have the bitter and sour herbs, which remind us of her bitter sorrows. The Christians saw these plants as special signs of heaven so they gathered them for churches, and eventually started placing them on altars. 

I understand that for special occasions they were strewn throughout the church and woven into garlands and crowns which were worn by the priests.

So crowning Mary with a crown of flowers dates back to ancient times.

When you’re planting a Mary Garden, does it have to be enclosed?

Not at all. As a matter of fact, most aren’t. Container Mary Gardens are big this year.  But think about the May Crowning again when you were a kid. Remember the grotto that Mary was always in? We had Mary Gardens without realizing it! 

What kinds of flowers and plants would be appropriate in a Mary Garden? 

Roses. That’s the emblem of Mary and she is called the First Rose of Martyrs.  The rose was also adopted as the emblem of Mary’s love of God.

Miniature roses are a nice addition to a container culinary or spa garden. 

Flowers and seeds, called rose hips, are edible. Crystallize rose petals – brush egg white on the petal and sprinkle all over with sugar. Let dry. Make jelly out of the rose hips. 

Miniature Roses

Basil –  (we’ve talked before about the legend that basil was found growing by Christ’s tomb after He resurrected). 

Not mentioned in the Bible but common basil has been grown for thousands of years. Minet/Boxwood/ Globe basil is a good fit for the Bible culinary pot. It has little leaves and grows in a mound 12” high.

Make a face splash with roses and basil. Place petals and leaves in a bowl. Pour hot water over. Steep a few minutes, strain, cool, and then splash on face, avoiding eyes. Helps remove environmental toxins from skin.

When pruning basil, chop flowers and leaves with a bit of olive oil to make basil paste for the freezer. A good base for pestos, sauces, etc.

Prune basil flowers for an abundant harvest and more leaf production

Costmary – I love this herb – it’s called the Bible herb because folks used to put a leaf in their Bible to keep them awake during long sermons. It has a balsam like aroma. 

Day Lillies And Angel Gabriel is often shown holding a lily. 

These are edible but most lilies represent our Lady for her purity and chastity. White Lilies especially. 

Flax – it has beautiful blue flowers and the linen from the shroud  of Turin is supposed to have been made from the stem of this flower. 

Forget Me Nots – These remind us of Mary’s eyes. They’re a beautiful blue.

Impatiens – A Mother’s love

Larkspur: Mary’s tears

Marigold “Mary’s Gold” equates itself also with sunflowers and common marigolds.

Lemon Gem marigold has a sweet taste and is a tiny plant. Perfect for a culinary herb garden. 

Marigolds on sides of Mary

Mary’s Bedstraw – it’s a low growing perennial that looks like what might have been put in the manger.  My statue of Mary stands on the bedstraw. 

Mint, Fennel and Dill – all tithing herbs but great in cooking

Mint: A variety of Spearmint is called Mary’s mint. Try Corsican mint in a container. It Peppermint is used both in food, teas and as a spritzer for the spa. (In a small spray bottle, drop in 20 or so drops peppermint essential oil). Peppermint also keeps away ants so put a pot outside the door.  

Mint in pots

Morning Glory: Our Lady’s mantle -her cloak again of blue

Oregano/Hyssop –Moses told the Israelites to dip a branch of hyssop in lamb’s blood to mark their door posts.

Golden oregano is a lower growing oregano, nice for pots. Think pizza!

Oregano is also added to teas for upper respiratory ailments. 

Golden oregano

Golden Oregano

Pansies – These are called Our Lady’s Delight. they look like happy little faces

Petunias – Angel’s “trumpets” 

Poppy: Christ’s blood

Rosemary – supposedly this herb was named Rosemary because Mary tossed her blue cloak over the bush and the flowers turned blue.  This is a piney tasting herb full of antioxidants

Snapdragon – called infant Jesus’ shoes

Snapdragons are edible

Strawberries: Designated as the fruit of Mary


Thyme – this herb grew wild in the hills of Jerusalem and the area. Some folks use this as a bed for the manger. 

Thyme and sage tea are great for upper respiratory ailments. Try growing one of the “steppin thymes” for containers. Very tiny plants that look like a green carpet.

Thyme is like a medicine chest in a plant.
Thyme grows well in a pot

Ritas no fail shortbread cutouts 

Let the kids free form shapes, or use a cookie cutter. Dough freezes well, and so does the baked cookie, sans icing. A nice food gift for Mom and my most requested shortbread recipe.  

2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla 

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.  Cream butter and gradually add sugar.  Add vanilla.  Blend flour mixture in.  Dough will be soft.  Roll out on lightly floured surface or between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4” thick or bit thicker if you like.  If dough is too soft to cut out shapes with, put in frig for about 30 minutes.  Cut out and place on sprayed cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes just until edges are golden.


Whisk together:1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2-3 tablespoons water

Drizzle icing over cooled cookies, or make a thicker icing with less water, add food coloring if using, and spread on cookies. Makes about 2 dozen.Tips from Ritas Kitchen:  

To test to see if your baking powder is still active enough to leaven, put a teaspoonful in a cup of warm water.  It should fizz right away. 

2 thoughts on “Container Mary Garden for Mother’s Day and My Favorite Shortbread Cookie

  1. Happy Mother’s Day Rita!
    I always look forward to your post and emails. What a great article about our Lady. You are a wealth of information. I love it when you’re on In the Garden with Ron Wilson!!! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed talking to you at Natorps. You’re the best!
    This time of year I always catch myself telling people “oh did you know Redbud flowers are edible and Rita Heikenfeld makes jelly or uses the flowers for decoration. I feel like my kids should know you.
    Thank again,
    Teresa Parker


    1. Oh my gosh, Teresa, you are always such an inspiration. I hope you know that. And a Happy Mother’s Day to you, too. We each have burdens, and blessings. To me, counting the blessings is a lot more satisfying! I’ll let Ron know you and I communicated.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.