May 4, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Neena Gaynor stands with her new book, “A Garden for Mary,” in the Mary garden of Immaculate Conception Parish in Hawesville where she serves as the director of adult ministry, on April 26, 2022, the day of the book’s official release. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

‘A Garden for Mary’

​Writing from Catholic mom’s perspective, local author releases new book ‘for all kids’


Neena Gaynor’s family “has always been gardeners,” so it makes sense that her new book, “A Garden for Mary,” focuses on the celebration of God’s creation by planting a garden in honor of his mother.

“It was a prayer on a page,” said Gaynor in an interview on April 26, the day of the book’s official release. “It speaks to my own heart and purpose.”

Gaynor lives in Hancock County with her husband, Wade, and sons, Josey and Wiley, and serves as the director of adult ministry for Immaculate Conception Parish in Hawesville and St. Columba Parish in Lewisport.

Her book, “A Garden for Mary” is a lyrical, illustrated children’s story that explains devotion to Jesus’ mother through scripture, prayer, and the centuries-old practice of planting what is known as a “Mary garden.”

A Mary garden features flowers traditionally associated with the Blessed Mother, as well as a statue of Mary as the focal point.

The Gaynors entered the Catholic Church in 2017. She admitted it might seem ironic to write a book about Our Lady, since she initially struggled with Catholicism’s devotion to Mary.

“As a convert (Mary) was hard to comprehend at first,” she said, but added that “I appreciated her so much more” in identifying with Mary’s motherhood.

“It’s a vocation of relationship, one full of love and humility,” said Gaynor. “Knowing well the love I have for my children, having felt that real pain when they hurt, I have zero doubts of the closeness of Mary and her son.”

Gaynor said when she first learned about Mary gardens –– she “pondered” it in her heart for “quite some time.”

The concept resonated with Gaynor, who is a seasoned beekeeper and gardener who volunteers as a Master Gardener for Daviess County Cooperative Extension, which helps residents with gardening problems.

“Why is this a devotion for Mary?” she asked.

Through research she came across several flowers that have Marian-themed names, such as the marigold – which sounds like “Mary’s gold.”

This opened the door to discovering how many other flowers have Marian origins.

For instance, she said irises – tall, sword-shaped flowers – are traditionally known as Mary’s Sword of Sorrow in reference to Luke 2:35 (“and you yourself a sword will pierce”) when Simeon prophesized that Mary would spiritually suffer with Jesus through his passion.

Local author Neena Gaynor peruses her new book, “A Garden for Mary” on April 26, 2022, the day of the book’s official release. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

In further exploration, Gaynor learned that Mary gardens were a component of “the Gospel of the poor,” which refers to the Church’s movement to catechize during the Middle Ages when poverty and illiteracy prevented many people from being able to read the scriptures.

In those days, the Church sought creative ways of making the Gospel accessible to everyone, such as stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ – and Mary gardens, to instruct about Mary’s role in salvation history.

This inspired Gaynor to plant a Mary garden in her own yard, and ultimately to write a book about the tradition.

This isn’t Gaynor’s first book, however.

She published her novel, “The Bird and the Bees” in spring 2020, which later received second place in the Catholic Media Association’s 2021 Book Awards “Catholic Novels – Inspirational” category.

The framework of “A Garden for Mary” arose as her son asked questions about the Mary garden, and she sought answers for both her children and herself.

Gaynor portrayed her son’s questions in the story with a child asking “why, why, why” lyrically, “as a child does,” she said, adding that “Jesus is the only answer to the question.”

“In my heart I wrote it for my kids, as a Catholic mother, but it is for all kids,” she said.

While working with the publisher, TAN Books, to find an illustrator, she said she asked Our Lady in prayer: “Mary, who would you want to paint you?”

Gaynor said the name of Catholic artist Bernadette Gockowski kept coming up, so she finally reached out to her about illustrating the garden-themed book.

Gockowski told Gaynor that incidentally, she had been “practicing flowers for a year.” She had just completed a project of painting flowers for parents who had lost unborn children and sending them the art free-of-charge.

Gockowski was looking for what was next, when Gaynor contacted her.

“Every conversation I have with her is just wonderful,” said Gaynor, describing Gockowski’s art as “gentle, classic, a heavenly feel. We would talk, and she would blow my mind with how (the illustrations) looked.”

Besides illustrating the main story, Gockowski also included a glossary of Marian flowers in the back of the 40-page book. Some of the flowers were those she had painted for parents who lost children.

In writing “A Garden for Mary,” Gaynor said she has learned as an author who is also a mother, that one must “know your audience – and mine have names: Josey and Wiley.”

“It’s a story of a mom who loves her children, and Jesus’ love for us,” she said. “I hope that message of love is portrayed all the way through. It’s really been an experience for me to see Christ’s love for his creation.”

“A Garden for Mary” is available from TAN Books and anywhere books are sold.

Meet the author and illustrator

Learn more about Neena Gaynor at Learn more about Bernadette Gockowski at

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
Send change of address requests to [email protected]